The product 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 a way to describe their ideas and to capture their assumptions. I’ve named the tool that I use the Product Vision Board. The board allows the product owner and the team to map out their product strategy.
The vision 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 Product Vision Board and explains how you can take advantage of it.
The Product Vision Board is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
This post was last updated on 18 March 2013.
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 explained by the following diagram and the text 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 needs of the users and customers, which the product will meet: the problems and pain points the product removes, and the benefits and gains the product provides. The section should make it clear why people will want to use and buy your product.
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.
I recommend you don’t use the section to discuss how your product is going to achieve the desired business benefits, but rather Alexander Osterwalder’s and Yves Igneur’s Business Model Canvas. This keeps your vision board focussed and concise. (I discuss the relationship between the vision board and the canvas below).
Competition is an optional section that captures the key insights from your competitor analysis. While I believe that being aware of competitors is helpful, I find it important to focus on my product, and not to too distracted by what others are doing.
If you want to use a competition section, place it to the right of the Value column, as the following picture shows:
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 use the Product Vision Board to complement Alexander Osterwalder’s and Yves Pigneur’s Business Model Canvas. While the vision board describes ideas and assumptions, and encourages thinking about while creating the product is beneficial to the company, it leaves open how the benefits are achieved. This is where the Business Model Canvas comes in: The states the business model, that is, how the product creates value for the company developing it. The following pictures sketches how I use the board and the canvas:
The Product Vision Board describes the vision and the product strategy, but it’s not well suited to facilitate the development of the actual product. I therefore recommend that you derive a Product Canvas from your vision board, once you start validating product risks, as the following picture shows:
I have a preference to work with a physical vision board that’s put up on the office wall where everyone can see it. 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.