Difference Between Strategic Thinking and Strategic Planning

Strategic Thinking vs Strategic Planning

If you’ve read our previous blogs, you must be equipped or at least acquainted with the importance of ‘User’ in any sort of product journey.  After all, there’s hardly any product manager who can function effectively without understanding their users’ persona. 

However, no matter how much time you spend on figuring out your user’s behavior or what sort of problems they are faced with, if you don’t have an efficient method to work upon the roadmap, then you’re dead in the water before you even start.

Consumers undoubtedly have immense power and control in the market. The very Inception of any product idea comes through User research and market milieu.  So, if you are not gauging the pulse of the market and your customer needs, then all your effort in strategizing might go futile. 

Sticking to a goal and executing it perfectly can be very difficult in this rapidly changing digital age. Hence,  strategic thinking and strategic planning are very important.  Once you have a product idea in place, its development and management methodology has to be laid down. 

The whole process of assimilating ideas, adopting methodology, and creating a roadmap, in demotic terms is called ‘laying down a product strategy’.

Product strategy has two essential concepts: Strategy thinking and Strategic planning.

What Is Strategic Thinking & Strategy Planning

Planning is an ongoing process that should be revisited frequently to ensure that the product is still on track concerning customer needs and business objectives. It’s also necessary to continuously course-correct when required so that you don’t veer off track.

Strategy thinking refers to the ability to think differently, outside the box. It’s about solving problems creatively and coming up with innovative solutions that are different from what has already been tried out by others in the market. 

Product strategy requires a lot of strategic thinking since it is an amalgamation of different ideas brought together to form one coherent, thought-out plan.

The second concept is Strategic planning which is used for creating a product roadmap i.e. generating a sequence of steps or phases required for developing an idea/concept into a final product ready to be launched into the market. 

The creation of this road map also involves setting timelines for each phase so that there’s no delay once your product enters one cycle after another until all development activities have been completed.

A lot of people misconstrue the two concepts and conflate the two these, but they are in no way discordant to each other.

Strategic thinking is the ability to bring together different ideas for creating a product or an idea that can have an impact on or provide some benefit to society. 

Strategic thinking also involves being able to learn from mistakes and all the failures that one might face while trying out something new. This way you will be able to draw up new strategies for the future so that there are very few chances of failure when you are trying out something completely new.

The concept of strategic planning seems relatively easy but it’s not as simple as it looks. Many feel they have decent strategic skills but don’t understand how important it is to plan your steps/phases before taking any action. This is where a product manager can help, by taking all that strategic thinking and turning it into a practical plan which the team can use as a guideline to achieve their goals.

The Job of the Product Manager

  1. A product manager has to be good at strategic thinking as well as have the ability to see things from different perspectives. They also need to be able to understand customer needs and develop products/services which meet those needs. 
  2. Additionally, they need to be able to manage the team and ensure that everyone is working towards the same goal. 
  3. Lastly, they need to constantly evaluate the product and make changes/improvements wherever necessary.

Here are some key concepts which if followed carefully can help you create a robust strategy for your business:

1. Identify Your Market Positioning

The very first thing that comes into play when identifying your market positioning is ‘the problem’. This means that before you plan anything else, you must clearly understand what problem you are trying to solve, and who the customer is that you’re solving this problem for.

2. Understand Your Competitors

Next in line, it becomes imperative to carefully study your competitors and their offerings to stay ahead of them.  This can be carried out by studying and analyzing all kinds of sources including financial statements, patents, news articles, etc.

3. Set Your Objectives

Once you have a clear understanding of all the factors mentioned above (and most importantly your customer’s needs), you can set your product development goals accordingly. This will help determine what kind of features need attention and which ones must be left behind. These goals must be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound).

4. Create a Roadmap

This is where things start to take shape.  With your product goals in hand, you can now create a roadmap that outlines the steps needed to achieve them. The level of detail will vary depending on the complexity of your product. 

At a very high level, it should include what needs to be done and when it needs to be completed.

