Steps of a Powerful Product Vision Workshop
You don't just sit with a white paper and start drawing. You need the right activities to envision and craft a shared understanding of the future you want to create.
I can tell you the first 2 approaches I used years ago when facing the problem for the first time:
Set up a meeting, sit everyone in front of the whiteboard, and start collecting thoughts to find a unifying story. Totally unsuccessful. And don’t get me wrong, the meeting was well prepared: we had the proper participants, they knew the topic, and they were prepared to share their ideas.
Come up with a proposal to refine in a meeting. Totally unsuccessful. Scarce criticism, but no one felt attached to the resulting artifact.
We can do it differently. While I don’t advocate for a checklist or recipe to guide your work, there are activities that can build shared understanding, expose the decision points, and help a group look into the future.
In the last two articles, I covered the what, why, and who. Today we focus on the how.
Table of contents
Defining a Powerful Future for our Product Vision (this article)
1. Set up activities
You need a few things ready before walking into the workshop.
First, all the usual prep work: make sure you book a good room, hopefully with many whiteboards, and get enough post-its, and snacks.
But let’s talk about real prep: how do participants walk in with the right information and mindset?
Understand the company vision and mission: make sure you start thinking where the future of the product, understanding the company’s desired future and its reason for existing. Note: for smaller startups, you might not have a company vision, and usually, your resulting artifact will serve both as a company and product vision.
Long-term artifacts: most of us will be dealing with existing products, for which many artifacts were already created. While this is a generative exercise, and we don’t want to create a vision based on the analytics dashboard or our backlog, we do want to consider useful long-term artifacts. A few examples:
Jobs To Be Done: if well done, they capture the stable customer needs we want to fulfill, which is very useful to frame the vision.
Customer Journey or User Experience maps: if done holistically, they are valuable input for our storytelling and capture some of the pains we want to highlight in the vision.
Personas, segments, or any client definition: depending on your product, you may be targeting a very specific audience that you might know a lot about, which can be very useful for depicting them in your vision artifact.
Some input on what a Product Vision is: since vision can be an elusive term, you want participants to know what you are trying to create (and avoid spending workshop hours debating it). Simply sharing some ideas and examples of the first article of this series should suffice.
Day 1 - Breaking the status quo
(Take this “days” division with a grain of salt: the timebox depends on the complexity of the product, organization, and pre-existing material).
2. The Now: gain a shared understanding of our current state
After sharing all the prep work, participants are ready to start day 1. For sure, you need to prepare the space, do some agenda walkthroughs, explain why we are here today, and maybe do a warmup exercise.
But assuming you have that covered, let’s focus on the first part of the workshop: how do we gain a shared understanding of the current situation?
To do that, we want to walk the group through 3 exploration exercises:
User needs and pains: how is life today, what are users trying to achieve, and what are the positive and negative experiences they find along the way? For example, an older adult trying to watch a movie at night: (+) very good streaming options, (+) wide catalog to cover all my interests, (-) I spend much time deciding what to watch, (-) It’s hard to navigate through the options.
Our current service: how do we address those needs, what is valued about our value proposition, and what is missing in it?
Market situation: either how the market is evolving, or how competitors are solving the need and generating other pains.
By the end of this exercise, the group has a solid view of what the customer is currently experiencing (and some hints on where we can revolutionize their life).
3. Thinking out of the box: 11-stars to envision beyond the status-quo
It’s usual to now jump to some sort of ideation exercise. The problem is that we will most likely define a “5-star experience”: something that is extremely good but fits today’s expectations; what is possible today, without any significant breakthrough.
That, while good, is not what we want in an inspiring vision.
So the idea is to present an exercise that unlocks ideas beyond the status quo, and my personal favorite is one that Airbnb made popular: the 11-star framework. To learn more about it, you can refer to the great interview with Brian Chesky (founder) in Reid Hoffman’s podcast, Masters of Scale. (I also like this summarized version with an applied example).
The goal is to create an experience that goes over “everything as expected”, and makes you think of what it would take to deliver a “way beyond” experience that will get customers to rate you over 5 stars.
You can use any variation of the exercise, but I do at least a round with a 5-star, a 7-star, and an 11-star. Why?
5-star: start by really stating what a great experience is
7-star: unlock your mind and figure out what can be way beyond that
11-star: finally, explode into totally unrealistic territory, that may still trigger some good ideas to rethink your 7-star
Since this is a “set the scene” exercise and there is no need for consensus, you can have multiple teams doing it in parallel, then present and let people “dot-vote” their preferred parts.
Day 2 - Crafting the future
4. Future positioning: what do we want (and are able) to stand for
After having thought about those possible future stages, now it’s time to define what value we really want to deliver to our customers, and have them as raving fans for doing so.
To achieve that, we need to:
Define the core value propositions we will stand for
Define why those are important, what are the needs they cover
Why may be strengths (and synergies) or weaknesses (and challenges) for your company to pursue this vision
A final “column” for our exercise: Since we are trying to define our unique positioning, it’s also important also to state the tradeoffs. What makes you unique also makes you unsuitable for certain markets or needs.
Now the hard part: assuming you generated a good set of them, how do you decide what the core values for your vision are?
Here is where dot voting is no longer an option. The answer is pattern recognition. Through the discussions of “why”, “synergies”, “challenges”, you will find value propositions that are inconsistent with each other (or less meaningful in the world you are trying to create) and a set of them which are highly interrelated and depend on each other to reinforce the value we are creating.
We don’t want a collection of value propositions. Be bold and shrink the list to only those with these intertwined synergies and reinforcing loops.
We can end this exercise with an adapted version of April Dunford’s positioning template: a list of Values, Our Uniques Attributes to deliver those values, the list of “Whys” or needs that make our customers care, and the challenges and tradeoffs we are making to differentiate.
Conclusion and next step
We had done the heavy lifting: decided about our future, considered our present, and broke conventional thinking.
But we are not over yet, we need to put everything in a compelling story. In the next article, we will see how to come up with our storyboard.
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