How a clear product vision drives decisions and inspires your team

Here’s an admission: I’ve never been big on goal-setting. My natural inclination is to freestyle, usually without thinking too much about where that might lead me in five or ten years’ time.

That approach hasn’t been a disaster so far, but I’ve recently spent more time reflecting on what I want the focus to be for the next chapter in my career.

Having clarity on what I’m most passionate about is giving me a renewed sense of purpose, and helping me decide where best to spend my time (although eliminating what’s not entirely relevant remains a challenge – it might be time to give this book another read).

As many have gleefully pointed out, nobody had quite the right answer to “where do you see yourself in 5 years?” back in 2015. But living with uncertainty doesn’t mean we should surrender our sense of direction – indeed, knowing your purpose may help you better deal with the adversity around us right now. We all need some kind of guiding vision.

With the products we create, there’s a similar need for clear and motivating stories about why they exist.

Why product vision matters

How do we decide if an idea is ‘good’ or ‘right’ before executing and testing it with the market?

How do we justify bold creative moves?

Running experiments is the only real way to find out what works, but what guides the types of ideas we generate?

How do we prioritise properly?

What’s the unifying thread that will link this year’s roadmap to next year’s, and beyond?

Without a product vision, it’s much harder to answer any of these questions.

Research shows teams struggle with product vision

In our own research back in 2018, we found that 43% of top-performing companies see prioritisation as their biggest challenge in digital projects. 33% said “setting a vision that everyone can believe in and agree with” was the hardest thing.

We also asked about the top reasons for digital projects failing:

  • “Short term business priorities took over.” – 57%.
  • “The initial vision was unclear.” – 36%.

Over half of respondents believed their organisation focusses on short-term targets over long-term goals, even though almost everyone agreed focussing on the long-term is important.

In another survey by Roadmap.com, 81% of product managers said they owned product strategy as part of their role, but only a quarter felt the company was clear on strategy as a whole.

And on my own (not quite so scientific) Twitter poll, half of product-teamers admitted not knowing the product vision for the thing they work on.

Across the product community, there’s clearly a blindspot here.

A vision is like a compass – it sets our direction and lets us check we’ve not veered off course. But it’s also a story about where we’re going, that inspires us to go there together.

Defining a vision isn’t something you can do in a day, and there’s no one right way to do it. It might feel unnervingly abstract. You might have seen these things gather digital dust in the deepest recesses of your file-server. There might be more work to do on the brand before the product vision can be meaningfully defined. But this is worthwhile work. Essential, in fact.

“Vision without action is a daydream. Action with without vision is a nightmare.”

Key resources to help you get your product vision nailed

We’ve gathered some key frameworks and thinking to help you with your product vision, whether you’re starting from scratch, or just looking to re-evaluate and embed more effectively with your team.

Product vision 101

This in-depth guide includes some of the most popular vision formats / canvases, guidance on how this drives your product strategy, setting product goals and OKRs, and more.

How to communicate a vision to your team

This highly practical talk explores how to communicate and continually reinforce a vision to your team, “meaningfully tying your vision to all that you do”.

Get more from your vision by asking it to do less

An argument for coming up with a guiding ‘constellation’ rather than caving under the impossible pressure of defining and articulating a single North Star.

Does your vision explain not just why, but why now?

See how great founders have blended cultural trends with watershed moments (in technology or the competitive environment, for example) to make their visions feel inevitable.

Sticking to your product vision means saying “no”

Strategy is about the things you eliminate as much as the things you pursue – “a unique product vision means a distinct set of product priorities” which, by definition, shouldn’t just mean replicating the competition.

Need help your vision or product strategy? We’d love to hear from you.

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