Your Product Needs a Vision. Your Team Needs It Even More.
Your Product Needs a Vision. Your Team Needs It Even More.
Great software products don’t happen by accident. Director of Agile Product Development at Wizeline, Julian Limon, stresses the power of a shared product vision.
Great products normally require scalable and secure architecture, flawless performance, user-centered experience, beautiful design, incentive-aligned adoption, and support. But above all that, great products require consistent product vision to align those separate priorities. Unfortunately, it is often overlooked.
Invest in vision upfront
Product vision helps teams remain aligned while they execute autonomously. Consistent, agreed-upon product strategy and objectives allow teams to creatively implement the best solutions that will move the product forward in a concerted fashion. The best teams understand how the product fits into the company strategy, how that aligns to the product goals, to key customer outcomes, and generally how the plan fits together; the better decisions they will make when it comes to architecture, prioritization, and design.
The better teams understand how the product fits in the company strategy, how that aligns to the product goals, to key customer outcomes, and generally how the plan fits together; the better decisions they will make when it comes to architecture, prioritization, and design.
However, too many times teams jump into execution without a clear understanding of the vision. Software is built piece by piece by teams who are looking to push tickets (the common unit of task documentation in software products) as fast as possible, as predictably as possible. We ignore the larger vision while focusing on details. Instead of a storm of brilliant creative thinking, we put genius developers, designers, and team members in a box where their only output will be to finish a set of tasks (usually in a task tracking system like JIRA). It’s like hiring a famous artist to fill in a color-by-numbers.
This often results in software chimeras that solve many small cases well but lack overall cohesion, scalability, and maintainability. There is no cohesive understanding of the user and their goals. Project-wide infrastructure which does not map to individual stories is lost. The architecture is hard to maintain and adapt to new use cases. Teams push back on changes because they require costly refactors to a patched system that is weakly held together, and when those changes happen they are hard to estimate and predict. Users need to wait a long time for updates. At the end of the day, products are hard to market, communicate, and adopt because they solve piecemeal problems rather than a common vision. They don’t achieve the expected results.
Products at the end of the day are hard to market, communicate, and adopt because they solve piecemeal problems rather than a common vision. They don’t achieve the expected results.
Use vision to navigate change
Product vision is change’s best friend. When changes in the product occur (as they inevitably and naturally will when teams test their hypotheses and learn from users), the product vision enables product teams to make the best of those changes. Teams can always refer back to the overall product outcomes and user needs to make intelligent decisions: reprioritizations, simplifications, new solutions. They can always include new learnings and position them appropriately in terms of tradeoffs and impact. And of course, it aligns all stakeholders on the thought process.
The road changes, but the destination stays the same. Image by Joschua.
Aligning on product vision is by nature an interdisciplinary endeavor. This applies not only to “traditional” product roles like UX designers and product managers, but to the different disciplines that will participate on building the product: engineering, technical writing, marketing, operations, and management. They all bring a perspective on how to think of the product and the market.
Engineers will ask the right questions to identify architectural components, software patterns, and team expertise.
UX designers will ensure that the product is built around user needs. They will challenge assumptions, will empathize with users, and will think of ways to learn about and test the product hypotheses.
Technical writers will help document both the process and the outcomes. They will ensure we have good reminders about how and why certain decisions were made. Those documents will be critical in ensuring internal team alignment as well as alignment with external stakeholders.
Marketing and operations will bring a go-to-market and execution perspective. They will talk about real-world challenges and constraints to keep the product vision pragmatic and practical, but at the same time focused on the user.
Let teams self-organize
Product vision gives teams something to long for and drive towards. And it also enables them to actually get there.
Once teams understand and align in the vision, they can self-organize to determine how to best achieve it. While product vision is long-term and lofty, it is also aligned and internally consistent. That means that it can be further divided into smaller, meaningful outcomes that help make that vision a reality. Teams then use their experience and expertise to define the steps that they will use to get achieve those outcomes. They can also establish objective measures of success for each step of the way. It gives them aligned autonomy to decide how they will work while ensuring that the work is helping achieve the vision.
As teams achieve the outcomes that they set for themselves, they gain a sense of ownership and pride for their wins. They will realize that they are making progress towards a meaningful shared vision. It allows them to pause and celebrate the win while giving them clear line of sight about how it contributes to the ultimate vision.
A virtuous winning cycle
As you embark on future product development initiatives, do not underestimate the power of shared product vision. Empowered, interdisciplinary, and self-organized teams combined with an agile process that embraces change result in successful outcomes when all of these factors reinforce each other. Product vision is the consistent glue that allows teams to stay aligned to a common objective, focused on outcomes, and enables them to flourish and bring their craft to life.