Product Vision & Strategy

From Inspired: How to Create Tech Products Customers Love

Principles of Product Vision

  1. Start with why. This is coincidentally the name of a great book on the value of product vision by Simon Sinek. The central notion here is to use the product vision to articulate your purpose. Everything follows from that.

  2. Fall in love with the problem, not with the solution. I hope you’ve heard this before, as it’s been said many times, in many ways, by many people. But it’s very true and something a great many product people struggle with.

  3. Don’t be afraid to think big with vision. Too often I see product visions that are not nearly ambitious enough, the kind of thing we can pull off in six months to a year or so, and not substantial enough to inspire anyone.

  4. Don’t be afraid to disrupt yourselves because, if you don’t, someone else will. So many companies focus on protecting what they have rather than constantly creating new value for their customers.

  5. The product vision needs to inspire. Remember that we need product teams of missionaries, not mercenaries. More than anything else, it is the product vision that will inspire missionary-like passion in the organization. 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.

  6. Determine and embrace relevant and meaningful trends. Too many companies ignore important rends for far too long. It’s not very hard to identify the important trends. What’s hard is to help the organization understand how those trends can be leveraged by your products to solve customer problems in new and better ways.

  7. Skate to where the puck is heading, not to where it was. An important element to product vision is identifying the things that are changing - as well as the things that likely won’t be changing - in the time frame of the product vision. Some product visions are wildly optimistic and unrealistic about how fast things will change, and others are far too conservative. This is usually the most difficult aspect of a good product vision.

  8. Be stubborn on vision but flexible on the details. This Jeff Bezos line is very important. So many teams give up other product vision far too soon. This is sally called a vision pivot, but mostly it’s a sign of a weak product organization. It is never easy, so prepare yourself for that. But, also be careful you don’t get attached to details. It is very possible that you may have to adjust course to reach your desired destination. That’s called a discovery pivot, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

  9. Realize 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. So make sure what you’re working on is meaningful, and recruit people to the product tams who also feel passionate about this problem and then be willing to work for several years to realize the vision.

  10. Evangelize continuously and relentlessly. There is no such thing as over-communicating when it comes to explaining and selling the vision. Especially in larger organizations, there is simply no escaping the need for near-constant evangelization. You’ll find that people in all corners of the company will at random times get nervous or scared about something they see or hear. Quickly reassure them before their fear infects others.

Principles of Product Strategy

  1. Focus on one target market or persona at a time. Don’t try to please everyone in a single release. Focus on one new target market, or one new target persona, for each release. You’ll find that the product will still likely be useful to others, but at least it will be loved by some, and that’s key.

  2. Product strategy needs to be aligned with business strategy. The vision is meant to inspire the organization, but the organization ultimately is there to come up with solutions that deliver on the business strategy. So, for example, if that business strategy involves a change in monetization strategy or business model, then the product strategy needs to be aligned with this.

  3. Product strategy needs to be aligned with sales and go-to market strategy. Similarly, if we have a new sales and marketing channel, we need to ensure that our product strategy is aligned with that new channel. A new sales channel or go-to-market strategy can have far-reaching impact on a product.

  4. Obsess over customers, not over competitors. Too many companies completely forgot about their product strategy once they encounter a serious competitor. They panic and then find themselves chasing their competitor’s actions and no longer focusing on their customers. We can’t ignore the market, but remember that customers rarely leave us for our competitors. They leave us because we stop taking care of them.

  5. Communicate the strategy across the organization. This is part of evangelizing the vision. It’s important that all key business partners in the company know the customers we’re focused on now and which are planned for later. Stay especially closely synced with sales, marketing, finance, and service.