Working on a product without a complete product vision is like walking into the street with your eyes closed.
Creating and managing a product requires time, patience, energy, and a clear product vision. The product vision must resonate with stakeholders — they have to be convinced that your development plan is aligned with company goals and is right for your customers. Rallying that collaboration across your entire organization is crucial for creating a successful product.
What Is a Product Vision?
The product vision is the blueprint that outlines a product's core concept and features. It guides product development teams on what the product should look like and how it should perform in different scenarios. Creating a detailed product vision provides product engineers with the baseline needed to deliver an effective and attractive product to the consumer.
There are companies that have mastered this process by focusing on delivering a delightful customer experience to their users. For example, we can look at B2C players like Tesla and Ikea, whose products are developed with the intention of elevating their customers' lives. In the example below, we can see that Ikea's product vision is centered around their dedication to their customers.
Strong ideas have the potential to spark our imaginations. But how do they do it? We connected with product management experts to see how exactly they developed their products' vision -- and they're sharing their secrets below.
How to Create a Product Vision
To get a better idea of how the experts create their product vision, I asked them about their processThis is what they had to say:
1. Approaching the Product Vision
When it comes to creating a ground-breaking product, getting started can often prove to be a difficult endeavor. Your product vision is your product's baseline, and without a strong starting point it will be hard to create the product that your team has envisioned. It's important to approach the product vision with your customer's needs at the forefront of your focus.
“We always start by looking at the business and what we're trying to accomplish as a business. At Drift, we're trying to create a new category of conversational marketing, so we think about our business goals, what do we need to do for the business -- and then we figure out what can we do as a product team to help achieve that vision. And then we work backwards from there.
For example, if our goal is to grow revenue or grow customers, or enter a new market, then we work backwards. We figure out what that means for the product, what the product can do to get us there and then we plant a flag (usually on a quarterly basis). And then that's how we do our product planning.”
“Product vision should always be inspired from a core problem that you believe is worth solving. It boils down to a product team's ability to understand and unearth an innate problem in the market. This involves product managers putting themselves in the shoes of their potential users to understand their perspective. It's sometimes important for product managers to articulate these problems as well since the users themselves cannot do it effectively most of the time (and frankly it's not their job either).
On the other hand, these problems need to be mapped with your company's core values and skills. Not every company is in the best position to solve every problem. It is important to choose the problems that you can solve and you cannot. For example, a product company that breeds best of the breed engineers and data scientists will try to solve problems where AI can be best applied. On the other hand, a product company that is strong in design focuses on problems that need creative solutions. This is something a product leader should know about his organization and steer it in that direction.”
“My approach, as a product guy that's crossed from development to marketing, is that it's essential that the product vision and the marketing brand story are aligned. The story is the promise you are making to the client and the product is the delivery on this promise. Both need to represent a differentiated position in the market category and clearly define and express the customers need that is being solved. Too many product visions are focused on the product and not on the client, yet market share is won by being relevant to the client, not by creating more features.”
No matter how strong your product vision is, it will be difficult to achieve your business goals and meet deadlines without the help of your product development team. You need your surrounding employees to help you accomplish tasks and provide feedback on your product's progress. According to our experts, driving team collaboration is one of the most crucial components to creating a successful development process.
“We do quarterly planning, which means that every single quarter we think about what we learned from the last quarter, what we heard from customers and what's going on with the business. That then gets broken down into big themes and every single product team sets their own goals based on those themes. So it's like every tech lead, every product manager, every engineer, every designer's involved in escalating the things that they've learned and then thinking about what they can do to contribute to those big goals.”
“Once you have the vision, build consensus, especially with customer-facing teams i.e. Sales and Marketing. Over communicate your vision. If your vision is easy to recite and remember, it makes your job easier. Make your vision a part of your employee onboarding process. Ensure that every item in your product roadmap showcases the traceback to your vision.“
“I feel this is a key aspect that every product manager/leader has to tackle. To align everyone with your vision you need to inspire them to truly believe in what you are building and project it with the same clarity to your market. A lot of skills, including story building, storytelling, data analysis, problem-solving are at play here. But I strongly believe product managers need to be excellent storytellers to align teams. How you tell a story is completely up to you, choose any framework, any medium, but at the end of the day, the story has to be simple and memorable.”
