Lately I’ve been thinking about how to best collate the tools and techniques I use to ideate and develop products and make product decisions throughout the product lifecycle. It felt like a good opportunity to reflect on my ‘toolkit’ and benefits of different tools for a wide range of user or business related scenarios, understand what to best use when, why and how.
Let’s start with some of the tools and techniques that I tend to use during the “conceive” stage, typically the first phase of the product lifecycle. To me, the “conceive” stage is all about product vision, strategy and ideation. In other words, the tools and techniques I use during this stage are aimed at fully understanding the context for a product or a service, before delving into designing the actual product. The critical first tool is a “vision”, since the development of any product or service starts with a good product vision:
Tool 1 – Product Vision
What is a product vision? – The main function of a product vision is to provide direction for a product or service, concentrating on solving a question or a problem – either from a customer or business perspective, or both. The way in which one executes on a vision is likely to evolve, but the overarching vision typically remains unchanged.
For example, the long form product vision statement for Mozilla Firefox reads as follows: “Discover, experience and connect with apps, websites and people on your own terms, everywhere.” The tactics and solutions Mozilla implements to achieve this vision are likely to evolve, but the overarching vision has remained unchanged for a good couple of years now.
Mozilla Firefox product vision – Taken from: https://wiki.mozilla.org/Firefox/VisionStatement#Product_vision_statement
What a product vision isn’t? – A product vision isn’t a strategy nor is it a plan to achieve business or user goals. As I mentioned above, the product vision provides ‘direction’ and a framework to make decisions against. I believe that a good product vision offers a set of beliefs that can be tested and fits in with company values. A good example is IKEA, where “low prices” form a core part of its overarching vision statement. From a product development perspective, this means that the price tag is the first thing that needs to be designed when creating a new product:
IKEA’s vision – Taken from: http://www.ikea.com/ms/en_GB/about_ikea/our_business_idea/index.html
When to create a product vision? – As tempting as it is to jump straight into a product idea or creating features, a central product vision is where you need to start as a product manager. Everything else flows from there; product strategy, roadmap, problem statements, product discovery, prototypes, etc.
Characteristics of a good product vision? – It was interesting to go back to a blog post which I wrote three years ago about what makes a good product vision. Reflecting on this post and some of the things I’ve learned since, this is my list of traits of a good product vision:
- It should answer a question or solve a problem
- It translates into a set of beliefs that can be tested
- The product vision aligns with the company values
- It envisages where the product will be in 3 years’ time
- It takes into account the needs of the consumer
- It’s short and sweet
- It’s motivating
- It can be used for decision making
How to come up with a product vision? – In my experience, product vision statements have the biggest chance of success – i.e. becoming a living and widely shared notion – if lots of people inside and outside of the organisation buy into it. Running a “visioning workshop” is a great way to make the creation of a product vision a collaborative process. As a product manager, you’ve a got a pivotal role to play in the formulation of product vision and therefore in leading the visioning workshop. These are some of the key aspects to take into account when preparing and facilitating a product visioning workshop:
- Goals – (1) To get buy-in for the vision early on from a range of internal and/or external stakeholders and (2) to leverage the knowledge of the group to come to an agreed product vision
- Have a rough idea of the vision beforehand – As a product person, it’s important to already have an idea of the what the initial product vision and direction should like like. This will help in facilitating the workshop.
- Listen, but don’t end up making weak compromises – Especially when you’re doing a visioning workshop with a large group of stakeholders, it’s important to listen to the different viewpoints but not making weak compromises on the vision ‘just to keep everybody in the room happy’.
- Consider stages of market maturity – What stage is your target market in? What is the competition like and what are their differentiators? What are the needs of your market segment?
Running a visioning workshop – See also: http://uxmag.com/articles/creating-a-shared-vision-that-works
Main learning point: Please resist to urge to delve straight intro creating a product or feature. Start with the product vision instead, as it will help to provide valuable context against which you can develop products or make product decisions. If there isn’t an existing product vision, go ahead and create one, but don’t forget involving your key stakeholders when doing so!
Related links for further learning: