Why Product vision plays such an important role in building exceptional products

The world is full of products but not all of them are created equal; there are an exceptional few that stand out head and shoulders above the rest. You might ask me what makes these products successful. And there could be many answers such as visionary CEOs, finding the right product-market fit at the right time, an incredible amount of funding that could buffer all the learnings (mistakes), or an unsaturated market with a need that no one else could satisfy. Still, the one attribute they all have in common is a great product vision. That would most certainly be my answer to your question.

So what makes a product vision great? Well, the answer is easy: a great product vision is a simple product vision. Many companies tend to have these elaborate, four sentence, thirty-word long product visions, yet if you ask any member of their team what the product vision actually is, they can barely remember the first three words. They are taking a step in the right direction by having a product vision, but what is the use of a product vision that no one remembers or understands?

A good product vision should be one or two sentences at most and no longer than twelve to fifteen words. But most importantly, your team members should be able to remember it in their day-to-day runnings. Keep it short, keep it simple, that is the key to success.

I always use the product vision funnel when I facilitate clients during this important part of their product journey. I start with the big picture, a question that people might struggle to answer at first. I typically ask my clients four questions: First I ask them what their world vision is, where do they see the world in 30 or 20 years’ time? The time frame that you select here should be matched to how quickly the technology in their industry or their industry itself changes. Remind your clients that their world vision can, by all means, be far-fetched and that they should think big, think outside the box, and be visionary.

Next, I ask them where they see their industry in 15 years’ time, once again keeping the time frame in mind. This helps to narrow down the scope and their vision usually becomes a bit more realistic. It also helps to set the boundaries within which their company will operate.

My second to last question is, what is their company’s vision within the overall industry vision. As a company, what do they want to achieve in the next 10 years? Once again keep that time frame in mind.

At this moment the penny usually drops and people understand why this funnel is so important. It prepares them for the final question. What is your product vision? By now they have narrowed down all the sometimes absurd statements and parts of a far-fetched vision in their head to something tangible, reachable, and within the bounds (and budget) that they know is possible.

So what should a good product vision be? Let’s start with what it should not be first: It should not be easy to reach or be an annual “vision”; it should not be vain, it should not be your company vision, and it should not be too general. This list can be quite long so let’s move to what a good product vision should be.

It should be clear enough to point the team(s) in the right direction so that everyone knows and understands where the product should end up. It should also excite and bind the members of the team(s) together to give them purpose and a sense of unity. Everyone should know the product vision by heart and whenever planning is done you should always ask yourself, how does this feature get us closer to the product vision?

Going through this process of creating your product vision should not just be another box you tick as a product manager. A good and clear product vision is what will help you and your teams create exceptional products. Take the time to create a good product vision because the value you get from doing so will be priceless.

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