“Data, client feedback, and validated user stories that are agreed across the business and support the brand story and product vision are key. One of the important answers a disciplined product manager or product marketer need to say is “no,” every product team has a finite level of resources and focused delivery separates the great products from the rest. Having these principles established across the business gives them a framework for this, aligning not just the development team, but aligning product development with marketing, sales, and support.”
If you've created a product before, you know that the development process isn't easy. Roadblocks pop up, and your team needs to be adaptive if they want to overcome them. To help your team prepare, our experts were able to point out some of the most common challenges you can expect to face during the product development process.
“The most common roadblocks are how to balance things that we would like to fix and technical debt that we have, versus big new features that we want to build that we think we can help grow the business. It's always a tension between how many new things you're going to build, or how many improvements do you want to make, or where do you need to invest because you have some technical debt. It's just always a conversation between all the different stakeholders.
We have a really strong product culture led by David and Elias who are always thinking about how we can put the customer first. And so even when we're talking about technical debt, we talk about what improvements can we make for the customers by solving for that debt. So even then, we won't build something that's just to make something better. It always to provide value to customers.”
“Roadblocks that generally face the vision are fine-tuned or iterated. Re-communicating the updated concept to the entire team comes with its challenges. Since you have been hammering the previous vision over and over, it takes time for the new vision to be bought into and imbibed cross-functionally. But the competitor has it argument that can sometimes trump your product vision. Competitor parity cases generally cause alignment issues across teams.”
“One of the key things that I feel product managers should endure is the temptation to change a product roadmap in reaction to external events. These events could include what competition is doing. It's one thing to recognize a trend and adapt your roadmap to it and it's another thing to react to competition and change the roadmap. This is one practical struggle that I see product teams face in terms of pressure from CXO, Sales or Marketing.”
“There is a lot that can break this focus; for example, overselling by sales creating a technical debt for the development team to deliver promised features, feature clutter as engineering add more options unchecked by client needs or mismanagement of client expectations leading to feature requests that are not relevant to the broader client base. All of which boils down to a disconnect between the internal teams and a lack of common strategy, creating an unhealthy conflict that can derail the execution of a product vision.”
Your process of creating a product vision shouldn't be static. According to our experts, you should be reassessing your process on a regular basis to ensure you're continuously meeting the needs of your customers. Their needs will evolve, and without self-assessment your products won't be effective in captivating your target audience.
“My big one piece of advice is to start by thinking about what happened in the last quarter and what you learned. And to make sure that you involve everyone from all different levels. So I don't think it's efficient to set goals as a group, but it is really important to involve people early on to make sure that you understand what they learned or what they heard, so that when you get to the point where you have a vision and you have goals, everyone understands where they came from. Sharing context with everyone is really important. It makes for better goals and it's really respectful of your teammates.”
“Keep your vision short and simple. Take inspiration from CleverTap's vision: Optimize Customer Experiences at Scale. Product vision is the first step to creating your strategy, goals, and plans. Do not delay building the foundation, and think beyond the product. Your tech stack and your features are not the vision. Change is the only constant. Employ this principle in your product vision. Finally, don't be afraid to say ‘No' when you see customers asking for capabilities that do not align with your vision.”
“Nothing can ever replace a data-backed strategy. While it might sound cliche, data is truly the best weapon in the arsenal of a product manager. Product and design are two very subjective areas that several people try to influence in an organization and to ensure you are making the right decisions, data is the most important thing.”
“Software companies are always playing a balancing act between creating the product of tomorrow that maybe the client (and even the sales team) doesn't know they want yet, satisfying the client and market need of today and maintaining or repairing the decisions that were made yesterday. There is ALWAYS a tension between these three which is manifested in a conflict between sales, support, and product development. A strong product vision, owned and supported by the whole C-suite is essential to bring balance, supporting the difficult decisions that need to be made, giving confidence to the whole organization, and an execution focus.”
One common theme that was mentioned in all of these interviews is being clear about the development team's goal. Be it production vision or anything else, if you are clear about what your team is trying to achieve, you're more likely to put all your efforts in the right direction and get better results.
For more tips about product development, read about the best way to create a product roadmap.
Originally published Apr 29, 2019 10:49:15 AM, updated April 29 2019