As a product manager or leader, bold product visions are one of your key tools for generating impact and creating great product outcomes across the organization.
Most product teams struggle with crafting a product vision because they focus on incremental wins and small improvements that don’t excite leadership or warrant new resources. Instead of taking big swings, they play it safe. Additionally, they try to keep their product vision vague so that it can change later with new information or data but that only leads to more confusion and misalignment.
However, an aspirational product vision that focuses on big wins can completely transform a company and set them up for success for years to come. A detailed product vision can drive team alignment and increase the excitement from leadership in your ideas. And finally, a user-centric product vision makes sure that your decisions actually benefit your users, and ensures people will actually use your product.
But how do you create a bold product vision that has all these elements from nothing? We worked with Sachin Rekhi, CEO of Notejoy, to outline the three key parts of an effective product vision and explain why you need to be creating a product vision narrative, not just a product vision statement.
So let’s jump into it!
Meet The Contributor
Sachin is the Founder & CEO of Notejoy. He was previously Head of Product for LinkedIn Sales Navigator, growing it from idea to $200M in sales in 1.5 years, and from 0 to 500 employees. He is also a seasoned Product teacher with 150+ published essays on product management and leadership.Learn More
What Is A Product Vision?
Before we dive too deep into how to create a great product vision, we should probably define it.
A product vision articulates the long-term goal for how your product will change the way your end users experience their world. There are four key components of an effective product vision.
- Aspirational - attempting to achieve a bold goal
- Detailed - outlines distinct solution elements that are needed
- Opinionated - clearly outlines a very specific point of view on how to solve the challenge
- User-centric - the vision heavily focuses on the benefits to your end user
Just as a CEO has a vision for the company, product managers must craft a product vision for their scope of work. The key difference between a company and product vision is that instead of answering “In X years, how will your company make the world a better place for your users?" A product vision answers: “In X years, how will your product make the world a better place for your users?”
Why Do You Need A Product Vision?
While a product vision might seem a bit lofty, or like a nice-to-have, it's actually a perfect way to articulate to the broader organization what your team will need to succeed in the long term.
Bold product visions also directly help product managers succeed in three specific areas:
- Cultivate impactful product ambition: Instead of being stuck in the mindset of short-term wins, a strong product vision gives product managers the space to think about long-term product goals.
- Empowers your team to make independent decisions: Detailed, but inspired product visions offer individuals on a team to be creative toward a conceivable goal. When people have a deep understanding of what an ideal looks like in terms of the product, they can harness their creativity toward that end goal.
- Helps you get leadership buy-in: Without a long-term product vision that they can follow, leadership usually won’t give you sufficient space to execute your longer-term initiatives that don’t produce immediate results.
Each of those elements helps not only the product manager succeed but also pushes the product forward long term.
“Products with an ambitious vision but without leadership buy-in are given a short rope to thrive, maybe 1-2 quarters, and are often defunded before they can realize their vision.”
– Sachin Rekhi
Now let’s take a look at the right way to craft a product vision, and how traditional product vision statements actually leave a lot of room for misunderstandings and confusion across the organization.
Product Vision Statement vs. Product Vision Narrative
Usually when attempting to craft a product vision most people land on a brief, unspecific product vision statement and call it a day. We recommend writing a much more detailed product vision narrative, but we will get to that shortly.
Of course, a product vision statement is often a short, pithy statement that is supposed to encapsulate the entirety of your product ambition in a single sentence The idea is to make that concise vision more memorable and specific.
Microsoft’s vision statement is a solid example of this idea in practice: “To enable people and businesses throughout the world to realize their full potential.” This vision is so high-level that it can be interpreted in a number of different ways.
However, compressing your entire product vision into a single sentence often results in decreased team empowerment and leadership buy-in.
Simple vision statements aren’t empowering for your team, because they usually are far too vague or high-level to make concrete decisions on. Then when it comes time to talk to leadership, vision statements rarely tell a compelling story or explain why the problem you’re solving is so important.
