Building a visionary company requires 1% vision and 99% alignment. –Jim Collins and Jerry Porra
Whether you’re planning to turn an idea into a startup, grow an emerging product, or reevaluate a mature product, you will need a product vision! Your product vision will tell the story of your product and be the north star for your team’s work.
As a Product Manager, I am constantly storytelling with my product team and stakeholders to create alignment, reduce uncertainty, and set clear goals. It drives your product strategy and roadmap by presenting the value you want to create then allowing you to turn it into work. It is the foundation of any agile planning as outlined by the Planning Onion. Over time, it will evolve through feedback from the market and require iterations to meet new needs to reach success.
In this blog post, I will run through what product visions are, how to write a compelling vision, and how an alignment-driven framework leads to success.
What is a product vision statement?
Your product vision should describe the problem you are solving, the target customer, and the positive benefits of your product. The first step in creating a product vision framework is to define your product vision. This should be a clear and concise statement that communicates the overarching purpose of your product.
How do you write a product vision statement?
Where do you start?
Before you begin, you must consider the following:
- Target Customer: This is the most important thing to consider in any vision as your product will serve the needs of your customer. Including this in the vision grounds your team to make customer-focused decisions.
- Customer Problem: Prior to creating your vision, make an effort to learn about your customers and/or users to understand what problem they need to solve. Having an idea of the right problem to solve sets the direction for your long-term vision. Clayton Christensen’s view on a customer’s “jobs to be done” is a great way to think about it. One caveat that can also get overlooked, is a distinction between those buying your product and those using it, so keep in mind each’s needs when crafting your vision.
- Product name: Have a name for your product and it can of course change over time, so make sure to adjust the vision statement if it does change.
- Product Category: Identify what category your product falls under, so you know what market you will compete in. You may need to do additional market research with your team or share any existing research with your team, so they have context.
- Value Proposition: Know what the positive benefit your customers are getting from your product. This will enable you to prioritize your strategy and roadmap around how your product solves your customer problem. Also, to help you position your product effectively in the market.
- Primary Competitors: Do some competitive analysis and have your team align on any competition reports you create. This will help your team know the competitive landscape and pivot, if necessary. You may not want to enter a red ocean depending on the state of your organization.
- Differentiators: Be able to articulate how your product stands out from competition. Your team will rally around these differentiators to maximize their value to customers.
Documenting your vision
There are a couple ways to craft a product vision, but here is an easy to fill out example tying the above together:
For [Target Customer] who [Customer Problem], the [Product Name] is a [Product Category] that [Value Proposition]. Unlike [Primary Competitors], our product [Differentiators]
Co-creation of a vision is a great way to build alignment and you can have your team use this format to write their own. Then taking their outputs and aggregating them into a shared vision for your product. If you are doing this yourself, just ensure you take the steps to build alignment outlined below.
You can also take it one step further and have a visual people can refer back to. One I like is Roman Pichler’s Product Vision Board that you and your team can co-create together.
Image by Roman Pichler
Winning Vision Hallmarks
When creating a vision, you are telling a story that resonates with your team, so they understand and act on your product’s purpose. As you craft your vision with your team, ensure that your vision has:
- Empathy: It is key to put yourselves in the shoes of your customers and/or users and prioritize the delight they receive from your product. At the end of the day, you are at service to your customers
- Aspiration: Keep it bold! You want your team to feel empowered to change the lives of their users.
- Concision: A concise vision allows it to be memorable or catchy. It will reduce confusion or misunderstanding of what your vision wants to achieve.
- A Timeframe: Make an intention with your team on how long you want this vision to be relevant. For a new product, aim to make a 2-3 year vision. For a more mature product that is well understood, it makes more sense to create a 5 year vision. Still make an effort to revisit it yearly to ensure its relevance, which I’ll get to below.
- Good Documentation: Having a shared place that is well documented allows the vision to be accessible and understood broadly.
Vision Alignment and Iteration
The importance of alignment
Let’s start with defining alignment. There is a dictionary version of alignment of putting things in the proper position, but to me alignment is having a shared understanding and unified approach. Essentially, having alignment within your organization means you are all on the same page.
For high-functioning product teams and organizations, it is very important to have everyone on the same page regarding the unified approach you all have when building your product. There are numerous benefits when it comes to development and reacting to the market when you release it:
- Increased customer satisfaction: This is more of a byproduct of a vision that prioritizes customer feedback and continually
- Saves time: Having alignment in your vision reduces the amount of time thinking about what to do next. It creates that north star that allows for quicker prioritization
- Saves cost: Cost savings can come two-fold, reducing the investment in features that don’t serve your vision and reducing the cost of waste when building your product.
- Increased morale: Having a vision that unifies your team gives something to strive for and creates meaningful work.
- Improved collaboration: With an established vision, you present a clear problem that your team can ideate and problem solve against. By creating that ownership, everyone has a hand in providing value to customers.
The practice of alignment
So what does alignment look like?
I like Jeff Bezos’ philosophy on group decision making called “disagree and commit.” Here’s how it looks in practice:
“You know what? I really disagree with this, but you have more ground truth than I do. We’re going to do it your way. And I promise I will never tell you I told you so.”
When you tell the story of your vision, not everyone may not agree with it wholeheartedly, but it is important that you collectively commit to it, so that your team can make decisions and act on those decisions to push it forward.
Prior to creating your vision, have an intention to share your context with your team. This can be your thoughts on the problem, any competitive analysis conducted, or existing user research. Make sure to spark a dialogue with your team, so that their perspectives can become additional inputs to the shared vision. By having transparency, it will create a culture of ownership around the work.
This can take the form of a team workshop where you all write individual versions of the vision and give everyone the opportunity to share it. Creating a vision will take time, so block time off for your team to draft, revise, and finalize your vision.
If you create your vision in isolation, you lose the opportunity for alignment during creation. You will have to do more storytelling work to get everyone on your team to the same understanding of your product’s purpose and its future.
It is a pivotal step when you finally create your vision! Now comes the effort to share it broadly to get that alignment. Create meetings with every department within your organization to showcase your vision and gather feedback. These feedback loops can validate your vision and also improve it!
Once you’ve achieved the right amount of visibility for your vision, there will be two types of feedback loop to continue iterating and ensure vision alignment:
- Embedded Feedback Loops: Connect your vision to the work you are doing! Make sure it is always top of mind in your meetings, whether that be reviewing how features tie your vision during your backlog refinement sessions or prioritizing the sequence of work during your roadmapping meetings. Ensure there is some through-line with what your team is doing to what the overarching vision’s purpose is.
- Recurring Yearly Vision Review: Set a recurring meeting with your stakeholders once a year to review your vision and if your product has been tracking against your success metrics.
During your reviews and as you collect more market feedback, you may encounter a time where your vision is no longer relevant or the work you are doing is no longer aligned with your vision. The feedback loops you establish enable your organization to pivot.
Some examples could be a constrained budget due to macroeconomic forces or your users no longer have the problem you’re trying to solve. These are inputs into the feedback loop that grant agility into your framework to change course and recast your vision to something more relevant to your users and business.