I haven’t heard what the strategy is!
It's bad when big decisions are made without context, or with little explanation. It’s worst when you're told that there are no master plans, that success will no longer be about delivering product features. Success will be about customer value learnings and adapting the strategy accordingly (read: there is no product strategy).
Instead of executing on strategy we will look for one.
Instead of making complex plans that are based on a lot of assumptions we will sketch out a hypotheses and test via constant adjustments called pivots (changing course with one foot anchored to the ground). We will go from failure to failure, adapting, deciding whether to pivot or persevere.
It’s a methodology made popular by Eric Ries called the Lean Startup and it favors experimentation over elaborate planning, customer feedback over intuition, and iterative design over traditional “big design up front" development. You produce a “minimum viable product"— that lacks many features that may prove essential later on—gather feedback on it from customers, and then figure out which parts work brilliantly, which are misguided and adapt.
While some will claim that figuring out the right thing to build by creating a feedback loop to adjust the strategy makes the product more successful, I believe that it can lead to poor team engagement.
Together, we will learn how to solve the customer problem.
Execution speed has slowed to the ground, you suspect that the lack of elaborate planning has resulted in misalignment and a lack of buy-in. That’s when you need to re-inspire the troops and make sure they know why it’s important to experiment and constantly adjust. Why it’s critical for them to fail fast and adapt. Why it’s absolutely imperative to focus on enabling users to have the “right" set of experiences.
As a product leader, you have the single most powerful influence on teams’ engagement levels. It’s your job to make them care. It’s your job to get them to do their best work, deliver value to customers, and build something they are all proud of.
Give them context, and they will do good work. Clearly articulate WHY a product is being placed in constant adjustments mode. Make sure that you fully recognize the driver behind the business decision, together with the upside of putting the product in a build-measure-learn loop. Be clear on how the decision was built, and the foundations behind the driver.
Manage expectations through a collaborative effort
Next, you need to let others contribute ideas. The problem isn’t necessarily that they are disengaged by the lack of strategic thinking — it’s that they’re lacking a method to collaborate.
Gather information informally through daily one-on-one interactions, discuss how you want everyone on the team to involve themselves. Let them monitor and measure progress. Task them to come prepared at weekly meetings armed with data to change the product course.
One-on-ones also allow you to socialize the product vision informally. Pick out and emphasize that not all contributions will turn out to be improvements. Be honest about your failures and lapses of judgments highlighting also which of their initiatives were correct or not.
By thoughtfully involving others in your product management activities you give everyone on the team a voice. Strategy or not, it’ll allow you to formally give direction.