Being able to envision what a new product or the next product version should look like and do is essential for getting there. Traditionally, organizations tend to carry out extensive market research, product planning, and business analysis activities up front resulting in a product concept or a market requirements specification. Some fall into the other extreme: They rush into the first sprint without having thought about the product’s customers and users and its value proposition.
Neither of these two approaches is desirable. The first one ignores the likelihood of change. It assumes that customer needs and how they are best met can be correctly predicted upfront rather than viewing flux and unpredictability as dominant factors in software development. The latter leaves the team without a common goal making it virtually impossible to understand what it takes to develop a successful product. Since envisioning the product results in a product vision in Scrum, looking at the product vision will help us understand what visioning should comprise in an agile context.
As its names suggests, the vision describes what we believe the future product will roughly look like and do — a sketch of the future product, as I put it in my book Agile Product Management with Scrum. The vision should act the overarching goal, galvanizing and guiding everyone involved in the development effort, and is the product’s reason for being. It selectively describes the product at a coarse-grained level, capturing the product’s essence—the information considered critical to develop and launch a winning product. An effective vision should answer the following questions:
- Who is going to buy the product? Who is the target customer? Who is going to use the product? Who are its target users?
- Which needs will the product address? What value does the product add?
- Which product attributes are critical for meeting the needs selected and therefore for the success of the product? What will the product roughly look like and do? In which areas is the product going to excel?
- How does the product compare against existing products, from both competitors and the same company? What are the product’s unique selling points? What is its target price?
- How will the company make money from selling the product? What are the sources of revenue and what is the business model?
- Is the product feasible? Can the company develop and sell the product?
How much effort is necessary to answer the questions above depends on a number of factors including the degree innovation and the complexity of your product. As the product matures, the visioning work tends to decline. (After the successful launch of a product, I usually employ the product roadmap to capture the goals for the upcoming product versions.)
To minimize the visioning work, focus your vision on the next product version, and envision a product with minimum functionality that addresses a narrow set of customer needs. Quickly release a first product increment, or demo it to customers and users to validate the vision. Listen to the responses to see if you are shooting for the right goal. Then adapt.
You can find more information on creating a product vision in my book Agile Product Management with Scrum. The book has a whole chapter dedicated to product planning and discovery in Scrum.