Why Strategies Fail (and how to avoid it)

Simon Tratnik
  • 8
    min read
  • Simon Tratnik
    May 9, 2023

You're not alone if you've ever watched a brilliant product strategy crash and burn. According to studies, a staggering 60–90% of strategic plans never fully launch, with execution consistently bearing the blame. But what if there's more to the story?

In this guide, we'll explore the real reasons behind failed strategies and how you, as a tech product leader in enterprise, can avoid these pitfalls.

First, let's address the elephant in the room: the epidemic of bad strategy plaguing the product space. You might've seen strategies that are nothing more than thinly defined aspirations, like "We'll become number one." These strategies lack substance, clear choices, and direction, setting up teams to fail while competitors snatch away customers.

To overcome this challenge, it's crucial to understand the common reasons for strategy failure. Are top-down decisions disengaging your team? Is your company ignoring customers' needs in favor of pleasing investors and management? Are you missing clear choices that balance customer needs with business goals? Or is your "strategy" just budgeting, resourcing, and prioritization masquerading as the real thing?

By recognizing and addressing these critical issues, you can create strategies that are truly effective—ones that are human-centered, business-focused, and grounded in reality.

So, let's dive into the heart of the matter and learn how you can craft successful strategies that bring your ambitious product visions to life.

Common Reasons for Strategy Failure

As a tech product leader, it's essential to recognize the common reasons for strategy failure. Identifying these pitfalls will help you develop an effective strategy that leads to success.

Top-Down Decision-Making

When senior leadership unilaterally decides on a strategy without involving the team, it can lead to disengagement and a lack of ownership. This top-down approach not only demoralizes employees but also deprives your strategy of valuable insights from the people who work closest to the product.

Case studies of failed top-down strategies:

  • Blockbuster's leadership failed to adapt to the changing market and dismissed the potential of streaming services, which led to their downfall.
  • Nokia's senior management's inability to foresee the smartphone revolution and adapt quickly contributed to the company's struggles.

Ignoring the Customer

When strategies prioritize pleasing investors and management over addressing real customer needs, they're doomed to fail. A customer-centric approach is key to creating a product that resonates with your target audience and encourages loyalty.

Examples of customer-centric strategies that succeeded:

  • BlackBerry prioritized their existing business customers and ignored the consumer market, which allowed Apple's iPhone to dominate.
  • Sears failed to keep up with evolving customer preferences, leading to a steady decline in foot traffic and eventual bankruptcy.

No Clear Choices

Successful strategies require well-defined choices that balance customer needs with business goals. A lack of clear choices can result in a directionless strategy, leaving your team uncertain about how to proceed and making it difficult to measure success.

Real-life examples of the impact of clear choices on success:

  • Yahoo! struggled to find its identity, spreading its resources too thin across too many products, ultimately losing market share to focused competitors like Google.
  • Xerox failed to capitalize on its revolutionary inventions like the graphical user interface, allowing other companies like Apple and Microsoft to commercialize their innovations.

Strategy in Name Only

Budgeting, resourcing, and prioritization are all essential components of a successful strategy, but they don't constitute a strategy by themselves. A true strategy should provide a roadmap for your team to follow, detailing how to achieve your goals and create a competitive advantage.

The consequences of an incomplete strategy:

  • General Motors' lack of a clear strategy and inability to adapt to the market's changing needs led to a steep decline in market share, eventually resulting in a government bailout.
  • Kodak's strategy focused on preserving its film business, overlooking the need for a comprehensive digital strategy that could have saved the company.

Guidelines for Avoiding a Failing Strategy

Now that you understand the common reasons for strategy failure, it's time to learn how to avoid these pitfalls and create a strategy that propels your product toward success.

Making Clear Choices

Clearly defining what you will focus on—and what you won't—is crucial for a successful strategy. By identifying your priorities and establishing boundaries, you'll provide your team with the direction they need to achieve your goals.

How to define focus areas and boundaries:

  1. Conduct a thorough analysis of your market, customers, and competition to determine areas of opportunity and differentiation.
  2. Set specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) objectives that align with your overall vision.