5. Gather Feedback and iterate

The final step is to put your product out in the market and gather feedback from customers. Use this feedback to improve your product and make course corrections as needed.

How Both the Concepts Different Yet Work Together

Now that you have a slight idea that both strategic thinking and strategic planning are the branches of the same tree. 

Let’s look at a few of the major distinguishing points between the two and how they are bought in synergy to achieve maximum output.

1. Nature

Strategic thinking is dynamic and ongoing.

While strategic planning can be static in specific projects. 

They both have to be done simultaneously because merely insights never work without the well-made implementation plan and the other way around.

2. Time Horizon

Strategic thinking is future-oriented. 

While strategic planning can be both short-term and long-term oriented.

3. Scope or Focus

The focus of strategic thinking is on creating options for organizational success. 

Whereas, the focus of strategic planning is on choosing a particular path to achieve desired outcomes

4. Level of Detail

The level of detail in strategic thinking is high, as it is used to generate alternative courses of action, 

While the level of detail in strategic planning is lower because it involves making decisions about resources and time horizons

5. Use of Tools and Techniques

The tools and techniques used in strategic thinking are creativity, intuition, and analysis, 

While the tools and techniques used in strategic planning are more implementation and organization-based.

6. Purpose and Objective

Strategic thinking is about ‘What and When’.

While Strategic planning is about ‘How’.

For successful product development and management all ‘What, when, and how need to be answered. Hence, none of the two concepts can function successfully in isolation. Strategic thinking requires the setting of a direction and objective, through analysis of information and imagination. 

Strategic planning is needed to implement a chosen strategy through implementation plans, monitoring, and control.

7. Decision-Making Process used

Strategic thinking involves decision-making based on gut feeling as well as intuition. 

While, strategic planning calls for rational decision-making, involving documentation were possible; factors such as resource availability also influence strategic planning decisions.

8. Process involved

Strategic thinking is all about envisioning and insights and is optimal when done right before the process of strategic planning.

While strategic planning is about translating and converting those insights into a plan of action, it is important to note that the sequence of events could be different in each company. The product management process usually starts with market research and ends with product delivery. It covers everything in between, such as concept development, requirements gathering, design, testing, and launch.

9. Primary Reason for Processes:

Strategic thinking occurs to gain an advantage over competitors. 

While strategic planning is also relevant for companies that want to operate at their full potential.

10. Time Frame involved:

Strategic thinking requires only a short time frame since it deals with largely intuitive processes, which are not always linear or sequential. 

Strategic planning calls for a longer time frame since the process deals with many moving parts which need proper sequencing to work optimally together.

11. Skill Sets required:

Effective strategic thinking requires empathy, creativity, open-mindedness, and the ability to see things from different perspectives. 

Strategic planners need to be able to juggle multiple tasks and priorities simultaneously, have excellent organizational skills, be good at problem-solving and have a deep understanding of the company’s business model and industry.

An efficacious strategy planning calls for organizational skills, prioritization. Both the concepts have to work in synergy.

12. Importance of involving everyone:

While strategic thinking can be done by a single individual, it is usually better if it is done as a team exercise. This is because strategic thinking requires input from different people with different backgrounds and knowledge bases. The goal is to come up with a well-rounded solution that takes all aspects of the situation into account. 

Strategic planning, on the other hand, should be done by senior management to ensure that all key stakeholders are represented.

Both strategic thinking and strategic planning require a clear vision.

A clear goal is essential for any strategic initiative. Without one, it can be difficult to make decisions and stay focused on what needs to be done. A good goal should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.

The strategic plan provides the details of how to achieve the desired outcomes. The product manager needs to come up with a strategy that is both realistic and achievable. A clearly defined goal ensures that all decisions can be made based on what is required to reach this goal, making it a more efficient process.

Final Words

The life cycle of a product has several phases and one of the most essential phases is strategizing, as it ultimately determines the performance of the product. Both Strategic thinking and strategic planning are super important. Both of these are the two inseparable limbs of product strategy therefore should be given equal emphasis.

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