Strategy vs Execution analogy- a door
Opening a door can be thought of as a fractal representation of strategy: Company strategy > Product strategy > Execution
Let’s say your startup’s mission is to automatically open doors for people. It all started when your cofounder was a child and they couldn’t open doors on their own. The injustice still sticks with them to this day. They dream of a day when we can all have doors opened for us automatically, saving us countless hours over the course of lifetimes that would have been spent opening doors, inventing cures for cancer, faster-than-light spacedrives, and other startups to solve menial tasks
You can go about this in a bunch of ways:
- You could post gig-workers by doors, but this requires manual effort on your part, and will require your Manual Door Opening Ops team to grow linearly with the number of doors you want to open
- You could assemble partnerships to open doors together with other businesses
- You could build technology to open doors, but this will take time, and what if the type of door isn’t compatible with your spec? (e.g. We designed for a “normal door” and didn’t think about revolving doors)
Company strategy is all about how you (mostly executives, but hopefully with input from folks in the company) choose which path to follow
Within the broader Company strategy of opening doors, there is a fractal Product strategy for the teams
Let’s say that the executives choose to build technology, because that’s “the most scalable way”
This choice yields a Product strategy to a technology-forward door opening approach (which is a sentence I never thought I’d write):
- Based on what I know about doors, it makes sense to push at the part farthest away from the hinge
- You may know the technical reason, that the longer the lever arm is, the more leverage your force is multiplied
- But it might just be your “door sense” (aka Product sense) built up of many years’ firsthand experience opening doors
- Or it can be with user research: “after speaking with users, we observe that it’s harder to open when they push at the hinge”
The choice of how you decide to target your product to push at the part of the door farthest away from the hinge is an example of Product Strategy
Execution is how quickly you can prototype, test in the real world, and uncover mistakes and edge cases in your Product Strategy
Astute and imaginative readers may notice that I missed a couple of things above:
- What about pulling motions to open doors? What about sliding doors and rotating doors?
- Could we take advantage of ADA-compliant automatic door openers? “Hack” our way to market saturation? Or is that getting us into legal or compliance risk?
- How far in advance ought we open the door for someone? (to avoid this)
- Should we target our rollout at places where door opening is particularly useful? e.g. on the way out of libraries where people have lots of books? Or in airports where people are rushed?
- wHaT AoBuT nOrMaN dOoRs
All of these questions are things that are un-answerable (or sometimes unknowable) at the Product or Company Strategy levels. However, as they come up, that should feed back into either refining the Strategy (or in certain cases, rethinking the Strategy). Execution is how quickly (in time and money investment) you can surface those questions, make a (on the balance, correct) decision on their importance, and either discard or incorporate those into your strategy
- The Product Team may find that, actually, it’s pretty unfeasible to programmatically determine the type of door (e.g. 1 hinge, swinging motion) and the required action to open (e.g. push/pull). This would entail a change to the Product Strategy: we may need a camera + Machine Learning Product Approach
- We may originally decide to focus on heavy doors, which means that we would need to adjust the motors to be able to generate the right amount of force. But what if it’s a lighter-weight door: does that risk smashing the door open (and possibly injuring someone or breaking the door)?
Astute readers may have seen this coming
The “1-way or 2-way door” framework helps, but is not sufficient, to help you make decisions. You have to decide which level you’re making the decision on: Strategy or Execution (we’ll save “Vision” for a later post)