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What is a product vision and how do I create one?What is a product vision and how do I create one?What is a product vision and how do I create one?

What is a product vision and how do I create one?

What do you think of when you imagine the future of your product? If I asked your stakeholders the same thing, what do you think they'd say? Would it be the same as you? If so, great – you have won at product vision! It's likely not the case for most of us, though.

The reality of most organisations is that everyone has a different view of what the future holds for their product. Many organisations can't agree on what problem their product solves, and for whom, right now! And as a product person, it's your job to help get those views aligned.

Trying to achieve a common understanding of the ultimate reason for creating your product and the change it should bring about in people's lives is only achievable if you have an effective product vision, and go about creating it in the right way. And that's what we're going to explore in this article.

We'll look at: what a product vision is, why you need one, what good looks like, how to create it, and how often to review and updates. That's a lot of ground to cover, so let's get started by examining what a product vision actually is.

What is product vision?

Building a new product is a challenging journey. And the most difficult part of it is that there's no map. You need to make your own map as you build your product, one that contains, who the product is for, what value it creates for them, how you will build it and how you will know you're on the right track.

And your product vision will help you build that map. Think of the product vision as your north star. Something you and the rest of your organisation use to guide yourselves along the path to creating a successful product.

Roman Pichler sums up product vision well in his book Strategize, when he says:

The [product] vision is the ultimate reason for creating your product; it describes the positive change the product should bring about.

Sometimes people confuse product vision with strategy. It's an easy mistake to make. The line between strategy and vision can become a little blurred at times, especially if you are working on both at the same time, and because product strategy documents often also contain a vision statement.

Marty Cagan explains the difference well in his book INSPIRED when he likens vision and strategy, respectively, to leadership and management:

Leadership inspires and sets the direction, and management helps get us there.

At its simplest, the difference is that vision focuses on the why behind the product whereas strategy makes the vision real and actionable by introducing how you will achieve your product vision. So, to go back to the analogy of the journey, product vision is your north star, and product strategy is the map you make.

Why have a product vision?

As we've seen already, product vision is a tool for alignment. When everyone knows what they are working towards, it makes it easier for them to see how their work contributes to something bigger, and to decide the most valuable contributions they can be making towards that goal.

A product vision is also a tool for inspiration. For most of us, it's easy to get trapped in the minutiae of everyday work, which can get tiring and demotivating over time. Having a vision of the change your product is going to create gives you something to pick up your spirits while you're trying to work out the relative priority of the hundreds of things in your backlog!

The inspiring benefits of a product vision aren't limited to the people who work in your company, either. Having a clearly articulated product vision makes recruitment easier, and is an important part of being able to talk to your customers.

What does a product vision look like?

A product vision is a short, memorable and inspiring statement that explains why your product exists, how it achieves the 'why', and what the product actually is.

Product visions start life using the following format:

For (target customer) who (statement of need or opportunity), the (product name) is a (product category) that (key benefit, reason to buy). Unlike (primary competitive alternative), our product (statement of primary differentiation).

And once people are agreed on the contents of the statement, it can be rewritten into more natural, inspiring language.

An effective product vision statement is:

  • Simple to explain & understand
  • Describes what we will feel, hear, think, say and do as if we had reached our vision now.
  • It is a powerful phrase and evokes emotion. Gut check: Is it inspiring, positive, rewarding to work for a company with this purpose?
  • It describes an outcome, the best outcome we can achieve, but it is NOT your business goals (no numeric measures of success).
  • It helps build a picture, the same picture, in people’s minds. Helps people make decisions about their work.

Here's an example from Uber:

Evolving the way the world moves. By seamlessly connecting riders to drivers through our apps, we make cities more accessible, opening up more possibilities for riders and more business for drivers.

Product vision vs company vision

For single product companies, your product vision and company vision might be one and the same thing. For larger companies with multiple products, you may have more than one statement, which relates to a larger, overarching company vision.

How do I create a product vision?

Your product vision should be something that the whole company is bought into, and that means creating it in a collaborative way.

Here's a method you could use in a workshop with a small group of key people from different areas of the business before circulating it more widely for feedback. If you're in a big company, you might want to have each key department nominate a single attendee to attend on their behalf so you don't have too many people.

Workshop steps:

  1. Working individually, get each person in the room to write down or draw how the world will be different thanks to your product. If the change lends itself to visual interpretation, have people draw it to make it visual and tangible. If the change is easier to articulate in words than pictures, write a customer testimonial for after they experience the product
  2. How do they feel?
  3. What do they say?
  4. What do they want to do now?
  5. What are they happy about?
  6. As a group, have people look at each-others representations and highlight the words or elements of what they have created. Voting with sticky dots is often an effective way to do this.
  7. Discuss what you like about each element.
  8. Using the format "For (audience), we (what the product does), so that (outcome for the customer)", work as a group to create a statement that reflects what you have discussed. It's often most effective if you capture the statement on the board and shape it as people share their opinions and ideas.
  9. Refine the statement by yourself into more natural language, then get feedback on it and iterate as needed.

Test your product vision with end customers early on with simple interviews to see how well it resonates with them.

How often do I need to update a product vision?

How often you need to update your product vision will depend on how mature your product and company are. For new products which are pre product-market fit, you're likely to need to review your vision statement every 6-8 months.

For more established products, the statement should have staying power, which means the horizon for the statement should be 3-5 years away. You should be reviewing it every 1-2 years to make sure it’s still relevant.

In summary

It's easy to put off creating a product vision, either because it just seems like too big a task or because firefighting and day-to-day product management get in the way of finding time. If you don't have a product vision, or yours is no longer relevant, it's worth putting the effort in to create a new one. And it doesn't need to be an onerous task.

By reading this article, you should already have an idea of what you're aiming for. And running the simple workshop above should give you the basis of your product vision. Remember, there's no 'right time' to create your product vision and you can always update it if you need to, so give it a try now and if you need a hand, talk to us about how one of our coaches can help you.

OFFER:

Did you find this article useful? Would you like more content like this? These tips were taken from our forthcoming product strategy ebook. Get early access to by signing up for our newsletter.

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