“In my experience, vision statements end up actually being less memorable and less likely to get true leadership alignment. That's because in summarizing the entirety of the vision in a short and pithy vision statement, so much of the important context around it is lost.”
— Sachin Rekhi
In order to drive real empowerment and alignment with your product vision, focus on creating a product vision narrative instead of a product vision statement. A product vision narrative is a 1-2 page written narrative that outlines your product vision in detail.
A great product vision narrative starts off by painting an aspirational problem in detail, goes on to explain a detailed and opinionated solution, and closes with a user-centric resolution.
In direct contrast to product vision statements, you have much more room to explain the problem and express your detailed solution with a product narrative. A product narrative not only makes it clear to the team what they need to do in order to achieve that product goal, but it’s also far more memorable and compelling for leadership.
Now that you know why a product vision narrative is more effective than a simple product vision statement, let’s dive into how to create one.
How To Create A Product Vision Narrative
In order to create a product vision narrative, you will need to follow the 3-step approach that we outlined above. First, you will describe an aspirational problem, then explain a detailed and opinionated solution, and finally end with a user-centric resolution. Most product managers miss the opportunity to create buy-in across the organization with their product vision because they skip at least one of those steps.
Let’s jump into the first step, describe the aspirational problem in detail.
Product Vision Part 1: Aspirational Problem
First, think about the aspirational problem that you’re wanting to solve. Since you’re trying to tackle a big problem, it’s likely you’ll have extremely impactful product outcomes if you can solve it.
Product managers conceptually understand they should try solving a bold problem. But in practice, they struggle to put together a genuinely aspirational problem and product vision.
“One of the most common feedback that Product Managers get when presenting their vision to their manager or leadership is that it’s not aspirational enough.”
— Sachin Rekhi
Products that aim to solve small problems often only generate a small impact, making it far less likely that your product work will lead to leadership buy-in. That lack of organizational buy-in means you don’t get the time and resources to execute that vision.
To illustrate this idea in practice, let’s take a look at Lyft's vision narrative from a few years ago, laid out by co-founder John Zimmer in the article, The Third Transportation Revolution. In this product vision narrative, John Zimmer first details an aspirational problem: “Cars have revolutionized transport, but have also made communities far more cut-off.”
Because he decided to use a product vision narrative instead of a simple product vision, he avoids leaving the problem at a high-level place with a statement like “Lyft will contribute to more humanistic communities via excellence in car sharing.”
Instead, he illustrates the aspirational problem with statements like “Look at how much land is devoted to cars — and nothing else. We’ve built our communities entirely around cars. And for the most part, we’ve built them for cars that aren’t even moving.”
This product vision has helped articulate exactly what Zimmer wanted Lyft to evolve into and outlined what an ideal version of the product would look like to consumers. After almost 10 years, Lyft is an optimized product version of itself. It is so popular that users can get rides within a short period of time from almost any location in the country. And their cars seem to be constantly moving.
Now, if you need some guidance to spur some ideas about the exact big problem you want to solve, try completing the following sentence:
“For [target audience], solving [problem] would be needle-moving because [reason].”
An exercise like this can get the creative juices flowing and give you a great jumping-off point as you work to refine the aspirational problem.
When a product leader is crafting a product vision, they should be sure to incorporate user research and real-life stories of the people closest to the product.
This can take the form of customer quotes, anecdotes, and other emotional triggers to really bring the problem to life. Taking the time to collect that information will help illustrate clearly how large the problem is, and sets the tone of an aspirational vision.
Additionally, because achieving your vision is measured in terms of years instead of months, your problem shouldn’t just be focused on what you’re solving in the next quarter. Instead, it should be something that will require steady progress over a longer period. In Lyft’s case, that might be something like leading the ride-sharing revolution over the next decade.
Now that you have identified an aspirational problem that excites leadership, it’s time to move on to crafting your detailed and opinionated solution.
Product Vision Part 2: Detailed & Opinionated Solution
After you have framed your aspirational problem, you should outline your detailed and opinionated solution for how the future would look like. You have much more room to explain and explore how you will solve a problem with a vision narrative, instead of a single phrase or sentence. So be sure to take the time, and space, with your product vision narrative.
