Battles of Inches or Miles
There are some product efforts that are battles of inches. The goal is to generate a tiny incremental improvement in a high-leverage system–for example, a percentage point increase in a KPI that yields millions in incremental revenue.
These battles of inches require rapid iteration and testing with lots of metric-driven experiments. The numbers guide the outcome, and you can test your way to a win.
There are other product efforts that are battles of miles. These are major bets that are driven more by product sense and deep knowledge of the market and customer. Metrics and experiments are important, but ultimately intuition guides the outcome.
It is critical to know what type of product battle you’re engaged in. Bringing a purely analytical toolkit to a battle of miles will spell trouble. And conversely so will bringing pure product sense skills to a battle of inches.
The worst possible strategy is to engage in the wrong battle from the start. A battle of inches over low-leverage territory means you stay busy, but accomplish nothing. A battle of miles where the ultimate prize is small means you accept a tremendous amount of risk and cost for very little reward.
So carefully assess before engaging. And then bring the right toolkits.