Who runs a successful Product Vision Workshop
The driver and key participants needed to create a powerful direction for your product
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Chances are you may have been or heard of Product Vision workshops. And unless you were lucky, you probably wasted your time.
More than 10 years ago, I attended my first “Product Vision Workshop.” It was a fun experience, run by an “Agile transformation” agency. The entire product development organization was there. We split into teams (each “product” team in one separate table), and went through a series of activities, creating elevator pitches, lego representations of our products, and things like that.
While it was fun, fostered team building, and sparked some collective creativity, we landed nowhere near a strong product vision to guide our future strategies or development plans.
In this article, we will see explore an alternative. While in the last article we explored what and why, we will now focus on who and how.
Table of contents
The Product Vision workshop participants (this article)
2. The Product Vision Workshop Participants
When trying to decide “how do we come up with a product vision, " the first critical question is to think about who needs to be involved.
Why do we decide who to involve?
While we always want to open up for collaboration, I would argue this is the ultimate artifact that needs to come from top leadership. Why?
First, top-level leadership needs to be absolutely committed to this vision. They will probably need to be the ones selling it afterward (to investors, board members, clients, and new hires). So their sense of ownership is critical.
Furthermore, this is the top-level direction middle managers and teams need, to understand what are the most relevant problems to solve and the value and positioning the company is trying to create.
For those reasons, the group should be small (no more than 10), and top management should be involved (more details below).
An important clarification is that we don’t want a vision per team. We want one vision per product.
This may be tricky since our product definition has evolved to adapt to basically anything. If we think about Spotify, as consumers, we consider the app one product. But probably inside the company, there are teams for the “Library,” “Playlist,” “Radio,” and many other components. And those teams consider their part of the experience a product in itself.
Since, for Vision, we are putting the user at the center, and showing how they solve their need with our offering, we should consider the “Product” at the level the user perceives it. A user trying to have a wonderful “Play music experience”, would consider Spotify as a whole product with all the components interacting to deliver that wonderful service. Teams can create other artifacts to signal their contribution and focus, but the product vision will stay at the whole solution level.
Making it more complex, we have platforms, that are considered products and have a vision, but they contain products on top solving more specific needs that should have their vision as well (and can, in fact, be two different companies altogether -think about an iPhone vs Apps, or Shopify vs extensions-).
So, as usual, you can’t use any definition off the shelf. You will need to adapt it to your context with some good judgment.
Specific Workshop participants by company size
Going back to people involved, let’s get more specific, with variations based on 3 company sizes.
1. Small Startup
In a small startup, the CEO would be responsible and would involve other key members like the CTO, other founders, and senior product or UX people, if there are any.
2. Consolidated scale-ups or mid-size corporations
In consolidated scale-ups or established mid-size companies, you probably have different products attending different customer groups (maybe split into segments, Business Units, or similar P&L divisions). In these setups, there is a “healthy” tension of responsibility between the “Business Unit General Manager” (usually in charge of the P&L, and usually very senior), and the Product Leader (VP, Director, or Head) in charge of the product of that BU. Both of them should be utterly committed to the resulting vision. It’s hard to think of an “ultimate” decision maker, so they should work together until both are very pleased with the final result (not by making compromises, but rather strengthening each other’s point of view).
For the workshop, the Product Lead usually will be the driver, since they will have stronger product skills to understand what we are trying to create. However, the BU Manager will have equal decision-making power, and together they would involve the most relevant players in the organization, like senior people from Product, UX, and Tech, but likely other key stakeholders like the Marketing lead, operations lead, etcetera (depending on the unit structure).
3. Big Enterprise
While the Product Vision definition should be set similarly to the mid-size corporation, different “portfolio” levels start playing a critical role.
In essence, we will have upper layers of vision we need to fit perfectly in, so our BU Manager and VP of Product need to be experts on the portfolio vision to create an aligned one. Furthermore, it is likely that upper-level managers should be involved, since they are the owners of this “parent” vision and would make sure that ours fit with their storyline.
Think of Microsoft (disclaimer, I have no idea what their real setup is):
-One company vision/direction
-One “area” vision (for example: Productivity)
-One “portfolio” vision (for example: Office)
-And then the product vision for Word or Excel.
Final notes on participants
These line-ups don’t mean that we can’t include other relevant people. Vision work requires a set of skills that are not necessarily related to hierarchy.
In fact, I would strongly discourage you from selecting participants just by looking at the org chart. There are two clear consequences of doing so:
You miss on very good input from a vision thinker just because they didn’t have the title to sit at the table.
You make the group bigger just because you feel forced to involve everyone with a certain hierarchy level, even when they have nothing to add to the discussion.
The role of the CPO
One interesting question about this lineup is the role of the CPO. Usually, this role starts at the scale-up or mid-sized, and they would have dedicated product leaders for the BUs or product lines. Should the CPO delegate the vision responsibility if those roles are strong enough?
As usual, it depends. As said in the opening part, if the CPO would be accountable for “selling” the vision, they need to be strongly committed and own it. However, this setup disempowers the second line of product leads. If possible, delegation creates a more empowered organization, and the leads can do the selling when needed.
What on earth is the CPO responsible for, then? While this can trigger another long article, the answer to this vision part is simpler:
“Portfolio” vision: CPOs own the higher-level vision (which is not the same artifact) that product leaders will align with their product visions.
And culture, that will help make sure we run towards our product vision.
Conclusion and next article
Product vision is an artifact owned by the top management of a particular product. Who this group is changes depending on the company size.
Creating it is not only the responsibility of product people (even though they may be the drivers of the creation exercise).
Now what? How is this product lead supposed to work with this group to create the strategy? In the upcoming articles, I will cover those topics.
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