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 an effective strategy, people are likely to pull in different directions, and the chances of creating a successful product are slim. While vision and strategy are key, describing them can be challenging. This post introduces the Product Vision Board, a tool that helps you capture the vision and product strategy.
A Sample Vision Board
Towards the end 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 Vision Board shown below.
The Product 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. 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 the product details are best captured in the product backlog.
The board was very valuable: 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. I now use the Vision Board for any new idea be it writing a new book, creating a new brochure, or updating a training course, and I help my clients apply the board.
The Vision Board is the simplest thing that could possibly work to capture the vision and the product strategy. It uses five sections as shown in the following diagram and explained below. You can download the template from the tools section of my website or by simply clicking on the picture below.
Vision states your overarching goal, the ultimate reason for creating the product, the positive change you want to bring about. Make your vision big and inspiring. Use a brief statement or slogan. For more information, please refer to my article 8 Tips for Creating A Compelling Product Vision.
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. Choose a homogenous, clear-cut target group. Build a (new) product for the few, not the many (as Steve Blank advises).
Needs describes the product’s value proposition: the main problem the product addresses or the primary benefit it offers. The section should make it clear why people will want to use or pay for your product. Describe what success looks like for the users and customers. If you identify several needs, prioritise them.
Product summarises the three to five features of your product that make it stand out and that are critical for its success. These are likely to correlate to its unique selling proposition, and they should address the needs identified. 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.
The section Business Goals explains why it’s worthwhile for your company to invest in the product. It 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. Prioritise the business goals to create focus and state targets. Otherwise, it’s hard to measure the product performance and apply the right key performance indicators (KPIs).
There are, of course, other tools available that help you capture your ideas including Ash Maurya’s Lean Canvas and Alexander Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvas. I may well be biased, but I like the simplicity of the Product Vision Board: I find it always beneficial to consider the target group, needs, key features and business goals when exploring an idea. Filling in all the boxes on the Lean and the Business Model Canvas is often but not always helpful. But you can happily use the Product Vision Board as a stepping stone towards creating the Lean or Business Model Canvas.
The Product Vision Board is not only a thinking and communications tool, it also allows you to test your assumptions, and capture the newly gained 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. I hence 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, and engaged in a few direct observation sessions.
These measures helped me understand the target group better, and assess how much value a product canvas 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 and money.
I find that the strength of the Product 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 business goals are achieved and it does not capture the business model including the competitors, the partners, the channels, the revenue sources, and the cost factors. Describing and testing your business model ideas is particularly important when you develop a brand-new product, when you want to make bigger changes to an existing product, for instance, to take it to a new market (segment).
To capture your business model ideas you can either complement the Product Vision Board with the Business Model Canvas or use its extended version, the Product Vision Extended, which is shown below, inspired by the former, and is available for download at romanpichler.com/tools/vision-board/.
Physical or Electronic?
As its name suggests, the Product Vision Board is intended to be an analogue artefact that is kept on the office wall. A physical Board makes the vision and strategy visible and easily accessible. I find physical boards more fun and effective particularly when the strategy has not been validated yet: You can stand in front of it, review and discuss its contents, and identify risks and assumptions together as a team – assuming that you are collocated.
You can download the Product Vision Board template from my website and print it out on a large sheet of paper; or create your own board on the office wall or on a whiteboard using masking tape. Paper cards and adhesive notes are great to capture the board contents. This makes it easy to change the information and to support teamwork: Everybody can write a note or paper card to capture an idea and add it to the board.
Once the Vision Board has been validated and is stable, you can simply take a picture and post it on your wiki, or recreate it in an electronic tool.