Do I Really Need a Product Vision Statement?
According to Les McKeown, CEO of Predicable Success, it is estimated that team members make between 20-200 micro-decisions a day that impact the success of a project. When you do the math on how many team members you have this leads to an astounding number of decisions that are being made daily around your product. A compelling product vision statement helps set the boundaries around how quickly and effectively those decisions can be made.
In addition, a compelling product vision statement inspires people to act on their own initiative without having to be pushed or pulled into action. Including a product vision statement as part of your strategic product planning will help move you from a product manager who is constantly running interference between confused stakeholders (i.e. “herding cats”) and into one who is driving an effective, collaborative, cross-functional team.
As Steve Jobs said, “If you are working on something exciting that you really care about, you don’t have to be pushed. The vision pulls you.”
Elements of a Compelling Product Vision
Let’s look at three key elements of a compelling product vision statement: Values, Vista, and Validity.
A standard organizational vision statement is grounded in the values of the stakeholders it represents. These values trigger emotions that connect the stakeholders at a deep, powerful level to the vision.
A product vision takes that idea a step further, as it communicates at a visceral level the values of the customers. It should inspire among your stakeholders a high level of empathy for the buyers, users and influencers of the product. It is this empathy that becomes the inspirational force behind the stakeholders call to action.
As an example, according to the Inc. article “How Harley-Davidson Mastered Product Positioning”, this is the internal product vision statement for Harley-Davidson:
The only motorcycle manufacturer
That makes big, loud motorcycles
For macho guys (and “macho wannabes”)
Mostly in the United States
Who want to join a gang of cowboys
In an era of decreasing personal freedom.
You can see the difference between this internal statement and one of Harley-Davidson’s customer-facing tag lines “American by birth. Rebel by choice.” The internal statement gives a clear indication of the buyer and user persona but does so in terms the product teams can resonate with.
Vista represents the scope of your vision statement and it contains two components:
- Time scale: how far into the future is your vision statement going to represent? Is it one product release (often used for waterfall development environments) or is it going to cover multiple or even on-going releases (used more often in Agile development environments). Whatever timing is appropriate for your release, make sure your statement links the work that is being done in the present to a future payoff for the customer.
- Breadth of personas: who is the vision statement really about? Most internal product teams need to be connected to the primary buyer and user personas. However, more complex B-to-B-to-C products may need multiple or expanded product visions to help connect stakeholders to appropriate personas.
I found a Forbes article “Salesforce.com’s Marc Benioff On Innovation, Acquisitions And Reinvention” in which Marc Benioff demonstrates the difficulty, and the elegance, that I think can be found in more complex product vision statements.
“Somebody needs to be the platform that connects all these customers to these companies. I call it a one to one customer platform …That is the customer touch-point is prolific and changing and evolving. And you the company – Toyota, BofA, News Corp, whoever — you need to be able to have this consistent relationship with the customer wherever they/you are…”
A good product vision statement is grounded in reality. A couple of key things to keep in mind when determining the validity of your vision statement are:
- Timing: is this the right time for this group of stakeholders to take on this vision? For example, if your team has spent several cycles in chaos and are finally coming together, this would be a tough time to sell a vision that promotes radical change. If on the other hand the stakeholders are hungry for change, don’t bring them a status quo vision.
- Credibility: does this group of stakeholders have what it takes in terms of tools, training, financing and core competencies to pull off the vision? Do you as the leader have a track record of success for this type of vision? If not, people may feel set up to fail.
- Organizational Alignment: does your vision statement fit within the overall mission and vision of the organization? If not, who is sponsoring this product vision?
Positioning Statements as Product Vision Statements
I have often found the easiest way to construct a compelling product vision statement is by starting with the product positioning statement. A position statement goes like this:
- For (target customer) who (statement of the need or opportunity) the (product name) is a (product category) that (statement of key benefit – that is, compelling reason to buy)
- Unlike (primary competitive alternative) our product (statement of primary differentiation)
As an example, here is a former product vision statement for the Blackberry:
For business e-mail users who want to better manage the increasing number of messages they receive when out of the office, BlackBerry is a mobile e-mail solution that provides a real-time link to their desktop e-mail for sending, reading and responding to important messages. Unlike other mobile e-mail solutions, BlackBerry is wearable, secure, and always connected.
What I found interesting in this statement is that they are not targeting mobile users, such as a sales team member, but that the solution was mobile.
In summary, a critical tool for product leadership is the ability to create a product vision statement that will engage passions, inspire action, and guide decision-making.
No matter how you do it, in a few words, a long statement, or through your positioning statement, the product vision statement, done well, can unify and motivate your product team.
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Meet the Author
Colleen O’Rourke is a Principal Consultant and Trainer at The 280 Group. She is passionate about developing Product Managers as leaders within their organizations, unleashing their exponential impact into the mix of products, people, and processes that are needed for success.
Senior Principal Consultant and Trainer