”This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes,” says Morpheus to Neo in the movie “The Matrix”. This quote reminds me of the choice we face when dealing with a new product idea: Should we walk away from it, or should we jump into it? And how can we tell?
To help product owners and teams decide if and how to progress an idea, I have developed a tool called the Vision Board. The board captures important assumptions that influence the product success, and it allows teams to start testing and refining their ideas. In this post, I explain how the vision board can be applied to kick-start the innovation process and to create a new software product.
A New Product Idea
I’ve recently had the idea of developing an electronic tool, a digital version of the Product Canvas. The canvas is a multi-dimensional product backlog that allows teams to properly capture the user experience including the user interaction and the user interface design. Since I published the canvas in July 2012, I have received lots of encouraging feedback. Some of it suggested an electronic version, and Johan Steenkamp started to work on a free, web-based product canvas as part of his BMFiddle.
After loosely collaborating with Johan for a couple of months, I was wondering if an enhanced digital canvas would be a good idea. It was like weighing up which pill to take: Take the blue one and leave the tool development to Johan, or take the red one and commit time, money, and energy? To help me make the right choice, I created a vision board for a new electronic product canvas. But before I introduce the board to you, let me briefly remind you what the vision board is all about.
The Vision Board Reloaded
The product vision board captures the initial ideas and assumptions for a new product, as the following picture illustrates.
The board above describes the overarching vision that guides the product. It states who should use and purchase the product (Target Group), why people would want to use and buy it (Needs), what the key product features are (Product), and why the organisation should invest money in the product (Value).
It’s important to understand that the vision board is intended to initiate the innovation process. It does not want to describe the users, the product, and the business model comprehensively or in great detail. It rather captures the critical assumptions, those assumptions that will make or break the product. More information is provided later in form of the Product Canvas and the Business Model Canvas, as the following picture illustrates.
Creating the Vision Board
To clarify my thoughts, I sat down and created a new product vision board. While I am a great fan of simple, physical tools, I decided to create an electronic vision board, as I wanted to share the board with Johan who lives in New Zealand, whereas I am based in the UK. Here is what I came up with:
To create the board, I started with the vision statement keeping it intentionally broad. This allows me to follow the vision even if my electronic tool idea turns out to be ill conceived. At the same time, the vision reminds me that the new product is only means to an end: to help organisations create great products.
Next I recorded my ideas about the users. In addition to product managers and product owners, individuals setting up their own business might find the tool helpful. As I am particularly unsure about this group, I have marked it in italic. I use this convention on the other sections of the board, too.
I then focussed on the user needs formulating them as goals, for instance, being able to share the canvas with remote team members. Note that I have ranked the needs according to my current knowledge. Additionally, I have introduced a barrier: I believe that concerns about intellectual property and data theft may prevent people from using an electronic canvas. If the assumption is correct then it’s likely to have an impact on the solution and on how it is marketed.
In the next step, I listed those product features, which I consider to be particularly important to create value for the users. I was careful not state a specific solution such as an iPad app, or a web app. This would be premature at this point in time and narrow down the options too quickly. Before I decide on the product specifics, I want to validate the needs of the target group first. As a consequence, the vision board may change based on the new insights.
Finally, I stated the motivation for my business to invest in an electronic canvas tool. Similarly to the other sections, I have tried to focus on what I believe are the key assumptions and not be tempted to design the business model before I haven’t learned more about the users and their needs. After all, the business model will only work if the needs are met well!
I also found it helpful to state what I view as an investment barrier: If the electronic canvas tool incurs high running cost then this is likely to prevent me from funding the product development effort.
Validating the Vision Board
The next step for me is to validate my assumptions starting with the most critical one: the target group and the needs. I am planning to conduct a series of problem interviews focussed on the issues product owners and managers experience today when they identify, capture and modify requirements, as the picture below shows.
Problem interviews focus on the user needs, their goals and pain points rather than the product itself. In fact, it’s a good idea to exclude any product validation form the problem interviews, and not to ask, for instance: “Would this feature be helpful?” There are other research techniques, of course, for instance, observing users, but I am confident that interviews are adequate for now.
The interviews will hopefully help me validate my assumptions and allow me to learn more about the users. This should enable me to narrow down the solution and decide, for instance, to develop an iPad application, as well as help me find a viable business model. As Morpheus puts it: “Welcome to the desert of the real.” For as long as we just assume and hypothesise, we live in a dream world. By testing our ideas, we face reality.
If you would like to share your experience working with product boards, canvases, or backlogs, if you have any thoughts about what an electronic tool should do for you to capture, test and refine your product ideas, or if you have any specific questions about the Product Vision Board or the Product Canvas, then I’d love to hear from you. Please drop me a line either by email or via Twitter.
You can learn more about applying the product vision board by attending my Agile Product Management training course.