Every company that develops digital products has a roadmap, a backlog, features, and metrics to develop its products.
By contrast, not nearly as many companies have a well-defined product vision and a product strategy for each of their products. I would argue that, without both of these, it’s hard to create a successful product without wasting time, resources, money, or all three.
In this article, I will give a brief overview of what a product vision and product strategy are, how they complement each other, and how they can be used to ensure that you’re building a great product without a ton of waste.
What’s A Product Vision?
In a nutshell, a good product vision is a short statement describing the difference your new product makes in the world.
Let’s look at some of the words in this sentence:
- Short: Ideally, a vision should be one sentence. It should be a concise statement that inspires people without needing an explanation.
- Difference: It describes how you are changing your users’ experiences. What impact do you have on the world? This is your product differentiation over competitors.
- Product: The change that happens through your product specifically. This differentiates a product vision from a company vision.
- World: The focus of a product vision is external (customer-centric), not internal (company-centric). It describes the future-state of your customers’ world. It does not describe technical solutions or business strategy.
One of my favorite product vision examples is Airbnb’s. The company mission is
The product vision is:
"Airbnb’s mission is to create a world where anyone can belong anywhere and we are focused on creating an end-to-end travel platform that will handle every part of your trip."
Note how the company vision describes a state of the world and the product vision describes how the product facilitates this overarching state without defining any specific solution.
Defining an inspiring product vision statement is not easy as it requires a common understanding and buy-in from all stakeholders in the company, not just the product team members. The vision statement needs to be carefully crafted in collaboration so that it can inspire and motivate everybody involved with your product.
It should be specific enough to describe how your product makes the change in the world happen, but open enough that it doesn’t describe specific solutions. It should also be achievable.
The product vision is your North Star (not to be confused with a North Star metric). It shows you the direction of travel, but not the way to get there.
A product vision does not need to have a timeframe. If you get it right, it will be valid throughout your product’s lifecycle. Realistically, the focus may shift as the company grows, but you should aim for a minimum of a five-year time horizon for a product vision.
Here is a short and concise guide on how to get started on your own product vision.
What’s A Product Strategy?
A product strategy describes, at a high level, the necessary steps to get to the state described in the product vision. Therefore, the definition of a product strategy needs to follow the definition of the vision. Without knowing what you want to achieve, you don’t know in which direction to set off.
In other words, the product strategy shows you how to get to the North Star defined by the product vision. It can address target markets, current and future customer segments, monetization, et cetera—on a high level. It should also contain insight into customer needs and what high-level problems your product will solve for your target customers.
The product strategy should not go too deep into solutions, as solutions are best worked out in a continuous discovery process of how to solve the given problems. This is the core of being agile in product management.
A reasonable timeframe for a product strategy is 1-3 years. If it’s too short-lived, you will constantly be changing direction in the product. If the timeframe is too long, it will likely be outdated before you get there.
How Do Your Product Vision And Strategy Work Together?
The product vision is an inspirational statement describing an end state. It describes the goal to be achieved by your product. The product strategy, on the other hand, is an actionable document that outlines how to achieve your goal. Both are crucial for developing a successful product when it comes to planning and execution.
If you have a good product vision statement, but not a clear product strategy:
You may not know what you need to do to get there. You also probably won’t know how far along you are on the path to achieving your vision. A vision statement is inspiring but could be open to a lot of interpretations as to if and when you have achieved your goal.
If you have a product strategy without a good product vision:
You have defined the steps, but you don’t know what the end goal is. When it comes to decisions on implementation, any ideas are fair game in this case and you may end up with a product that has lots of features, but no clear purpose.
Where Do Product Roadmaps Fit In?
A product roadmap is the next step after having defined a product strategy. It goes into more detail on the initiatives required in order to progress your product strategy.
A roadmap should not be a rigid list of features to build for the next year. Your customer insight and market requirements will inevitably change as you progress and you should discover the solutions and iterate as you go.
Ideally, your roadmap should be focused on problems to solve rather than solutions to implement.
The problems to solve can cascade directly from the steps defined in your product strategy (like focusing on customer acquisition before monetization or tackling a domestic market before going global).
There are lots of different flavors of product roadmaps out there, and fortunately, many excellent product roadmapping tools as well. Different products may be better suited to different kinds of roadmaps, but all roadmaps should follow a clear product vision and strategy.
How Do The Product Vision and Product Strategy Help Day-to-Day?
It is easy to lose sight of what’s truly important in the day-to-day deluge of ideas and feature requests. These assets allow you to ask yourself, does this development bring us closer to the world as stated in the product vision? Are we following the path that we outlined in the product strategy to get there? As long as you can answer ‘yes’ to both, you can easily reassure yourself that you’re on the right track.
Both the vision and the strategy can also be valuable for product decisions and prioritization. For example, from your strategy, you should be able to derive quarterly product goals or OKRs to go into your roadmap.
Where To Next?
So now that you have learned what a product vision and product strategy are and how they work together, ask yourself:
Do I have both a product vision and statement for my product?
Are they universally known, understood, and agreed upon in my organization?
If the answer is no, I suggest starting with a workshop with all stakeholders (not just the product team!) to determine what the actual goal of your product is in one sentence.
This may be obvious to you, but you may be surprised how difficult this is to formulate without resorting to business goals rather than customer needs. A compelling product vision can really energize and motivate your team and stakeholders. Therefore, it is worth spending time crafting this.
If you would like more help crafting a good product vision, have a look at Roman Pichler’s Product Vision Board. It provides a template and guidance on how to develop your product vision.
Let me know your favorite product vision examples and tips in the comments. And if you’d like to receive more tips to improve your product management skills, make sure to subscribe to the Product Manager newsletter!