You may consider a product vision a nebulous concept or an intangible buzzword, but in this post I am to walk through a step-by-step process for why you should, and how you can, create your product vision. In the end, you’ll have a powerful tool that you and your team can continually use to provide product direction and inspiration.
I’d like to start with an excerpt that describes not just the importance but the necessity of working towards a specific future despite uncertainty:
“You can expect the future to take a definite form or you can treat it as hazily uncertain. If you treat the future as something definite, it makes sense to understand it in advance and to work to shape it. But if you expect an indefinite future ruled by randomness, you’ll give up on trying to master it... A definite view... favors firm convictions… determines the one best thing to do and then does it… A startup is the largest endeavor over which you can have definite mastery. You can have agency not just over your own life, but over a small and important part of the world. It begins by rejecting the unjust tyranny of Chance. You are not a lottery ticket.” — **Peter Thiel, Zero to One
In the context of a PM and their product, the product vision is the best tool one has to describe that definite future.
There are about as many definitions for “what” a Product Vision is as there are Product Managers in the world 😉. This means there is also no single way for “how” to create a Product Vision.
For me, a Product Vision is simply a tool to define and communicate an inspiring picture of the product you want to offer in the coming years. I say “tool” because it’s helpful to keep the purpose of the vision in mind; it should serve a Product Manager as a place to document their outlook (ideally the customer problems to solve and an opinion on how to solve) and serve the broader team and company to provide clarity and excite them to deliver that vision. And this is why there is no single format of a product vision: because there are many different ways to achieve this purpose. In different roles I have used everything from documents to slides, prototypes to even videos, for the visions of my different products.
A product vision may or may not be distinct from the company vision. At a product-focused company, where the product encompasses the vast majority of the overall service a company offers to its customers, then the product vision and company vision should be one and the same. Whereas another company, where the product is a mere piece of an overall service offering, should have a company vision at a very different scope from the product vision (but still aligned with each other).
For many years in my Product Management career, even until somewhat recently, I found the concept of a product vision somewhat elusive. Especially working with early-stage startups where so much of the product definition evolves as you learn, it was difficult for me to figure out how to put a stake in the ground for a distant and unvalidated future. But what helped overcome this was not only finding an approach that worked for me (which I describe below), but also changing my thinking.
You can reduce the pressure for perfection if you think about a product vision like I now do: A product vision should not be seen as the destination where you will go, but rather your current belief of that destination based on the information you’ve collected so far. And as such it’s also not a set of Commandments carved in stone for eternity, but rather a living resource that evolves as you continue to learn more.
I’m going to talk about a specific type of vision, and more so my flavor of how I like to approach it. And I’ll refer to it as a Product Visiontype, which is simply the use of high-fidelity prototypes to convey a product vision. I first came across this concept from Marty Cagan, a prolific writer on the topic of Product Management. It has since been elaborated upon by a few Product and Design leaders.
Rather than the traditional formats such as documents and slides which rely mostly on words to convey the vision, a visiontype relies mostly on product visuals to convey the vision.
Even better - I aim for these visuals to be arranged in a sequence that can be used to tell a story, and they live in a collaborative design tool like Figma which can be easily hooked up into a clickable prototype that can be shared with the team.
A product vision is informed by many things: competition… market trends… the whims of founders…😜. But it should be primarily informed by an understanding of one’s customers.
I build this understanding through multiple discovery interviews. Product Discovery is the process of understanding your customer’s context, especially related to the problems they have and what they value in a solution. These discovery interviews can either be done as a dedicated effort or you can make a habit of asking a few open-ended questions during the tactical feature-level interviews that you are hopefully already conducting./* Find your Google Analytics ID here: https://support.google.com/analytics/answer/9539598?hl=en */