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How to craft a strong Product Vision
Foundations, steps, and examples to build an inspiring direction for your product
I have focused the last few years of my writing on how to develop a strong Product Strategy, but one of the key inputs to be able to create one is to have a strong Product Vision.
What actually is a good Product Vision, and how do you create one? While the topic is complex and varies greatly depending on the product, industry, and customer type, we can explore a few core concepts that will help you get started with this critical artifact to set the right Product Direction.
Through this series, we will explore what, why, who, and how to do a Product Vision, going from the fundamentals to a workshop format that can help you create it for the first time.
Table of contents
Clarifying what a strong Product Vision is (this article)
1. Clarifying what a strong Product Vision is
The role of Product Vision
A Product Vision can have different shapes and purposes. Some people will aim for some sort of mission statement. Others will aim for a canvas. While this may be useful in some contexts, product leaders cannot empower product teams simply with that. As explained by Marty Cagan, we need an artifact that paints a concrete view of how we plan to deliver on the company’s mission through the product.
4 attributes we expect in this artifact
Customer-centric: it’s the future we want to create centered on the value we will add to the customer.
Inspirational: our vision is a key motivational tool for the teams. It’s big and bold. It helps them connect with the purpose and value of the product and helps you recruit, retain, and create missionary teams.
Differentiated: while the above-mentioned “statements” can be similar among competitors in the same field, it is crucial that the product vision shows how our value and impact on the customers will be different than others. Ideally, it will leverage company strengths, conveying why you are the right company to pursue this vision.
Stretch but attainable: it’s hard to set a “deadline” for our product vision, but we usually strive for a concrete and tangible view on the ~3-to-5-year horizon. This helps make it ambitious, without being super abstract or unrealistic.
So… How does a good product vision look?
There are certain “tools” that are better suited to achieve these characteristics and fulfill their mission and are definitely not a statement or pre-defined template or canvas. Let’s review some of them.
My go-to tool, storyboards, are graphical representations of a story, dividing your narrative into a chronological sequence of sketches, much like a small comic strip.
The usual format takes the user as the hero of the story, going through a series of graphics that describe a “painful situation” and how, with the help of our product, the user becomes successful in the end. We will explore the details of this story in future articles.
A visiontype is a visual representation of an inspiring possible future. It is usually “static,” a sort of prototype, that serves as a north star that will guide our future strategy.
Of course, the visiontype is not a spec, and we do not know if we will build any of what is in there. It is just a compelling view that drives the value we aim to create.
A note on vision videos: before closing the chapter, I must say videos are also amazing tools for creating a compelling product vision, and there are multiple good examples (see below). Videos build on top of storyboards (usually, they are a more comprehensive version of your initial story), and require some extra budget for production.
While I was selecting a few examples to include, I realized many have already been compiled by Marty Cagan in an SVPG article.
Most of these examples are videos because companies invested in having great artifacts to communicate externally (visible to the public rather than internally). Your’s doesn’t need to be (but we will cover how you can do it if you have the budget).
I want to highlight 3:
Asana (an example with very concrete product aspirations - perhaps even too feature oriented)
HubSpot (great focus on customer pains)
and John Deere (very different product space)
Questions a good Product Vision answers
Here we get into more muddy terrain. For example, a typical thought is that the vision should answer what the target user of your product is. While it is true, sometimes that information is not particularly critical for the story we need to create. Consider two extreme scenarios:
A very niche product, like professional chainsaws. The target user is likely very clear, and your story needs to focus more on a particular need, strength, or value that will differentiate your product.
On the opposite extreme, there may be a product with a very wide user base, like a maps solution (ie, Google Maps). In this case, you can tell the story from a particular user perspective (ie, “solo backpack traveler”), but the “attributes” of that user are not the relevant part of your vision. It’s more about what problems you will solve and how.
The user is front and center for sure, but your story would highlight the aspects need the audience to focus on. This is why I don’t like templates… they will “force” you to spend equal amounts of space and attention of the story on topics that may not be relevant to your particular space or vision.
That being said, there are a few questions you want to consider when crafting it, and decide if they are relevant to your storyline:
Who is the Target User?
What are the Target Needs or Use Cases?
Where do those needs arise and are solved?
Medium: a glimpse of the tangible product that will solve the need. For example, it’s only digital, or does it have physical components associated?
How will this product solve the needs differently (aka differentiation)?
Conclusion and next article
While the product vision is seen and understood as a critical artifact, it is easy to fall into the trap of templates or canvases that will create low-effort solutions that don’t really fulfill the purpose of a strong product vision.
On the other hand, creating a good Product Vision is not only difficult but also puzzling. Where do we start? How do we do it? Who should be involved? In the upcoming articles, I will cover those topics.
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