Zoom-in and Zoom-out

Imagine your goal is to navigate your way out of this forest.

Person inside the forest thinking

Scenario 1: You are standing inside the forest with only a view of the dense trees

Scenario 1, although not impossible, is the hardest because you only have a view of the trees. You do not have a sense of your location within the forest and hence do not know how to get to the edge of the forest. You may possible guess the direction based on the position of the sun but that’s about it.

Person looking at the forest

Scenario 2: Person standing on a high ground with a larger view of the forest

Scenario 2 is relatively easier than scenario 1 because, this zoomed out view has given you a higher vantage point, making it easier to understand the lay of the land, determine your location within the forest and direction to the edge of the forest.

Forest with a winding road

Scenario 3: Bird’s eye view of the road out of the forest

Scenario 3, is the easiest of all the three scenarios because this max zoomed out view, has not only helped you determine your location within the forest, direction to the edge of the forest but also the exact roadmap to do so.

To successfully navigate out of the forest, you not only need to have the zoomed in view of the trees but also need the zoomed out view of the forest.

Product management is no different. As a product manager, you should not only zoom in to the details but also zoom out to understand the macro picture. This duality and working backwards from the end goal to the current situation while touching the key milestones helps to lay the roadmap for your product.

As a product manager if you are tasked to lay the road as shown in scenario 3, first you would identify the exact location where you want to road to exit the forest, then you would visually trace your way backwards around key milestones winding around the lake, the valley, the giant sequoia tree line etc until the other end of the forest.

Why zoom out as a product manager?

  1. Big Picture: Zooming out to see the forest helps you see the big picture and understand the market, industry, constraints etc. It also helps you pattern match against positive & negative trends in customer behaviour and issues in the product.
  2. Vision: The big picture ensures your product vision is aligned with the company’s vision
  3. Strategy: The zoomed out view helps you make informed strategic choices and trade-offs to help achieve the goal
  4. Prioritization: It builds an understanding of relative importance of each milestone and helps prioritize based on impact & criticality

Why zoom in as a product manager?

  1. Details: Like they say, the devil is in the details. Unless you zoom in deep into the problem space, you wouldn’t discover the nuances and be able to solve the problem as effectively as possible.

Most product managers find it easy to either stay zoomed out or stay zoomed in but find it difficult to do both at the same time. This is a learned skill.

How do you zoom out and zoom in as a product manager?

  1. Ask why before how?
  2. Visualize the end goal and what a successful product would look like once delivered
  3. Define the success metric to call the product a success
  4. Visualize a path by working backwards from the end goal to where you are currently
  5. Identify key milestones along this path that are critical to completing the product
  6. Now thread these milestones in a sequential manner
  7. Identify each task that will help achieve the milestones
  8. Write detailed product requirements for tasks, keeping in mind the end customer & the desired success metric
  9. If possible, A/B test these smaller tasks and measure against success metric
  10. Based on the results, zoom out & course correct to help achieve the end goal
  11. Constantly zoom out and zoom in to identify deviation against intended end goal
  12. Track timelines to ensure on time delivery

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