A product vision is of paramount importance. This seems to be a given. You can find a lot of material that simply states this as fact without explaining why it is the case. Many write about what a vision is and plenty of folks provide frameworks or methods for creating a product vision. However, rarely do they explain why the product vision is needed, what the reasons are for creating one. They simply seem to assume that everybody already knows.
Don’t get me wrong, I do agree that creating the vision is extremely important. After all, I wrote that one of the most important tasks of any Product Owner is to first create a compelling vision. Nevertheless, I feel it’s worth exploring why that actually is the case. Why is it so important to create a compelling vision for a product?
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Reasons for creating a product vision
From what I can tell, there seem to be three reasons why any product needs a vision.
- Giving purpose
- Improving decision making
Let´s tackle these one by one.
A product vision adds meaning and purpose to the team´s daily work. It connects what they are doing to the bigger picture. It helps understand why we are doing what we are doing. This motivates.
Most companies have a vision valid for the overall business. These visions can be a bit abstract. So much so that it can be difficult for the individual (team) to understand how the daily work connects to the direction that the company as a whole is moving towards.
A product vision that explains the core value or benefit of the product is much closer to the daily work. It may still be a bit abstract since it describes a target state of the value that is delivered to users, though likely less so than the overall company vision. Nevertheless, understanding why the product the individual is working on exists in the first place makes it much more tangible to the individual how his or her work is contributing to the overall direction of the company (since the product vision should be derived from the overall vision).
This adds purpose and meaning to the work and leads to a host of positive effects. As covered recently, there are good reasons to start with why if you are building a business or a product. This purpose motivates and inspires people. They know exactly why they are doing what they are doing. It helps teams stay together and can lead to exceptional results.
A product vision aligns stakeholders and thus focuses their activities. It ensures that all involved parties have the same understanding of the mid to long term goal that is to be achieved. Ideally, they all then move in unison in that direction. (In the real world this doesn’t always happen. We are dealing with humans after all. 😉)
The focus created by the product vision facilitates effective collaboration between the different teams. All involved parties are clear on the general direction of the product. As such, the vision ensures that marketing, development, sales, and activities of any other involved parties are pulling in the same direction.
Now, we still need to ensure that the day to day of the activities is aligned. Having a product vision does not eliminate the need to communicate. Nevertheless, all involved have a clear focus what to acheive in the mid term. As such the vision facilitates avoiding wasteful activities as teams will not be working on anything that goes in a completely different direction. Thus, a product vision thus helps create a smooth running product organization.
Improving decision making
A product vision greatly helps in making decisions related to the product. It is the mid to long term goal of what the product should grow into. As such, it serves as a guideline when evaluating opportunities, features, or accompanying activities that can be done.
This is of particular importance for the Product Owner in the context of Scrum, as he or she is the chief decision maker for the product. Therefore – and I am not going to get tired of saying this – it often feels as though the PO is rejecting almost all requests brought to him or her. The product vision can help make those decisions and, more importantly, explain why the decision was made.
Let me try to illustrate with an example. Say we are building a product focused on creating a better environment for people searching for insurance. The vision might be something along the lines of “…creating a fair opportunity for all people to find the best security they need…”. Now, imagine we have identified an opportunity to build some sort of feature that promotes not necessarily the best insurance but one that converts better (i.e. we can earn more money with it.) Our product vision gives us guidance in making the decision whether we want to build this. We will likely decide to forgo that short term money in favor of something else more aligned with our vision.
A product vision needs buy in
In theory this all sounds great and simple. Create a vision and, voilà, people are motivated, all teams’ activities are focused on fulfilling the vision, and we are making the best decisions using this product vision.
Unfortunately, the real world is not as clean as the theory. In order to truly be effective, the vision needs to be well formulated and backed by all stakeholders. It needs to actually be lived. This is not easy. Communication is key in that regard. Buy in is influenced greatly by the manner or process of building a vision, how the vision is created. That is for another day, though, as is what the product vision actually is. Today we just started with why.
Photo by Matt Noble on Unsplash