Founders of pre-revenue startups (those who are still experimenting with product and have not started making money) or pre-Series A startups (who have just raised Angel round) and Product Managers of early-age products often find it hard to balance the tactical vs strategic, action-oriented vs planning-oriented and so on.
I have been conducting a one-day workshop with them to allow them to step back and relook at their product strategy.
This workshop is very useful for founders and product managers who are not seasoned practitioners and is designed to promote structured thinking and analysis.
The sessions are conducted with a breadth-first approach so participants understand various tools and processes. Techniques learnt can be applied to a product at any stage / scale. Participants are expected to deep dive and read more about the techniques post-workshop.
The workshop starts with each participant talking about their idea, then using various tools discover a business around it, get an initial product strategy in place and finally identifying an MVP for a key product.
Products start as an idea: problem that one wants to solve and hypothesis of a solution. This section aims at articulating this in a sufficiently structured form that can be used in subsequent sections.
This session is a mix of Product-in-a-Box and an Elevator Pitch exercise done in any order.
Product-in-a-Box  (at times referred to as Product Box), it is a fun activity in which everyone is asked to imagine if their product came in a box, what would the label of the box look like.
Elevator Pitch is a succinct and persuasive pitch that bring out the key aspects of the idea. The name hints at the short duration of an elevator ride (10-20 seconds) and need to this pitch to be short and complete in itself.
We use a well-known format for Elevator Pitch . It is a leading format that forces participant to think about a USP (a unique selling proposition), competitive advantage and the right customer segments.
Now that we have a well articulated idea, the next aim is to explore the business aspect of the idea.
Getting the business of your business right is very important. This section aims at helping identify if a sustainable business can be built around the idea.
We use the Business Model Canvas  for this session. The Business Model Canvas is a visual strategic management template for developing a business models.
We focus on only some key sections in the workshop to help us progress faster. The contents are derived from the Elevator Pitch & Product-in-a-Box entries but have little more analysis put in.
Participants start with writing down the key Value Propositions. Next, various Customer Segments. The key is to narrow the Customer segments as much as possible. So using words like ‘All’ or ‘Everyone’ is discouraged.
Then we ask them to connect each Value Prop to a Customer Segment. Ideally, all Value Props should serve all Customer Segments and vice versa. If not, then the hanging Customer Segments or the Value Props needs to go.
Then we ask them to think of a channel for each Value Prop. At least one channel for each stage of the funnel (Awareness, Evaluation, Purchase, Delivery and Aftersales). Example of channel for Awareness can be advertisements on websites, TV, etc. The ‘14 day free trial’ is another popular way to enable evaluation of a product.
Then we focus on figuring out the Cost Structure. We do a quick back-of-envelop calculations around salaries, rents, internet, laptops, furniture, sales, marketing, support, Chartered Accountants, filings & compliance, Cloud, licenses, fees, etc. and watch the estimates balloon.
Session on revenue is relatively smaller. We ask them to write down all possible avenues of revenues and then estimate revenue potential over time and the complexity of making that revenue stream happen. This will help them prioritize one avenue over another subsequently.
Participants have a clear idea of what is required to build a business out of the idea.
While most of the initial ideas tend to be around channels like apps and websites, very less time is spent articulated the whole product stack needed, including the backend (often a proto-platform). Even ones who are building a platform tend to focus on channels. Much energy is spent on perfecting an app or a website. However, sufficient thought does not go into converting the backend into a platform. This session aims to ask leading questions to enable right platform thinking.
This session is a mix of Product Stack template and Product Management Canvas exercise.
We start with the Product Stack  template. It is a format that leads a participant to think about channels, 3rd party products they use in these channels, the backend, the 3rd party tools that enable things in background, etc.
Participants then identify the least set of key products without which the key value prop(s) cannot be delivered.
Then we move to the Product Management Canvas. It came about based on my experience at the startup I founded (still around as RooKidsApp.com) and talking to clients at ThoughtWorks.
The Product Management Canvas (PMC), is a strategic management and entrepreneurial articulation tool. It allows one to describe a product having the highest return on investment versus risk.
In previous sessions we have articulated the business to various depth and also charted what products are need to make it work. Thus for your key product, lots of content get derived from previous sessions as it flows into the Product Management Canvas. Only thing is that this is not at the level of entire business but at level of a specific product.
The Product Management Canvas allows describing the 360o of a product. It also helps with identifying a MVP.
Based on Product Management Canvas, the MVP (Minimum Viable Product) is defined as:
Specific Features that deliver extreme value to a specific Customer Segment and helps attain specific Business Value using specific Key Resources measured using related Success and Failure Metrics with right Visual Identity and Go-To-Market support.
Participants have a clear idea of what needs to be built, in what order and with what features so we can take it to market fast and learn from the market’s response.
Some observations from these workshops:
About the Author:
With over 17 years of rich, diverse experience in the software industry building products that matter, Dinker has built products that have been part of Operating Systems, Paperless Offices, Home Automation and Online Videos and also founded a startup rooKidsApp.com. Dinker has also worked at CERN and Fermilab, two top particle physics research labs. As Principal Product Manager at ThoughtWorks, he is currently helping businesses harness the power of product thinking and built right products.
(http://www.ddiinnxx.com or @ddiinnxx)
Feel free to reach out to us to know more.
 Know more about Product in a Box in Innovation Games by Luke Hohmann.
 Know more about the Elevator Pitch format on Jonathan’s blog.
 Business Model Generation by Alexander Osterwalder, Yves Pigneur (strategyzer.com/)
 &  Created by the Dinker Charak and can be shared under Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)