How to influence product strategy if you’re a product manager at a big company like Google or Amazon


Have you ever wondered how key organizational decisions are made inside the walls of the biggest tech pioneers, like Google, Amazon and Facebook? Many tech professionals know Google Goals and Key Results (OKR), but why do tech giants like Dropbox, Netflix, and Spotify adopt the OKR methodology to determine success or failure?


The OKR approach to roadmap prioritization and planning

Time and time again, technology organizations have seen the power of the OKR approach in effectively setting realistic goals. The best way to think of OKRs as a tree structure, with the highest level of goals and outcomes at the very top. The branches as you move down revolve around more detailed objectives.

Each team across functions is responsible for doing their part to make the goal at the top successful. Here is a big video by Rick Klau of Google Ventures who dives into the details of how OKRs work. Ultimately, goals help an organization and the employees within that organization determine what they are working towards and, more importantly, how they will be measured in their effectiveness in achieving that goal.

During my time in Google’s Access & Energy business unit, the team had a healthy ratio of product managers (PMs) and engineers. Differentiation between teams is really important to avoid duplication and encourage collaboration. Each Googler on the team was responsible for four to six OKRs, ranging from professional OKRs to personal OKRs. After leading product departments for startups and, more recently, for Amazon Web Services, I realized that similar top-down approaches help companies succeed and can drive product innovation.


At Amazon, we use an approach called Operational Plan 1 (OP1), which works similarly to OKRs and defines the roadmap and workforce planning for each team. The team, which may be made up of several smaller teams, then translates their OP1s into AWS Level Goals or S Team Goals. The S Team is made up of only Amazon’s most senior leaders who report directly to the CEO from Amazon.

Amazon is known for its attention to detail and meticulous storytelling. It manages its planning in the same way as Google, but with slight nuances during OP1, each team pitches their ideas, which are then presented to an entire panel of senior executives. This contrasts with Google, where our ideas were first pitched to our product manager and then to our VP of product.


How to add OKRs to your product roadmap

Given the successful top-down approach to achieving the goals of both companies, I often get questions from PM about how best to impact the product lifecycle, while still being part of a bigger goal. large. Here are some best practices I’ve learned in my PM journey so far:

  • Know the terrain and get to know your cross-functional teams

I can’t stress enough how important it is to know each team’s main goals and objectives and how they work. For example, let’s take a large initiative like self-driving vehicles at Google. There’s probably a team that does the voice interface, another that specializes in algorithms, and so on, so before OP1 or OKR planning gets started, get to know the teams involved in the construction of the overall product to make you known and your value proposition clear.

I’ve found that preparing a one- to two-sentence elevator pitch is especially important if you have a team that’s just put together. By working on an elevator pitch beforehand, make sure you take the time to get to know your constituents and have an effective plan that outlines your added value and guidelines for achieving goals. Barkha Saxena, ambassador for the advancement of women in products and chief data officer at Poshmark, advises seeking buy-in outside of the boardroom to get buy-in well ahead of planning for OP1 and the event. okay.

  • Prototype early and often

It is obvious that if you enter OP1 or OKR planning with a prototype that has generated results, it will most likely be funded for the following year. If you want to come up with a “disruptive idea” (in Amazon’s terms) to include in your organization’s goals for the next year, you’ll need customers who have pledged their support for the feature, and the math showing the amount of each market segment the feature could capture in a year.

Other than that, do your homework and research what has worked and what hasn’t worked in the past. For example, a concept like cloud disaster recovery can be a common concept that has many different interpretations and forms in a company like Amazon Web Services. To prepare for OP1 or OKR planning, find out what other teams have done in the past and build on previous ideas.

The conversation becomes much easier when there is an established leader who can vouch for your idea. Many women who expressed their opinion in Advancing Women in Product’s Women’s Future Study demonstrated that there is a positive correlation between sponsorship and influence. This can be attributed to the fact that sponsors will often have the leverage needed to secure additional staff or funding for an idea or project.

To determine which executive sponsor within your organization is the right one for you, do your homework on their current projects and find out where they stand in relation to your position in the organization. Once that’s clear, leverage your elevator pitch to convince them of your vision for the product. In other Amazon parlance, this is often how “two pizza teams” begin (e.g., very simply, a team that two pizzas can feed to get something rambling off the ground).

Alignment with main objectives

OKRs and OPIs are great ways to ensure that product innovation is tied to the direction of your business. With so many tech giants adopting OKRs, product managers will be able to see a difference in the accomplishments of their teams and drive a product that aligns with their organization’s primary goals.


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