Achieving product success is not easy. In order to succeed, you need a clear vision of where to take your product. This article sharesseven tips to help you create an effective product vision that inspires and guides the stakeholders and development team
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: the stakeholders, for example, people from marketing, sales, and support, and the development team.
This is where the product vision comes in: It describes the overarching goal you are aiming for, the reason for creating the product. An effective product vision 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. Say I’d like to create a mobile app that helps people better understand what and how much they eat by integrating with leading smartwatches and smart scales. Then the vision for this product could be help people eat healthily or simply healthy heating.
Think Big and Look beyond the Product
It’s rather common in my experience to restate the product idea as the vision. But this creates a vision that is too narrow, and it severely restricts your options to reach it. Therefore, do not tie the product vision to the actual solution. Make your product vision big and keep it independent of the product.
Take the sample vision stated earlier: Healthy eating is not attached to a specific product idea. This allows me to change my strategy to attain the vision, if necessary. I might, for instance, write a book on healthy eating or run healthy eating classes instead of developing an app. Such a change is also referred to as “pivot“.
What’s more, a big, broad vision makes it easier for the stakeholders and development team members to buy into it, and it provides continued guidance: An effective product vision should last for five to ten years.
Distinguish Product Vision and Strategy
While the product vision describes the ultimate goal of a product, the product strategy expresses the path of how to get there. Both are important to align and guide the stakeholders and the development team, but each has a different quality and purpose. I therefore recommend that you clearly distinguish between product vision and strategy. This enables you to change your strategy and pivot, as mentioned above, while staying grounded in the vision.
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 to 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 the product vision and the product strategy is my Product Vision Board. Its top section captures the vision, and the ones underneath state the strategy required to realise the vision. You can download the tool for free from romanpichler.com/tools/vision-board.
Employ a Shared Vision
The most beautiful vision is useless if the people involved in developing and providing the product don’t buy into it. In order to create alignment and facilitate effective collaboration, the product vision must be shared–everyone must have the same vision. Without such a vision, people are likely to follow their own goals. This makes it much harder to achieve product success, and stakeholder management can consequently feel like hearing cats.
A great way to establish a shared product vision is to involve the stakeholders and development team members in creating it. Invite people to a joint workshop. 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 ideas into a vision everybody agrees with. The following picture illustrates this approach.
You can employ a similar approach for an existing product: Invite the right people, ask them to write down their visions, and compare them. If the visions are very similar or even identical, then that’s great: You are all in alignment. But if that’s not the case, 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. An effective product vision should therefore motivate and inspire people.
I find that a vision focused on creating a benefit for users and customers is particularly powerful, as it provides a deep motivation and a lasting inspiration: It guides the individuals when they are doubtful or low on energy much more so than a money- or self-centric vision can.
There is nothing wrong with making money, and every product needs a viable business model, of course. But I find that working on something people believe in and think of as meaningful and beneficial really helps them excel. Additionally, such a vision facilitates the creation of an ethical product, a product that does not harm the users and the planet.
Keep your Vision Short and Sweet
As your vision is the ultimate reason for creating the product, it should be easy to understand and remember. 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—like healthy eating—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 put it, “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 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 likely to be helpful and should be considered. Anything that doesn’t help you progress towards the product vision is not beneficial and should probably be discarded.