Many great products started from a simple vision. It’s that a-ha moment, the bright spark or epiphany that propels you towards building something bigger than yourself. But what is a product vision, and do you really need it? After all, in this agile world, isn’t everything figured out on the fly? And weren’t some of the best inventions created by accident?
In this article, I will explain what a product vision, mission, strategy, and roadmap is, their importance and how they connect to each other. Each make up an essential building block that cements the foundation of a great product. Almost every global name we have today, started with a vision — to do something more than the status quo.
What is a product vision?
A product vision encapsulates the long-term ambition for your product. It’s a simple statement that captures the goal, purpose, and the future as you have imagined. But the vision can change, and should be fine-tuned along the way, to keep up with evolving technologies and consumer behaviours.
Why is a product vision important? A product vision gives a clear direction that everyone in the company can work towards. It keeps you on the course, instead of veering off elsewhere, wasting time and resources. And a shared vision makes it much easier to prioritise projects, make decisions, and unite people.
A product vision can be different to a product mission, but some companies choose to combine the two in one statement. A mission is the reason you’re building the product, why it should exist and who it serves.
These are a few examples of the product vision statement from popular products:
- Instagram — Capturing and sharing the world’s moments
- Airbnb — Building a world where everyone belongs
- Ted — Sharing ideas worth spreading
- Google Search — Organise the World Wide Web
What is the difference between product and company vision?
A company with just one product will usually have the same company and product vision. Bigger companies with multiple products will have an overarching vision for the company, and individual statements for each product. And this is when product vision becomes crucial. Different products should serve different markets and purpose.
It’s crucial to identify what makes them different, because too often, companies release overlapping products, ending up with a bloated product line that confuses users. If you can’t find a strong differentiating vision for your next product, then you shouldn’t even attempt it at all. It may be better off as a feature or a third-party extension.
How to write a product vision?
A product vision should be:
- Inspirational — Inspires people
- Concise — Easy to understand
- Actionable — Clear enough for you to take actions
- Measurable — Quantifiable to determine success or failure
There’s a famous template that you may have seen before, on how to craft product vision. It gives you a good base to start brainstorming your product’s worth.
Crafting the product vision should, ideally, involve key leaders of the product and management to ensure everyone agrees and believes in it. It’s hard to build a product when people don’t buy the what and why of the product.
You can run design sprints and brainstorming sessions to figure out the vision together. Once crafted, the product manager or owner is usually the owner of the vision, ensuring the teams follow through on it. In smaller companies, he or she is the one who creates the product vision, strategy, and roadmap.
What is a product strategy?
A product strategy is a plan on how to achieve the product vision. It is the how of your product. While the vision focuses on the high-level ambition, the product strategy outlines the recipe to reach your ambition. It is not an inspirational one-liner. It is a detailed strategy of what you’re building, who it is for, where your product sits in the market, how the product ties in with the company vision, and the product goals.
There are several elements to consider when creating a product strategy: the target market, the product, and the business goals.
1. The target market
- Who are you helping?
- What are their needs?
- What is their expectation?
- How big is the target market?
- What is the current trend?
2. The product
- What does your product do?
- How does it benefit the market?
- How will you price your product?
- How will you sell and distribute your product?
- How is it different to other products in the market?
- What other advantages do you have compared to competitors?
3. The business goals
- How does the product align with the business goals?
- How can the business build and support the product?
- How to measure the success of your product for the business?
How to create a product strategy?
Remember, innovation is just a continuous cycle of small improvements, so don’t be intimidated by the task of crafting a strategy.
For starters, you can look at what the current state is for your target users. Gather all relevant research to get a comprehensive picture of the market and current offerings. This gives you a baseline to start generating ideas to achieve the product vision.
You can start small with a general idea, and further refine it in design sprints and brainstorming sessions, until you get more clarity. Creating the product strategy either falls under the product manager, or a collective responsibility between product leaders.
The product strategy is a document that will guide product team. It gives a clear path in every product decision and shapes the product roadmap. You should be revising your product strategy when things are clearly not working after some time. User feedback, sales data and market stats are your clues to whether you should pivot the product or stay the course.
Product Vision Board
The product vision board is a tool by Roman Pichler, a renowned product management leader. It combines the product vision and considerations for the product strategy. The board gives you the essential information you need to craft a product strategy. You will need to consider the vision, target users, their needs, the product and how it aligns with your business goals.
What is a product roadmap?
A product roadmap is a high-level visual timeline or schedule of your product development. Roadmaps are useful for planning, prioritising, and measuring progress of your product build. It is a document that makes everything transparent and is a common schedule that every team from developers to marketers share.
You can have different versions of the roadmap for different audiences, each with details that are relevant to the reader. For example, a product roadmap for developers will look different than for C-level executives, and customers.
Creating roadmaps help:
- Executives track the development and how it ties in with the business strategy and timeline
- Product managers and owners plan their resources, time, tasks, and monitor progress
- Product developers be aware of their tasks and the importance of it
- Marketers plan their campaigns and communication
- Customers know what is coming up in future releases and fixes
There are many tools available to create product roadmaps including:
As you can see, the product vision, strategy and roadmap are critical building blocks of a product — your North Star. I would argue that it is almost impossible to build great products without them. Without it, you’re just winging it without any tangible target. And that’s just not worth your precious time, resources, and skills.