The product vision can be a powerful instrument to inspire and align stakeholders and development teams. But in practice, it is not always effectively applied. This article shares questions about the product vision I am frequently asked together with my answers.
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What is the Product Vision?
The product vision describes the ultimate purpose of a product, the positive change it will bring about. You can think of it as a big, hairy, audacious goal (BHAG)—or a moon shot—that inspires people and offers continued guidance for the next five to ten years.
Say I wanted to create a product that helps people become more aware of what and how much they eat. As the product vision, I could then choose “help people eat healthily” or just “healthy eating.” While the example states the purpose of a new product, I find that a vision is equally beneficial for an existing one.
What Makes a Good Product Vision?
A good, effective product vision fulfils the following six criteria:
- Big and ambitious: It describes a compelling, visionary goal that offers a continued purpose in an ever changing world.
- Inspiring: The product vision creates a purpose for the people working on the product. It provides motivation and guidance even if the going gets tough.
- Ethical: A good vision gives rise to an ethical product, a product that truly benefits its users and that does not cause any harm to people and planet.
- Shared: It unites people, and acts as the product’s true north.
- Concise and memorable: The vision is easy to understand and remember. Using slogan—a short, memorable phrase—can be a great way to create such a vision.
- Not tied to a solution: Despite its name, I recommend keeping the product vision free from assumptions about the actual product or solution. This allows you to pivot, to change the product strategy and the product while staying grounded in your vision.
Who Owns the Product Vision?
Ideally, a product vision is collectively owned by the person in charge of a product, the key stakeholders, and the development team(s). This ensures that the individuals support the vision and follow it—rather than paying lip service to it. A great way to foster joint ownership is to develop the product vision together, as I describe in the section “How do I Create an Inspiring Product Vision?” As the person in charge of a product, you should ensure, however, that a meaningful product vision exists and guide the effort to create one.
How do I Capture the Product Vision?
As mentioned above, I find it helpful to use a brief statement or a slogan to describe the product vision. This increases the chances that people understand and remember it. An elaborate or verbose vision that looks great on paper but is hard to understand and memorise offers little value.
Additionally, I like to capture the product vision together with the product strategy, as it’s done on my product vision board shown below. The board encourages you to state the product vision at the top and the product strategy underneath it.
Can the Product Vision and the Company Vision Be the Same?
Yes, the two can be identical. But I recommend using two separate visions—unless you work for an early-stage start-up. The company vision should describe the purpose of the entire organisation, the reason why the business exists. Take, for example, IKEA’s vision to “create a better everyday life for the many people.” The product vision, however, should communicate the ultimate reason for developing and offering a specific product, for instance, IKEA’s app that allows users to design their own PAX wardrobe.
Does Every Product Have to Have its Own Vision?
Every product should have a vision, but not every offering requires its own, unique one. Say your product is part of a product portfolio like Microsoft Office. As its products are closely related, I would use one overarching vision for the entire portfolio, a product portfolio vision so to speak. In Microsoft Office’s case, this might be, “help people collaborate in real time.” Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and the other Office products would then share this vision.
Do I need a Product Vision and a Product Strategy?
If your vision describes the ultimate purpose for creating the product, you will have to complement it with a product strategy. While the vision is great to inspire the stakeholders and development teams, it is not enough to direct their work. This is where the product strategy comes in. You can think of it as the approach chosen to realise the vision and achieve product success, as the following picture shows.
An effective product strategy should clearly state the needs or user goals that the product will help address or meet, the people who will use and pay for the product, the aspects that set it apart from competing offerings, and the business benefits, which it should generate for the company developing and providing it.
Note that creating a product strategy and validating it—ensuring that it does not contain any major risks or assumptions—tends to be significantly more work than coming up with a product vision. What’s more, the decisions captured in the product strategy are crucial to achieve product success: I view them as prerequisites for deriving an actionable product roadmap with specific, measurable product goals or outcomes that direct the development of the product.
How do I Create an Inspiring Product Vision?
The best way to ensure that your vision is inspiring and meaningful for the stakeholders and dev team members is to create it together with the individuals in a collaborative workshop.
To take advantage of this approach, invite the right people to a joint session, be it online or onsite, and encourage the participants to describe the purpose that they associate with the product. Then look for a product vision that is fitting and that everyone can support.
As the vision is truly fundamental, you should take the time required to create an inclusive vision that resonates with everyone. Resist the temptation to shortcut or rush the process. Similarly, don’t allow the most powerful person to dominate and don’t agree on the smallest common denominator. Otherwise, you’ll end up with an ineffective vision.
You can find more advice on collaborative decision-making in my article Making Effective Product Decisions: Tips for Deciding with Stakeholders and Dev Teams.
Does the Product Vision Ever Change?
As a general rule, the product vision should be stable. It should offer continued guidance to for an extended period—at least five years, as I recommended earlier. There are, however, two exceptions to this rule: First, when you create a brand-new product and you cannot find a valid product strategy, you may want to consider adapting the product vision. Second, when your product has been offered for a number of years, you might find that adjusting the product vision is helpful to keep it fresh and meaningful.
Contrast this with the product strategy and the product roadmap. The former will change at least once per life cycle stage, and the roadmap is likely to change several times per year. Both plans therefore benefit from regular reviews. These offer you the opportunity to also assess the product vision and change it if this is turns out to be necessary. To say it with Jeff Bezos words: Be suborn on the vision and flexible on the details.