Why The Best Product Managers Always Start With A Vision


Product managers have many day-to-day duties. But their main focus is communicating the high-level product vision across their organization -- from the executive level to technical teams to sales and support -- and ensuring that the work those groups do maps to that vision.

A product vision represents the core essence of a product. It also sets the direction for where that product is headed, or the end state for what a product will deliver in the future.

But how do product managers create and share their vision in a way that is clear, concise, and compelling?

1. Start with the end user

Let's use a hypothetical company for reference. Our fictitious company is Fredwin Cycling -- a mobile app for competitive cyclists. The product vision for Fredwin Cycling is "to be the number one social fitness cycling application on the market." The vision clearly states the overall direction for where the Fredwin Cycling product is headed.

The product vision serves as the north star for every action taken to enhance it. If adding something, like a new feature, does not support the vision then that item should not be pursued.

When product managers write a strategic product vision, they start with the product's end user in mind. A strong product vision is supported by details of who the customers are, what they need, and the product team's go-to-market plan. It captures the essence of what the product aim to achieve, as well as the opportunities and the threats.

2. Identify opportunities and threats

This is crucial information that product teams must understand to develop and maintain a winning product. Whether you are using SWOT, a basic market assessment, or a business canvas planning approach, the product vision provides a framework for product managers to create strategy and share it with both internal and external partners. This free-flow of information is especially important for agile teams.

Writing a product vision is also the first step towards creating strategic goals and initiatives. After all, if you don't know where you are going, how will you get there?

3. Confirm and share

Goals and initiatives create a link between your overall product strategy and your releases and features. Strategic goals help focus the product team on the most important business drivers -- the ones that you want to accomplish with your product over the next several months. Strategic initiatives identify the efforts the team needs to to accomplish those goals -- and can be mapped to releases and features to help with prioritization and transparency across teams.

However, goals and initiatives cannot be validated -- or achieved -- if the team is following a product vision that has been confirmed by customers and shared with stakeholders.

Many products fail before the software engineers write a single line of code. This is not due to lack of talent or ambition or ideas. In most cases, there is simply too much of a disconnect between the product manager and their product's end-users.

When product managers fail to speak one-on-one with their customers, they cannot confirm their product's market potential. And often the culprit is that teams are working against a unclear product vision.

The good news is that once you know what's missing from your market, you can write a product vision to deliver a winning solution.