Do Product Owners Do Strategy?

Too much Product Owner advice focuses on the execution piece of the role. But strategic focus is a key leadership competency. Product Owners that want to move up the career ladder and have more impact would do well to focus beyond the backlog. They should continually refine their skills at casting strong purpose and vision, formulating an effective strategy to reach that vision, successfully advocating for the resources to deliver on that strategy, and then effectively executing on it.

Is strategy part of the Product Owner role? Not just in theory, but in the real world? We interviewed POs to find out how strategy shows up in their responsibilities. In this episode, we share what we learned and what we recommend to our clients when it comes to POs and product strategy.


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Episode transcription

Richard Lawrence

Too much Product Owner advice focuses on the execution part of the role. While those tactical skills are important, and something we have a lot to say about, building a bunch of small features really well doesn’t guarantee a good business outcome.

I know I’ve told this story before, so I won’t go all the way into it, but that’s kind of how I got into Product Ownership in the first place. I was coaching a team that had gotten good at the eXtreme Programming practices, delivering high-quality user stories week after week. But it turned out nobody wanted the product we were building. This team needed a product strategy that would lead to a product that target customers actually wanted to use.

Peter Green

If you’re a Product Owner, how do you think about strategy? We asked that question on LinkedIn a few weeks ago, and we got some really interesting answers. Thanks to everyone that responded in DMs, and especially those that took the time to jump on a call with us to let us pick your brains! In this episode, we’ll share what we learned about what was the same and what was different across different companies and different contexts. Then we’ll share our favorite advice for Product Owners for how to approach strategy, whether you’re taking the lead on it or simply responding to it. But first, this show is a free resource sponsored by the Humanizing Work company.


Humanizing Work exists to make work more fit for humans and humans more capable of doing great work. To that end, we do training and coaching in three areas:

  1. We help leaders lead empowered teams and individuals more effectively.
  2. We help product people turn their ideas into good visions, strategies, and backlogs.
  3. We help teams collaborate better to produce meaningful outcomes on complex work.


If you or your organization would benefit from better leadership, better product management, or better collaboration, and if you find our vision for human-centric work compelling, visit the contact page on and schedule a conversation with us.

Ok, so here’s what we learned from the interviews we conducted:

First, and this didn’t surprise us too much, is that when people used the term “strategy,” we found that they were describing lots of different things. In some cases, it was clearly product strategy the way we’d define it, the big steps towards a vision. In other cases, though, it was a strategy for a specific aspect of the company or product. One example comes from a PO we interviewed that was responsible for the user education strategy at her company.


Similarly, there’s a lot of variability in PO responsibilities at different companies and how those intersect with strategy. One of the biggest factors there seemed to be company size.

  • In smaller companies, POs are often deeply involved in defining and driving strategy. The role really is end to end. Some of the POs that we interviewed were crafting strategy collaboratively with co-founders or with executives.
  • In larger companies, POs may have a more execution-focused role, inheriting strategy from upper management but having less influence over its formation.

Sometimes, though, a piece of strategy was specifically delegated to a PO in a larger org, like one we interviewed who was often asked to take an idea, proof of concept, or technical capability and create a strategic plan around that thing.


One thing that was pretty consistent in the interviews was the relationship between vision, strategy, goals, and backlogs. All of the POs we spoke with described a similar relationship between that company vision, company strategy, something like OKRs (Objectives and Key Results), and the product backlog. For all of these POs OKRs were acting as kind if a middle layer translating high-level strategic goals into specific actions and backlog items.


When it comes to the audience for artifacts around strategy, with few exceptions, most POs were primarily creating strategy documents and presentations to influence executives, but there were two other audiences that came up a lot:

  • The primary audience for strategic presentations was consistently executives. The POs were making the case for the value of the work their teams were doing, and they were using strategy as a way to emphasize the importance of their work for the long-term.
  • The teams were a secondary audience for strategy. The POs we spoke to described a more transparent and informal interaction model, where they frequently clarify the ‘why’ behind work items to foster understanding and buy-in. In that context, detailed strategy decks were typically not used.
  • Tertiary audiences like peers in adjacent roles like marketing and business development, though that interaction tended to be less frequent and less detailed compared to the interactions with executives and with team members.


