Celebrate the No and prioritize ruthlessly – About Steve Jobs' take on strategy

DECEMBER 11 2018 | 5 min read
We all aim to build great products or launch outstanding services. Getting there usually is a function of three tasks that you as a strategist should advance. Learn what they are and how Steve Job's view on strategy and focus will help you get them completed.
Focused smartphone, Steve Jobs' take on strategy

How to be strategic and create the right stuff

  1. Understand what is the problem you're looking to solve and for which group of people.
  2. Create alignment within your team around what true success looks like. Be visionary and inspire others to achieve what seems impossible.
  3. Celebrate the "No" and prioritize ruthlessly.

The first two tasks require strategic thinking and leadership skills. Prioritization, in contrast, is more of a habit that can (and should) be learned and ingrained into how you and your team make decisions.

Ruthless prioritization

Prioritization is tremendously hard because most of us humans hate saying "No". The temptation to say yes and do more is bigger. There are usually countless reasons to enter yet another market or build a new feature that wins the desperately needed client. No one's feelings get hurt. Everyone gets their cake and short-term results might even prove you right.

Except no. Time, energy, and attention are not free. A good strategy is focused. Focus is a strategic advantage that lets your company or team move faster on what matters most. Is improving user experience your most important tasks? Do it and don't do something else. That's why scrappy startups with ten employees can win against a company of thousands.

The more your plans get watered down trying to do lots of things, the less likely you are to keep your competitive advantage. There is a timeless and beautiful quote by Steve Jobs that sums this up, but also provides guidance on your way to strategic excellence:
"People think focus means saying yes to the thing you've got to focus on. But that's not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I'm actually as proud of the things we haven't done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things."
— Steve Jobs
We all remember well, how Steve Jobs famously saved Apple by ruthlessly cut the product portfolio from tens of products to just four products. Using the famous four quadrant product grid he focused the offering on serving consumers, professionals, desktop and portables (mobile).

If you struggle to win a strategic advantage or even fear losing it, go back to task one and do more research to better understand the problem. Don't ask "What more can we do to win?" or "How can we prevent all of our projects to fail?". Instead, ask "What are the 1, 2, or 3 priorities we must focus on, and how can we ensure those go spectacularly?".

When you're confronted with a question like "Should we deliver this mediocre thing, or should we spend additional resources that we don't have to make it better?" the fight has already been lost. The thing you failed to do months ago was prioritizing aggressively enough. Either this thing matters, in which case you make it great. Or it doesn't and you don't even initiate it in the first place.

You need to establish a culture within your company and team that celebrates saying "No" and embrace a ruthless prioritization workflow that leads to more effective roadmaps.

5 proven steps for establishing a ruthless prioritization workflow in your team

In my role as head of product at airfocus I've conducted hundreds of customer interviews about prioritization workflows and how to create more effective roadmaps. As a result, we've identified five steps to institute a ruthless prioritization workflow and to make this an integrated and collaborative part of how you execute your roadmaps:

1. Define strategic value and cost drivers
2. Rate your projects, initiatives or features
3. Discuss your priorities and decide on next steps
4. Communicate your priorities to get everyone aligned
5. Create a culture that celebrates the "No" and make your prioritization workflow a habit
Learn more about how to master prioritization or put the airfocus prioritization scoring to test on your product with our 14-day free trial. airfocus also integrates with all of your existing workflows and tools like Jira, Asana and Trello so you can get started in minutes and have your content synced across all your tools.
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