Creating and managing a successful product requires a lot of time and energy. In order to be fully committed, you have to be convinced that what you are doing is right and have a clear vision of where to take your product. This post shares eight tips to help you create an effective product vision that inspires the development team and the stakeholders.
Describe the Motivation behind the Product
Having an idea for a new product is great. But it’s not enough. What you need is a vision that guides everyone involved in making the product a success: product management, development, marketing, sales, and support. The product vision is the overarching goal you are aiming for, the reason for creating the product. It provides a continued purpose in an ever-changing world, acts as the product’s true north, provides motivation when the going gets tough, and facilitates effective collaboration.
To choose the right vision, ask yourself why you are excited to work on the product, why you care about it, what positive change the product should bring about, and how it will shape the future. One of my favourite vision statements comes from Toys R Us. The company’s vision is to “put joy in kids’ hearts and a smile on parents’ faces”. The statement concisely captures the intention behind the company’s products and services and describes the change the users and customers should experience.
If you choose the company vision for you product, then that’s fine. Otherwise make sure that the two visions aren’t in conflict other but aligned.
Look beyond the Product
Be clear on the difference between the product vision and the product and don’t confuse the two. The former is the motivation for developing the product; the latter is a means to achieve the overarching goal.
Say that I want to create a computer game that allows children to choose and interact with characters, select different music tracks and worlds, choreograph their own dances, and play together with friends. This might be a nice idea, but it is not the actual vision.
An effective product vision goes beyond the product and captures the change the product should instigate. A vision for the game would be “Help children enjoy music and dancing”.
Distinguish between Vision and Product Strategy
Your product vision should not be a plan that shows how to reach your goal. Instead, you should keep the product vision and the product strategy – the path towards the goal – separate. This enables to change your strategy while staying grounded in your vision. (This is called to pivot in Lean Startup.)
At the same time, a vision is the prerequisite for choosing the right strategy. If you don’t have an overarching goal then you cannot decide how you best get there. This is nicely illustrated by the famous conversation between the Cheshire Cat and Alice in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Asked which way Alice should take, the cat replies: “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.” “I don’t much care where –,” says Alice. “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” responds the Cheshire Cat.
A handy tool for describing both the product vision and the product strategy is the Product Vision Board. Its top section captures the vision, and the ones below state the strategy to realise the vision. You can download the tool for free from romanpichler.com/tools/vision-board.
Create a Shared Vision
You can come up with the most beautiful vision for your product. But it’s useless if the people involved in making the product a success don’t buy into it. To leverage the vision as the product’s true north, to create alignment, and to facilitate effective collaboration, the product vision must be shared – everyone must have the same vision. Without a shared vision, people follow their own goals making it much harder to achieve product success.
A great way to create a shared product vision is to employ a collaborative visioning workshop. Rather than formulating a product vision and then selling it to the key people you create it together. Use the product idea as an input and ask the workshop attendees to capture their motivation for working on the product. Then compare the different visions, look for common ground, and combine the different goals into a new one everybody agrees with.
You can employ a similar approach for an existing product: Invite the right people, ask them to write down their vision, and compare them. If the visions are the same or very similar, then that’s great. If not then you have some work to do.
Choose an Inspiring Vision
“If you are working on something exciting that you really care about, you don’t have to be pushed. The vision pulls you,” said Steve Jobs. Your vision should therefore motivate people, connect them to the product, and inspire them.
I find that a vision focused on creating a benefit for others provides a particularly deep motivation and a lasting inspiration. It guides me when I am feeling doubtful much more than a money- or self-centric vision can. There is nothing wrong with making money, of course, and every product needs a viable business model. But I find that people excel because they believe that they are doing something meaningful and beneficial.
Going back to the computer game example used earlier, an alternative vision for the game could be “Diversify and grow the business”. But such a vision is not inspirational and motivating enough in my mind. It would not lift me up in moments of doubt. Rather than stating business goals in the vision, I like to capture them in the product strategy (using the business goal section of the Product Vision Board).
If you are not sure then I recommend that you include the beneficial change the product should create for others and for your business without trying to quantify or detail those benefits. Otherwise your vision may no longer be able to guide you when you pivot.
Make your product vision broad and ambitious so that it engages people and it can facilities a change in the strategy. The vision of the computer game example “Help children enjoy music and dancing” is a broad and ambitious vision, for instance. It does not refer to the actual product idea or a specific target group, and it is not satisfied with creating a fun gaming experience. It aims for more.
If it turns out that the idea of developing a computer game for children is ill conceived then there are still alternatives to make the vision come true. I could, for instance, decide to open up a dance school or create a virtual dance course. (Given that I am an exceptionally bad dancer, I seriously doubt that I’d be good at either. But at least I have some options.)
Keep your Vision Short and Sweet
As your vision is the ultimate reason for creating the product, it should be easy to communicate and to understand. Other artefacts including a product strategy, a business model, a product backlog, and a marketing plan provide the necessary details. Your vision should be short and sweet, it should be easy to memorise and recite. I like to employ a simple slogan to capture the vision. It can take me several iterations to get to such a vision but I find it worth the effort. As Leonardo da Vinci said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
Use the Vision to Guide your Decisions
Use the vision to guide your product decisions and to focus everyone on the ultimate reason for creating the product. While the vision alone is certainly not enough, it is a first filter for new ideas and change requests: Anything that helps you move closer to your vision—be it a new feature, a change of direction, or a new technology— is helpful and should be considered; anything that doesn’t, is not beneficial and should probably be discarded.