Creating a Clear Product Vision
Product vision is super important to the success of your product. I know, its just a simple statement, right? How much impact can it really have? More than you can imagine. A product vision gives us the direction and focus we need to deliver something, anything, that will ultimately solve the problems of a customer segment and deliver value to both your business and to your customer. If it is well-crafted and well-communicated, product vision should permeate everything you do, from business models and product roadmaps to the stories in your backlog and how you execute them.
Product Vision Tests
Here’s a test for you. Take a minute and scribble down the vision statement for the product you’re currently work on. Now here’s another test. Have the co-workers who sit near you do the same without discussing it. Compare notes. Do your notes match? Are some notes still blank? Are any of the notes the same? Do the same test across your organization. If your notes match, you can stop reading now…well, not really, but you obviously work on a product with a clear vision. If you have blank notes or notes that vary widely, read on.
Test number two. When you finally find your product’s vision statement on the company website or wiki, how does it read to you? Is it delusional? Cloudy? Confusing? Dismissive? Heady? Wordy? Lengthy? Boring? Uninspiring? Generic? Maybe a little of all of those.
Don’t feel bad. Some of the best organizations in the world have difficulty using words to define what it is they do, who it is they serve, and what success looks like to them. You are NOT alone, trust me. But you don’t have to wallow in the words of your vision statement much longer. There are some very simple tools that can help you clearly define your product and use it to drive your product’s business model, your product roadmaps, your product-market fit experiments, and your backlogs for your teams. In this post and posts to follow, we’ll introduce several of these tools and discuss how they can help you create a vision that resonates with customers and the people who you work with, and help you constantly align the work you do with the vision you have created.
Defining Your Initial Product Vision
When most organizations develop their vision statements, they default to some standard template. One of the more popular templates comes from Geoffrey Moore. While I love Geoffrey Moore and consider him a mentor, I think his traditional vision template leads to rather unexceptional vision statements that all sound the same: “For blah blah blah customer who needs blah blah blah, our blah product is a blah blah blah that will blah blah blah. Unlike our competitors (insert list of competitors that are usually not competitors) our product blah blah blah blah blah…”
You’ve heard vision statements like this before. Somehow, they hit all the right points, but more often than not, every time I see this template used, the vision statement gets very long winded and all I can hear is “blah, blah, blah…”
What I’d rather have is a simple, concise, visual representation of the vision that I can understand and relate to. I’d rather see an inspiring overarching vision that I can get excited about and say “Yes! That’s where I want to go!”. I’d like some detail too…about who it is we’re building for, what problems they have, and how our idea solves that problem. I might even want some info on how our company gets value from what we build, but really I’m more interested in who we are addressing and what their problems are.
Enter Roman Pichler’s super simple Product Vision Board. It’s the tool I turn to most often when I start working with teams to define their product vision. It simple, concise, AND visual. Check it out:
Let’s walk through the sections and see what we need to think about.
Steps to Create a Product Vision
First, we need to craft a vision statement. Here’s some simple advice on what to write in this box: Say a lot in just a few words.
Pick your words wisely. Don’t be generic. Describe a long-term vision but don’t be overly restrictive.
Clear, concise. Calls people to action. Oh, and if you took the two tests above with your co-workers, they’d all remember it…or at least a pretty close flavor of it.
Need some examples? Try something like Innocent Drinks’ vision statement: “Make natural, delicious food and drink that helps people live well and die old”. Too simple for you? Want something a little more “corporate”? Here is Ikea’s: “To create a better everyday life for the many people, we shall offer a wide range of well-designed, functional home furnishing products at prices so low that as many people as possible will be able to afford them.” A little wordy for me, but it does get the point across.
After you’ve wordsmithed your awesome, clear, thoughtful, inspiring vision statement (and if you have, share it here, I’d love to read them), write it in the box, pat yourself on the back, high-five your teammates, and move forward one space.
The next four boxes should be easier. Mostly because they are all hypotheses, or guesses at what you think the right answer is. The first box “Target Group” is all about our customer hypothesis. Who do we believe we are trying to serve? Typically, for a new product, or even existing products, we’re looking at the earlyvangelists. We’re looking for customers who clearly identify with our vision. Notice I did say our solution? We want customers who to buy into our vision. They fall in love with the idea, not the solution. So try that out and see if turns out to be different than the customers you currently view as your target segment. Got it? Good, write one sentence in the box that simply describes these people, pat yourself on the back, high-five your teammates, and move forward one space.
The next box, “Needs”, addresses our problem hypothesis. What do we think the problems of our customers are? Again, don’t fit the problem to your solution. Empathize with your customers and truly try to understand what their problem is. Not what you want it to be. When you think you have a good problem hypothesis, write it in the box in clear, simple terms, pat yourself on the back, high-five your teammates, and move forward one space.
Box number four: “Product”. This is your solution hypothesis. Based on the customers you described, and the problem you identified, what is the minimal thing you can do/build to solve that problem and make them smile? Again, this isn’t rocket science. It’s a guess. First guess. It doesn’t have to be right. It just has to be something you can build, test, and see if your customers smile. Got it? Awesome! Write it in the box in clear, simple terms, pat yourself on the back, high-five your teammates, and move forward one space. You are nearing the end of this game.
Last box: “Value”. This box vexes me a bit and to be honest, I don’t usually fill it in the first time around. So first timers, leave it blank. It’s OK. The world will not end if you do not define the value to your business right now. Why? Because so far, the other boxes have been guesses. Hypotheses need to be tested, validated. Chances are very high that the things you wrote in those boxes will change as soon as you start using the tool we’ll be covering in our next post, the Validation Board.
So for now, feel good that you’ve defined an initial product vision and you are ready to start testing in the real world. Pat yourself on the back, high-five your teammates and grab a beer…or maybe one of Innocent Drinks’ product, they might make you live well and die old.
For specific information on designing teams check out Product Owner Team Design Considerations.