PRODUCTHEAD: The difference between good and bad strategy

PRODUCTHEAD: The difference between good and bad strategy

PRODUCTHEAD is a regular newsletter of product management goodness,
curated by Jock Busuttil.

packt like products in a crushd tin box



“Good strategy grows out of independent and careful assessment of the situation”

“Bad strategy follows the crowd, substituting popular slogans for insights”


“Deciding what not to do is just as important as deciding what to do”

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every PRODUCTHEAD edition is online for you to refer back to


After two years working exclusively online as a result of the pandemic, I’ve only recently started giving product management training in person again. And with in-person training comes travel. I’d forgotten how the downtime spent sitting on a train or waiting for a flight provides the opportunity to lose myself in a good book.

One of the books that I’ve been meaning to read for a while recently is Good Strategy, Bad Strategy by Richard Rumelt. A quick hop to Ireland gave me the chance. One of the book’s highlights is how Rumelt succinctly skewers the four main types of bad strategy:

Bad strategy is characterised in four ways:

Fluff. Fluff is a form of gibberish masquerading as strategic concepts or arguments.

Failure to face the challenge. Bad strategy fails to recognise or define the challenge. When you cannot define the challenge, you cannot evaluate a strategy or improve it.

Mistaking goals for strategy. Many bad strategies are just statements of desire rather than plans for overcoming obstacles.

Bad strategic objectives. A strategic objective is set by a leader as a means to an end. Strategic objectives are “bad” when they fail to address critical issues or when they are impracticable.

Good Strategy, Bad Strategy by Richard Rumelt, p.32

He later describes the kernel of a good strategy as containing three elements:

A diagnosis that defines or explains the nature of the challenge. A good diagnosis simplifies the often overwhelming complexity of reality by identifying certain aspects of the situation as critical.

A guiding policy for dealing with the challenge. This is an overall approach chosen to cope with or overcome the obstacles identified in the diagnosis.

A set of coherent actions that are designed to carry out the guiding policy. These are steps that are coordinated with one another to work together in accomplishing the guiding policy.

Good Strategy, Bad Strategy by Richard Rumelt, p.77

When I’m teaching my Product Management Foundation course, I show my class how to add meaning to their product roadmaps. We start off by taking a brief look at what makes a good vision and strategy for a product. Together, these shape the product roadmap by providing it with a sense of direction, and a way to prioritise and filter what goes on your roadmap.

The contents of your product roadmap should therefore be the answer to two main questions:

1. What is most important for your team to learn right now? (Given that everything on your roadmap should be an experiment with a clear goal and a measurable outcome.)

2. What will help your company execute its own broader strategy and move it closer to its goals more quickly? (In other words, how does what you’re doing with your product move the needle on the metrics associated with the higher-level company strategy?)

The point I’d like my class to think about is that everything should be aligned in intent, from the high-level corporate vision and strategy, down through increasing levels of detail (and shorter time horizons), to the stuff we work on day-to-day. Otherwise, why are we distracting ourselves?

Martin Eriksson also talks about this notion of top-to-bottom alignment in The Decision Stack, a framework that will he will hopefully be releasing as a book in the near future. You can watch him talk about it in the content I’ve gathered for you below.

Speak to you soon,


what to think about this week

Good Strategy, Bad Strategy

For Rumelt, the heart of a good strategy is insight into the hidden power in a situation, and an appropriate response — whether launching a new product, heading a school or putting a man on the moon. Drawing on examples of the good and bad from across all sectors, he shows how this insight can be cultivated with a wide variety of tools that lead to better thinking.

A coherent plan instead of wishful thinking


The Decision Stack

In my work advising startups and corporates on how to succeed I come across too many businesses that don’t connect the dots from vision to execution. Some have great visions but no execution, some great execution but no vision. Too often the missing piece is strategy – not just a business school exercise but the connective tissue between vision and execution.

At the same time, businesses (especially digital ones) are exploding in complexity, and we can no longer rely on great management or leadership to execute even a well defined strategy.

[VIDEO] So what is an intrepid business leader supposed to do?


I’ve included some affiliate links to Amazon this week, which means I receive a small commission on any purchases you make.

recent posts

The agency trap

How can product management fit into an agency business model when requirements or specifications are often contractually set in stone by the client up-front? Spoiler alert: not easily

Product company or agency?


Whatever this is, this web3 product manager role is not a product manager

Jason Shah wrote a guest post recently for Lenny Rachitsky’s newsletter, “A Product Manager’s Guide to web3”, which describes how product management differs in web3 companies. He notes that joining a web3 company can be “an opaque process and a risky decision”. I’d add “ethically challenging and morally grey” to that description.

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”


Sorting the signal from the noise — a guide to fact-checking

One of the most important, and arguably hardest jobs we have as product managers is to work with our team to sift through information, read between the lines, and verify what is fact and what is merely opinion.

Who can you trust?


upcoming talks and events

15th June 2022

Chief Product Officer Summit

We have the crème de la crème of product leadership events’ taking place on June 15, don’t miss out 🙅🏻‍♀️🙅🏻🙅🏽‍♂️

The FOMO will be real if you miss out on the amazing knowledge being shared by our renowned lineup of speakers.

Every single presentation gives you the opportunity to get instant feedback on your burning questions – directly from the experts.

Sign up and get ready to level up your product-led insight!

Sign up now

can we help you?

Product People is a product management services company. We can help you through consultancy, training and coaching. Just contact us if you need our help!

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Helping people build better products, more successfully, since 2012.

PRODUCTHEAD is a newsletter for product people of all varieties, and is lovingly crafted from a pint or two of Ireland’s black gold.

Read more from Jock

The Practitioner's Guide to Product Management book cover

The Practitioner's Guide To Product Management

by Jock Busuttil

“This is a great book for Product Managers or those considering a career in Product Management.”

— Lyndsay Denton

Jock Busuttil is a freelance head of product, product management coach and author. He has spent over two decades working with technology companies to improve their product management practices, from startups to multinationals. In 2012 Jock founded Product People Limited, which provides product management consultancy, coaching and training. Its clients include BBC, University of Cambridge, Ometria, Prolific and the UK’s Ministry of Justice and Government Digital Service (GDS). Jock holds a master’s degree in Classics from the University of Cambridge. He is the author of the popular book The Practitioner’s Guide To Product Management, which was published in January 2015 by Grand Central Publishing in the US and Piatkus in the UK. He writes the blog I Manage Products and weekly product management newsletter PRODUCTHEAD. You can find him on Mastodon, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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