As explained in the first section of this article, a strong product vision is detailed; it clearly outlines distinct solution elements that are needed. And it is opinionated, meaning that it clearly outlines a very specific point of view on how to solve the challenge.
But most product managers intentionally write their product visions to be somewhat vague so that they don’t limit themselves to what they can build several years down the road. While vagueness might provide flexibility, vague product visions erode away two important areas: team empowerment and leadership buy-in. Vague product visions don’t allow your team to make independent decisions and hurt your alignment with leadership which will cause massive problems down the road.
To get your team thinking about how to solve bigger and more complex problems, try asking them the following questions:
- What could our product look like if we relaxed the typical constraints (resources, timeline, or feasibility)?
- What could our product look like if we had massive adoption?
- What could our product look like if it was a movement?
- Where is our industry headed, and how would our product look if it was leading the industry?
Let’s go back to Lyft to illustrate this idea a bit more. To solve these challenges associated with that transportation problem, their co-founder John Zimmer proposed a completely different paradigm: transportation subscriptions.
He goes into detail on this solution, explaining that Lyft specifically needs to: “Shift to autonomous cars… transforming transportation into the ultimate subscription service”
Going into this level of detail helps their product team move toward a new future and plot a path forward. Instead of spending all their roadmap on driver management, they would start dedicating time to thinking about how to ease users towards the subscription model.
A solution should be detailed and opinionated so that the product vision can become a useful guiding North Star for day-to-day product decisions. Not just a vaguely inspiring statement that looks great on a slide deck or product roadmap.
A great way to keep your vision tied to day-to-day reality is to ground your solution in your product strategy. Your vision helps work towards long-term and sustainable success, while your strategy helps you win in the short-middle term. What this means in practice is that your solution should be directly aligned with your product strategy. Otherwise, you will be fighting against the current while trying to build a new product.
Now that we have outlined an aspirational problem to solve plus a detailed and opinionated solution, it's time to finish with a strong user-centric resolution.
Product Vision Part 3: User-Centric Resolution
Strong product visions are user-centric, meaning the vision narrative heavily focuses on the benefits to your end user. After building up a big aspirational problem and detailing a solution, you want to highlight the impact that your solution will have on the actual users.
Product managers sometimes forget to do this, because they’re too focused on how their vision helps:
- Their company win, without a clear user benefit
- Them be the best in a specific technology
The problem with being so focused on those two goals is that product managers lose sight of what the end user actually needs. If you’re not focused on the end user’s needs, product teams are at risk of developing a product that doesn’t deeply solve their problems. Or creating something that no one wants to use.
Aligning your product vision with real user needs helps ensure it actually drives impact across the company. With a tighter understanding of what your audience’s major pain points are, you build a more relevant, focused product.
To craft an effective user-centric resolution in your vision narrative, explain how the world is different once your vision has been pushed to completion. Remember, the key is to make the audience feel how much your solution moves the needle.
Let’s go back to Lyft to really drive home the impact of a great resolution. After building up such tension with his initial painting of the problem, John Zimmer is able to use the vision narrative format to fully and sharply contrast the benefits of his solution.
He claimed that in this new car-less world, spaces dedicated to human interaction instead of parking will spring up again, leading to happier, healthier communities for all.
The same strategies used to make the problem feel like a massive deal can be used to help magnify the feeling of resolution, like anecdotes, videos, direct quotes, and thought exercises. As you can see above, they leaned heavily on those emotional triggers, and it seemed to pay off as Lyft moved towards a more subscription-focused future.
As a reminder, product vision narratives are much more effective than a simple product vision statement. This is because you have significantly more room to express how you think about solving a problem and can also dive deeper into the solution.
There are three steps you need to follow when crafting a great vision narrative: start with an aspirational problem, describe a detailed and opinionated solution, and close with a user-centric resolution.
However, the best product vision narratives can only do so much if you don’t know how to share them with the rest of your organization.
Learn how to properly share your product vision with leadership and how to effectively get buy-in from across the organization in our Mastering Product Management program.