The benefits of clear choices in strategy:

  • Improved focus and alignment among team members
  • Increased ability to measure progress and adapt as needed

Collaborating with Your Team

Fostering an inclusive decision-making process is vital for strategy success. When your team feels involved and heard, they'll be more engaged and committed to executing the strategy.

How to encourage collaboration:

  1. Involve team members in strategy discussions and brainstorming sessions, valuing their input and expertise.
  2. Use tools and techniques that facilitate collaboration, such as shared documents, communication platforms, and regular team meetings.

The impact of teamwork on strategy success:

  • Greater sense of ownership and commitment to the strategy
  • A more well-rounded strategy, incorporating diverse perspectives and insights

Being Human-Centered

Putting your customers first and designing strategies around their needs is crucial for long-term success. A human-centered approach ensures your product remains relevant and valuable to your target audience.

The importance of putting customers first:

  1. Prioritize customer feedback and continuously iterate on your product based on their needs and preferences.
  2. Develop a deep understanding of your customers through research by running regular 1 on 1 interviews and data analysis.

Basing Strategy on Reality

Grounding your strategy in facts and practical considerations helps ensure its feasibility and effectiveness. It's important to balance optimism with realism to create a strategy that can be executed successfully.

How to ground your strategy in reality:

  1. Use data-driven insights and market research to inform your strategy and decision-making.
  2. Set realistic goals and expectations, acknowledging the limitations of your resources, team, and market conditions.

The pitfalls of over-optimism and unrealistic expectations:

  • Overestimating your team's capacity, leading to burnout and missed deadlines
  • Underestimating the challenges or competition in your market, resulting in an ineffective strategy

By understanding the common reasons for strategy failure and following these guidelines, you'll be well on your way to crafting a successful, human-centered, and business-focused strategy that drives your product's success in the enterprise market.

Characteristics of a Successful Strategy

Now that we've covered the common reasons for strategy failure and how to avoid them, let's explore the characteristics of a successful strategy. By embodying these traits, you'll be better equipped to create and execute a winning strategy for your product.

Human-Centered and Business-Focused

A successful strategy should always be human-centered and business-focused. This means keeping your customers' needs at the forefront while also ensuring your strategy aligns with your company's business goals and objectives.

How to create a human-centered, business-focused strategy:

  1. Develop a deep understanding of your customers and their pain points through research and feedback.
  2. Establish clear business objectives that support both customer satisfaction and company growth.

A Blend of Analysis and Imagination

A great strategy is a blend of analysis and imagination, using data-driven insights to inform decisions while also envisioning new and innovative ways to stand out in the market.

How to balance analysis and imagination in your strategy:

  1. Use data and research to identify trends, opportunities, and challenges in your market.
  2. Encourage creativity and out-of-the-box thinking in brainstorming sessions and strategy discussions.

A Team Sport that Involves Everyone Across the Organization

Involving everyone across the organization in the strategy process is essential for success. By engaging all team members, you'll foster a sense of ownership, commitment, and collaboration, ensuring your strategy is well-rounded and supported.

How to make strategy a team sport:

  1. Include representatives from all departments in strategy discussions to ensure diverse perspectives are considered.
  2. Foster a culture of open communication and collaboration, encouraging team members to share ideas and feedback.

How to Create a Successful Strategy

Armed with the knowledge of why strategies fail, how to avoid these pitfalls, and the characteristics of a successful strategy, you're ready to create a winning plan for your product. Follow these steps to design and execute a successful strategy as a tech product leader in enterprise:

1. Define Clear Objectives and Goals

Start by establishing clear objectives and goals for your product. Ensure they align with both your customers' needs and your organization's overall business objectives.

How to define clear objectives and goals:

  • Identify key customer pain points and opportunities for improvement.
  • Set SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) goals that support your objectives.

2. Gather and Analyze Data

Collect and analyze data from various sources, including customer feedback, market research, and competitor analysis, to inform your strategy and make data-driven decisions.

