The vision plays an important role in bringing a new product to life: It acts as the overarching goal guiding everyone involved in the development effort. Equally important is the product strategy, the path chosen to attain the vision. Without a shared vision and strategy, people are likely to pull in different directions, and the chances of creating a great product are rather slim.
As the vision and the strategy are vital, teams need an effective tool to describe their ideas and to capture their assumptions. I’ve named the tool that I use the Vision Board. The board has grown out of my client-facing work, as well as developing products and services for my own company. I have designed it to work in a Lean Startup and Business Model Generation context, as well as in a Scrum setting. This post introduces the Vision Board and explains how you can take advantage of it.
This post was last updated on 27 November 2013.
A Sample Vision Board
In the last quarter of 2012, I was exploring the idea of creating a software-based version of my Product Canvas tool that integrates seamlessly with JIRA and GreenHopper. To get started, I created the following Product Vision Board:
The vision board captures my assumptions about the users and the customers of the new tool, the needs the product should address, the key product features, and the value the product should create for my own business, Pichler Consulting. (I explain the sections of the board in more detail below.)
As you may have noticed, I have kept the information on the board concise and coarse-grained. I did not, for instance, write personas and user stories, or create a design sketch. There are two reasons for this: First, I did not know enough about the users and customers at the outset to write personas and to describe the product in more detail. Second, I find that more information is best captured by other tools: the Product Canvas and the Business Model Canvas.
The board proved very valuable for me: It helped me think through my idea, and it allowed me to share my thoughts with my team, and with our development partner. Additionally, the vision board helped me investigate the greatest risks by testing my assumptions, as I explain below.
The Product Vision Board uses five sections as shown in the following diagram and explained below.
Vision Statement is a concise summary of the idea that describes what you want to achieve. I also find it helpful to state the intention or motivation behind the idea. Limit the vision statement to two sentences.
Target Group describes the market or market segment you want to address. You should state who the product is likely to benefit, who its users and its customers are.
Needs describes the problems and pain points the product removes, and the benefits and gains the product provides for its of the users and customers. The section should make it clear why people will want to use and buy your product, and what the product’s value proposition is.
Product summarises the three to five features of your product that are critical for its success. These are likely to correlate to its unique selling proposition, and they should address the needs identified.
Depending on your product, the features may relate to functional properties (“mobile data access”), the design (“cool, slick design that supports the brand and appeals to the target group”), or the technologies (“4G provided”).
Don’t make the mistake of listing lots of features. Stick to a maximum of five. Capture the product details at a later stage in your Product Canvas or product backlog.
Value explains why it’s worthwhile for your company to invest in the product. The section states the desired business benefits, for instance, increase revenue, enter a new market, reduce cost, develop the brand, or acquire valuable knowledge. The latter can be just as valuable as the former: When Toyota shipped the Prius in 1997, for instance, the car was not earning any money. But it immediately developed its brand (“green car company”), and had gained an advantage in hybrid technology.
The Product Vision Board is not only a thinking and communications tool, it also allows you to test your assumptions, and capture market research insights. To get started, I find it helpful to identify the greatest risk or biggest uncertainty on the board. This creates focus, and it enforces a fail-fast: figuring out quickly what works and what doesn’t, which assumptions hold true, and which don’t.
When I was working on my digital canvas idea, for instance, the greatest risk was initially misunderstanding the user needs, and potentially building a product that does not provide much value. I consequently decided to test my user needs assumptions before exploring further what features the tool should provide, or how the product should be implemented.
As a consequence, I started carrying out a series of problem interviews: structured conversation with a prospect to understand the individual’s problems and goals without referring to the solution.
The interviews helped me understand the target group better, and assess how much value a product canvas table app with JIRA integration would provide. It also made me update and change the board to reflect my latest thinking, as the following picture shows:
I suggest you follow a similar approach when you work with the vision board: Identify your biggest risk, and attack this risk first. Don’t be afraid to fail: Early failure saves you time, money, and tears.
I find that the strength of the Vision Board is its simplicity: It captures the core ideas necessary to create a new product — the customers, the problem, the solution, and the desired business benefits. But it does not detail how the benefits are achieved. This is where the Business Model Canvas comes in: The canvas states how the product creates value, and it covers additional aspects including the customer relationship, the partners, and key resources. The following pictures illustrates how the Vision Board and the Business Model Canvas can be used together:
The Product Vision Board describes the vision and the product strategy, but it’s not well suited to capture the product details. I therefore recommend that you derive a Product Canvas from your vision board, once you start validating product risks, as the following picture shows:
Physical or Electronic?
I have a preference to work with a physical Vision Board that’s put up on the office wall where everyone can see it. Simply download the Vision Board template, print it out and get started!
If you require an electronic version, then try Jolien Coenraets’ Google Drive template. I created the vision board above that captures my digital Product Canvas idea in PowerPoint by the way: I had to work with an electronic version, as my team is distributed, and the Google Drive templates had not been developed.
The Product Vision Board is a simple, yet powerful tool that allows teams to capture the product vision and strategy. It’s designed as a thinking, communications, and research tool: It helps teams validate their assumptions. Download the Vision Board template now and try it out!