As a product manager, I spend a lot of time talking about the importance of team alignment. Whether it’s collaborating on design, establishing release schedules, or prioritizing user stories, having every member of the team aligned on expectations—at every level—is a big contributor to meeting milestones and delivering a quality product.
Alignment on product vision is no exception.
What is product vision?
I get this question frequently from folks outside the software world, but sometimes I hear it from within a team. It’s a good question because definitions vary depending on whom you’re asking.
When I talk about product vision, I am referring to what is effectively an articulation, or statement, that answers the following:
- who the customers are for the product you are building,
- what the users want or opportunities that might exist for this product,
- the key value or benefits of the product,
- and what makes this particular vision or version different from others that are currently or soon to be in the market.
In short, product vision answers: What are you building, who are you building it for, and why are you building it?
Many different templates already exist to help you generate a product vision. But my take on any of these resources is that they are simply tools that allow you to orient your teams. Templates can help guide you in the initial discussion and definition of your product vision, but ultimately what you produce is only useful if everyone understands it and you use it consistently.
Leverage the product vision to motivate teams from the start
Articulating the product vision is a Day One exercise. I recommend doing so as early as the first morning of any project. The steps are fairly straightforward: bring everyone on the team together from different backgrounds and vantage points to align on those three Ws: what, who, and why?
Coming together to establish the product vision is a great way to jumpstart motivation, but that’s not the only reason to do it on the first day. Often, the creation and even the idea of a product vision can easily fall by the wayside once the work gets underway.
More than once during this initial product vision exercise, make it clear that the value of a product vision lies in actually using it, not just once at the start, but repeatedly. It will help everyone in the long run.
The most effective way to make that happen is to decide as a team on the cadence how often to revisit the product vision. Is it every week or every month, or during an Agile milestone, such as the beginning of sprint planning sessions or right before a demo? This Day One session is the best time to agree on this frequency.
A shared product vision supports high-performing teams.
The product vision is a useful artifact in the PM toolkit because it’s a simple statement that serves as a story, goal, and motivation at once, and one that the entire team can absorb simply by referencing it over and over. The key benefit of having a shared way of thinking is that it allows each person on the team to operate autonomously and feel confident in the work they are doing.
For example, say a ticket comes in, for which two options seem like reasonable solutions. In highly fulfilled teams with self-directed orientation, a situation like this would empower the developer to make the call on which solution best fits the product vision and offers the greatest benefit to the user—not just because the product manager says so, but because the developer, like all other team members, believes in and understands the vision.
Having the product vision to reference can help clarify and advocate for differing opinions on the “how” of execution, like if (although in my experience, it’s more like when) an engineer and a designer have conflicting views on how to tackle a particular requirement.
The product vision can and probably will change.
As the product matures, there will be learning from user feedback that will need to be incorporated into future iterations and will potentially impact the product vision. That is normal and expected. It does not mean that the product vision becomes less important. When the product vision undergoes a change, it actually is more important than ever to continue using it as a guide–and to do so continuously.
The product vision is only one tool in your Agile toolkit, but establishing and acting on the feedback loop–of which the product vision is a key component–is critical to helping teams collectively and collaboratively make better decisions that lead to higher performing, higher value products.