The next discovery we made in our interviews was kind of reassuring. That was that over and over, Product Owners shared that their strategies were not static; they were being regularly refined based on feedback from various stakeholders, especially executives. Revisions sometimes involved strengthening components of the strategy to better align with company goals or to better answer a key stakeholder’s question or concern. Other times, they were adjusted based on new information, like a competitor’s announcement or a newly discovered opportunity.


The final common thread in the interviews is that every single person we talked to asked us to share what other POs do for strategy, and whether there were templates, standardized approaches, or just what advice we had to help them develop and communicate strategy.

So, for the rest of this episode, we’re gonna go there. Based on what we’ve seen produce the best results, we’ll share the things we find ourselves recommending most to our clients.


Product strategy serves as the crucial link between the overarching product vision and the more granular product backlog. It’s a concrete description of the steps we plan to take that will transform our vision into reality. These steps could involve targeting a new market segment, fulfilling an unmet customer need, or introducing significant capabilities to achieve a previously unattainable business outcome.


Even if you’re not directly crafting the strategy, as a PO, understanding and, ideally, contributing to the strategic direction is essential. A few reasons why:

  1. First, wherever the product strategy originated, making it visible and comprehensible ensures that every team member understands and aligns with your long-term goals. This visibility also helps you prioritize backlog items so they’re coherent with the strategic steps.


  1. The second factor is Operational Execution: A clear strategy helps in making informed decisions about what to include in the backlog and in what order, so you can optimize the impact of development efforts.
  2. It’s also important for Career Growth. Too much Product Owner advice focuses on the execution piece of the role, like we said at the top of the episode. But strategic focus is a key leadership competency. Product Owners that want to move up the career ladder and have more impact would do well to focus beyond the backlog. They should continually be refining their skills at casting strong purpose and vision, formulating an effective strategy to reach that vision, successfully advocating for the resources to deliver on that strategy, and then effectively executing on it.


If you’re a PO who doesn’t own the product strategy, you can still take proactive steps to understand and visualize it:

  • Create a Strategy Canvas: If the strategy hasn’t been clearly communicated, draft a visual representation based on your understanding. Tools like the Humanizing Work Strategic Steps Canvas we described back in episode 128 can be really useful in this process. This approach not only clarifies your hypothesis about the strategy but it also is a great tool to invite corrections and insights from leaders, which enhances alignment.
  • Leverage Training: like our Product Owner and leadership courses, which will make you more capable to better visualize and articulate long-term goals, which in turn enhances your strategic influence.


Once the strategy is visualized:

  • Invite Feedback: Use your strategic visualization to engage stakeholders and refine your understanding. This interaction often reveals gaps in what you think of as the strategy and they think of as the strategy and allows you to contribute more effectively.  Check out our episode on how to get early feedback on a work in progress for more information on how to do that.
  • Influence and Adapt: Use your position to influence the strategy. Even simple questions can provoke deeper thinking and help refine strategic direction, ensuring it’s robust and actionable.


If you are in a position to set the direction, we strongly recommend you don’t go straight to strategy but first:

  • Articulate a Vision Statement: Develop a clear, compelling vision statement that paints a vivid picture of the future when you’re successful. Be careful to avoid generic corporate jargon.  You want to keep the vision meaningful—vivid and engaging.
  • Define Strategic Steps: Identify 3-5 major steps that will move your product from its current state towards that vision. Each step should address specific challenges and yield tangible benefits, setting the stage for the subsequent steps.


A few ways that you can really optimize your use of strategy include:

  • Participate in Professional Development: Take advantage of opportunities like public CSPO workshop or even the Advanced CSPO program, which delve into techniques for effective customer research, assumption testing, and strategic alignment.
  • Apply Learning to Daily Work: Integrate insights from training to better connect day-to-day activities with strategic objectives, this helps ensure that everything you’re working on is adding value in line with that bigger picture.

By embracing these roles and responsibilities, Product Owners can significantly enhance their strategic impact, ensuring that their products not only meet short-term demand but also are contributing to long-term business goals.


We love helping people get better at this stuff. Visit for more free resources around strategy and vision, for our public product owner and leadership courses, or to contact us about helping you clarify, visualize, and communicate your product strategy.

Thanks for tuning in!


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