The product vision can be a powerful tool to align stakeholders and development teams. When used effectively, it acts as the product’s true north, and it inspires and guides people. This article helps you create such a vision. It describes six essential qualities that a compelling product vision has to have.
An inspiring vision creates a meaningful purpose for everyone involved in making the product a success including the stakeholders and development team members. It helps people understand how their work relates to a bigger whole and how their efforts create a positive change.
It also allows you, as the person in charge of the product, to understand if dedicating your time and energy to the offering is worthwhile and sustainable. If the vision resonates with you, then this will help you do a great job, especially when the going gets tough. If that’s not the case, then you should maybe look for a different challenge. As Steve Jobs once said, “If you are working on something that you really care about, you don’t have to be pushed. The vision pulls you.”
Additionally, an inspiring vision helps you apply a visionary leadership style and become a visionary leader — someone who guides others through a big, motivating goal.
A shared vision unites people. It creates alignment, and it facilitates collaboration. A vision is shared when the stakeholders and development team members support the goal and are happy to work towards it. If that’s not the case, then it will be difficult to encourage the individuals to agree to more specific goals and to follow a product strategy and a product roadmap that are based on the vision.
A great way to ensure that your vision is shared is to create it together with the stakeholders and dev team members in a collaborative workshop, be it online or onsite. Encourage the participants to describe the purpose that they associate with the product. Then look for a product vision that everyone can support.
As the vision is truly fundamental, you should take the time required to create an inclusive goal that resonates with everyone. Resist the temptation to shortcut or rush the decision-making process. Similarly, don’t allow the most powerful person to dominate and don’t make the mistake of agreeing on the smallest common denominator. Otherwise, you’ll end up with an ineffective vision that fails to inspire and guide people. Ask the Scrum Master or agile coach to facilitate so you can focus on shaping the vision and you don’t have to ensure that everyone is heard and that nobody hijacks the decision-making process. (See my article Making Effective Product Decisions for more advice on how to decide together with stakeholders and dev teams.)
An ethical vision gives rise to a product that benefits its users and customers and that does not cause any harm to people and planet. This includes not affecting people’s mental health, for instance, by getting them hooked or offering content that promotes misinformation, self-harm, hatred, and violence.
Additionally, an ethical product does not contribute to climate change, and it does not damage the environment by how it is developed, provided, and if it includes hardware, manufactured, delivered, and disposed of.
While the vision alone doesn’t achieve ethicality, it plays a crucial role, as it describes the intention for offering the product. You ultimately have to ask yourself why you want to provide the product. Is it to help others, or is it to maximise your own benefits?
A concise product vision is easy to communicate, understand, and remember. To achieve this, I like to capture the vision as a brief statement or a slogan — a short, catchy phrase. An example for a product that helps people improve their eating habits might be “help people eat healthily.”
A handy tool to describe the vision is my product vision board. The board, shown in the picture below, captures the vision in the top section and the strategy in the four sections underneath it. You can download the board from the tools section of my website.
You can think of the product vision as a big, hairy, audacious goal (BHAG). Such a vision increases the chances of providing a continuous purpose in an ever-changing world, compared to a narrow, specific one.
I would therefore choose a big, ambitious vision like “help people eat healthily” over a more specific, narrower one like “help people lose weight.” Note that such a product vision is not measurable. It truly is an inspirational, grand goal.
Despite its name, a product vision should not describe the product or solution. For example, “offer a weight loss mobile app” and “become the number one weight loss app provider” are not effective visions. Instead of referring to the product, state the positive change you want to bring about, such as “healthy eating.”
A solution-agnostic vision allows you to change the product strategy but keep your vision stable. Say that it turns out that my idea of developing a healthy-eating app is ill conceived. With a vision like “healthy eating,” I can explore alternatives, for example, writing a book on healthy eating and offering healthy-eating workshops.
A vision that is not tied to a product can therefore provide direction for an extended period, say five to ten years, during which the product strategy and the product change and evolve. To say it with Jeff Bezos’ words, “be stubborn on the vision and flexible on the details.”