“Vision” is yet another one of those overused business words. It’s become a trope. And almost always a vision is too broad or lofty to be useful.
And it’s also crucial for your product, your customers, and your people.
Of course, the problem isn’t with the idea of a vision. It’s with how we create and use them. And sure, we could try and use or make up a new word, like Snooflegulp, but we would eventually do the same thing with that word. And, while potentially more amusing, the outcome wouldn’t be any more useful - and likely more confusing.
So, I’m going to stick with “vision”.
A useful vision has three important aspects:
- It is specifically customer-focused
- It definitely includes you
- It is meaningfully aspirational
Being specifically customer-focused
Here’s the deal - the market is inevitably going to judge your product or service one way or another. So it’s just easier if you start with customer needs to begin with.
And not just some hand-wavy, generic “the customer” or “need”, but a clear, crisp idea of a specific customer, with a specific unmet need.
Admittedly it can sometimes feel tricky to find the right level of specificity for a product vision, but I’d suggest embracing that trickiness. Try something you know is too specific. Try something else you know is too broad. Then explore what’s in between those two. Work through it collaboratively with a few other folks. And get feedback from actual prospective customers!
It definitely includes you
This may seem counterintuitive, especially after banging on about the importance of being customer-focused. But your product vision needs to also be something you want it to be.
Why? For two main reasons.
First, there are a lot of ways to meet potential customers’ unmet needs, but if your product vision includes you, it will add a special flavor that will be identifiably unique. And that will show up in many ways from finding the right customers, to deciding on which features, to how you handle services and support.
And second, being a product manager can take a lot of energy. And in my experience, you need to feel connected to your customers and your product in a way that makes spending that energy worth it for you.
One last thought on this. In a large organization, or for a large product, sometimes “you” can be a complex group of people. That being said - relegating this aspect of product management to nothing more than soulless “stakeholder management” is, in my opinion, a disservice to you, your product, your people, and your customers. Take the time to figure out how you can show up in your product vision.
Building a great product is a team effort. Contributors, stakeholders, planners, partners…the list goes on. To get them engaged and keep them energized for the product journey your vision needs to be aspirational.
But not in some lofty, candy mountain sorta way.
A product vision is meaningfully aspirational when those involved understand its benefit, believe it’s possible, and can imagine (but not plan!) the path to get there.
Understanding the benefit is pretty obvious. If people can’t perceive or relate to the “why” of your product, it will never be aspirational.
Believing that your product vision is possible, also seems straightforward. Just because someone comprehends the benefit, it won’t matter much if they don’t think it’s achievable. In fact, if they think it’s impossible, that can be downright demotivating.
However, being able to imagine, but not plan, the path to achieving the vision may seem odd. But, if you can easily formulate the plan to achieve your product vision, the likelihood is that your vision isn’t very visionary. This gap between believing something is possible but not quite knowing how to get there is a source of energy and creativity. This is where people’s imagination can flourish and we can embrace optionality and experimentation! And that needs to be continually harnessed to move your product forward.
Whether you agree or disagree with the ideas above, it can still be useful to go try them out. Try to write a product vision statement for your company’s products or services. Or try writing out vision statements for products or services you love. Better yet, try writing them down as you wish they were for products or services you find lacking! Have others read and give you feedback about what you wrote. It’s an easy enough exercise that gets easier with practice!