The single most frequent question I have been asked as a product manager, has always been: “What’s your product vision?”.
My problem with this question is that the tech industry is riddled with the illusion of the omniscient product manager. I don’t believe that a product vision is something bestowed by the product manager to the rest of the team to adhore and believe like some sort of ancient relic that will save us all. I believe a product vision is developed and nurtured by the entire team, where the product manager happens to be its strongest advocate and guardian.
Developers are top of the list of those asking the vision question, and no matter how hard I tried to communicate my vision, it never sticked. In my latest job, after months of being asked again and again the same question I finally decided to throw away the image of the product manager messiah to developed a shared vision framework.
The Vision Framework
As a team we gathered to create a common vision statement for our product. After reading up some famous and inspiring vision statements we got started on the exercise with pens and post-its.
Step 1: Write what you know
We started by writing simple “verb + object” phrases individually. Those phrases would encompass our daily jobs or what we thought the team was doing daily within the company and for our customers.
Step 2: Express your opinion
We placed our statements on a board. With all participants doing this at the same time and without an explanation; with this method we gained the unconditioned expression of each individual’s opinion which we would have missed if we had positioned the post-its one at a time.
Step 3: Explain your opinion
The quadrants of the board illustrate strengths and areas of improvement of the team, but also things that the team doesn’t think are core to their work. As a group we analysed each quadrant and the reasoning behind the position of the specific statement. The most interesting discussions emerged when the same statement or feature was found in two separate quadrants.
Together we clarified our differences in perception and discussed why things were considered extra, and what we meant by high quality.
Step 4: Wrap up
After the discussion each of us drew on the learnings of the session to write a short vision statement for the product, something that would highlight our strengths, the intention to up our game and that would deliberately leave out the stuff that was not core to us.
Finally, I took a picture of the board, collected all post-its and declared that the session over.
Step 5: Learn and follow up
A couple of days later I summarised the session in a document to better spot patterns. This way I could highlight where the team had shown conflict of vision and perception and where they instead showed a commonality of intent and ideas. Finally I asked myself if our vision as a whole was fitting my individual vision, the one I was constantly trying to communicate and I found that even if the two visions did not overlap perfectly they shared loads in common.
I created a unified vision statement that went through some quick iteration until the entire team was happy with it.
As a team we now pruoudly display our vision statement on all documents and communications and when a new feature proposal comes around we use it to ask ourselves “does this fit with our vision?”, “is this a core or extra activity?”, “are we doing a quality job?”
I believe this vision is stronger than any I could have ever come up with on my own: what do you think? How are you doing with your product vision?