How to gather and analyze data:

  • Conduct customer interviews, surveys, and user testing.
  • Analyze market trends, opportunities, and threats.
  • Evaluate your competitors' strengths and weaknesses.

3. Involve Your Team

Engage your team throughout the strategy process, valuing their input and expertise. Involving everyone across the organization fosters a sense of ownership, commitment, and collaboration.

How to involve your team:

  • Schedule regular strategy meetings and brainstorming sessions.
  • Use collaborative tools and platforms to encourage open communication and idea sharing.

4. Make Clear Choices

Make clear choices about what your product will focus on and what it won't. This helps you allocate resources efficiently and ensures your team is aligned on priorities.

How to make clear choices:

  • Identify the most promising opportunities based on data and team input.
  • Clearly articulate and communicate these priorities to your team and stakeholders.

5. Be Human-Centered

Design your strategy around your customers' needs and preferences, ensuring your product remains relevant and valuable to your target audience.

How to be human-centered:

  • Prioritize customer feedback and iterate on your product based on their needs.
  • Develop a deep understanding of your customers through research and data analysis.

6. Base Your Strategy on Reality

Ground your strategy in facts and practical considerations, balancing optimism with realism to create a feasible and effective plan.

How to base your strategy on reality:

  • Use data-driven insights and market research to inform your decisions.
  • Set realistic goals and expectations, considering your resources, team, and market conditions.

7. Monitor Progress and Adjust as Needed

Regularly track your progress against your objectives and goals. Be prepared to adjust your strategy as necessary based on learnings, changes in the market, or feedback from your team and customers.

How to monitor progress and adjust your strategy:

  • Establish key performance indicators (KPIs) and regularly review them.
  • Hold frequent check-ins with your team to discuss progress, challenges, and learnings.

8. Communicate Your Progress

Effectively communicate your progress to your team, stakeholders, and customers. Transparency and clear communication ensure everyone remains aligned and committed to the product's success.

How to communicate your strategy and progress:

  • Share your strategy and objectives in an accessible format, such as a presentation or document.
  • Provide regular updates on progress, challenges, and achievements.

How to Get Started

Now that you understand the characteristics of a successful strategy, let's dive into Human1st framework that can help you craft one: The Product Strategy Sprint. The Product Strategy Sprint is designed to help you:

  1. Eliminate distractions and discussion loops: Streamline the strategy process by focusing on key objectives and keeping discussions on track.
  2. Motivate team members and promote unbiased idea generation: Encourage all players to contribute and create an environment where the best ideas shine, regardless of their source.
  3. Get started quickly and learn fast: Cut the perfectionism that's holding you back and adopt an iterative approach to strategy development.
  4. Curate and identify standout opportunities: Generate a wealth of ideas and use data and team input to pinpoint the most promising opportunities.
  5. Build a foolproof roadmap for execution: Create a detailed action plan that your team can execute, and decision-makers can support.

If you're ready to take your product strategy to the next level, consider scheduling a free consulting call with our product experts. During this call, we'll discuss your current strategy challenges and explore how the Product Strategy Sprint can help you create a clear roadmap for success.


As a product leader, you have the knowledge, tools, and team to create and execute winning strategies. By understanding the common pitfalls of failed strategies and applying the guidelines for avoiding them, you can create a powerful roadmap for success.

Keep in mind the characteristics of a successful strategy: human-centered and business-focused, a blend of analysis and imagination, and a team sport involving everyone across the organization. Use the Product Strategy Sprint framework as a guide, and never forget the importance of addressing strategy failures head-on.

Your product's success depends on your ability to develop a well-crafted strategy that not only tackles real problems but also engages your team in the process. Embrace your role as a product leader, empower your team, and commit to creating a winning strategy that propels your product forward in the competitive enterprise market.

Remember, the future is in your hands. By leveraging your skills, ideas, and expertise, you can invent the future before someone else does. So, take a step forward, schedule a free consulting call with our product experts, and start pioneering your product's success today.

Human1st Weekly Newsletter on topics like product, growth, leadership and collaboration.