Matthew Andrews
Product Manager ・ Software Engineer ・ Executive MBA Graduate ・ Tokyo Resident

How to define a Product Vision

The past few days I’ve been researching product visions — what they are, what are the ingredients of a good one and what are some examples. These notes are the result of that research.


According to Marty Cagan, the product vision describes the future, 2-5 years from now, that we are trying to create. Its primary purpose is to inspire the teams (including stakeholders, investors, partners, prospective customers) to bring this vision to life.

Buying into a vision always involves a leap of faith. You might not know how, or even if, you’ll be able to achieve it but at this stage you should believe it’s worthwhile trying.

Principles

  1. Start with why. What is your purpose. Everything follows from that.
  2. Love the problem, not the solution.
  3. Think big. Something that can be achieved in less than a year is not ambitious enough or substantial enough to inspire.
  4. Inspire. Create something you can get excited about. You can make any product vision meaningful if you focus on how you genuinely help your users and customers.
  5. Determine and embrace relevant meaningful trends. It is not very hard to identify the important trends but it is hard to understand how those trends can be leveraged by your products to solve customer problems in new and better ways.
  6. Skate to where the puck is heading, not to where it was. Identify the things that are changing—as well as the things that are likely not to change—in the time frame of the product vision.
  7. Be stubborn on vision but flexible on the details.
  8. Realise that any product vision is a leap of faith. If you could truly validate a vision, then your vision probably isn’t ambitious enough. It will take several years to know. Make sure what you’re working on is meaningful, and recruit people to the product teams who also feel passionate about this problem and then be willing to work for several years to realise the vision.
  9. Don’t be afraid to disrupt yourselves because if you don’t someone else will. Focus on creating new value for your customers, rather than on protecting what you have.
  10. Evangelise continuously and relentlessly.

Format

There is no set format for Product Visions. They’re sometimes short. Other times they can be very long, specific and go into all sorts of details.

The folks at TransferWise suggest defining a vision for a product by listing the core properties that customers use to describe its quality, imagine ultimate values for this properties and set a goal to achieve them.

Others suggest using the following format (originally from ‘Crossing the Chasm’, a book by Geoffrey Moore):-

  • For (target customer)
  • Who (statement of the need or opportunity)
  • The (product name) is a (product category)
  • That (key benefit, compelling reason to buy)
  • Unlike (primary competitive alternative)
  • Our product (statement of primary differentiation)

Company Mission versus Product Vision

As far as I can tell they can be the same or they can be different, but if they’re different they should certainly be aligned. The company mission addresses a broader audience, whereas the product vision may be relatively more internally focused.

Clearly if your company has multiple different products, each might have its own vision. On the other hand if you are a small single-product company a single combined company and product mission-vision statement may be more appropriate.

Don’t forget Marty’s 10th commandment “evangelise continuously and relentlessly” — that evangelism will be diluted if split between multiple competing visions.

Examples

AOL

https://svpg.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Example-Vision.pdf

SpaceX

SpaceX was founded under the belief that a future where humanity is out exploring the stars is fundamentally more exciting than one where we are not. Today SpaceX is actively developing the technologies to make this possible, with the ultimate goal of enabling human life on Mars.

Telenav

At Telenav, we believe the car is at the beginning of a massive innovation wave that mirrors what happened on the smartphone several years ago. Building on our long history of mobile and in-car navigation software and services, we are on a mission to make people’s lives less stressful, more productive and more fun when they’re on the go.

Anonymous CRM product

For a mid-sized company’s marketing and sales departments who need basic CRM functionality, the CRM-Innovator is a Web-based service that provides sales tracking, lead generation, and sales representative support features that improve customer relationships at critical touch points. Unlike other services or package software products, our product provides very capable services at a moderate cost.

Innocent drinks

Make natural, delicious food and drink that helps people live well and die old.

TransferWise

Money without borders - instant, convenient, transparent and eventually free. We’re powering money for people and businesses: to pay, to get paid, to spend, in any currency, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing.

Zuora

Zuora enables businesses of all industries and sizes to price, package, and sell their products on a recurring basis. Our mission is to help you grow your business by establishing, cultivating and monetizing recurring customer relationships.

Further reading