A surprisingly simple technique for a rockstar product vision: The Ladder of Needs

I was recently asked, “what’s the most important quality of a product manager?” My answer came very quickly: the ability to sell your team on a vision. Why? Because all the other skills we expect in a product manager don’t matter if you can’t sell the team on your vision.

And, beyond selling your team, the skill that most product managers are looking to develop is setting a compelling product roadmap. So, how do you create a compelling vision and roadmap that drives your product to get stronger over time?

Combining two all-star tools:

To answer this question, I have always loved Clay Christensen’s classic framework of ‘jobs to be done’. What job has your customer hired your product to do? His model boils down to this quote:

“When we buy a product, we essentially “hire” it to help us do a job. If it does the job well, the next time we’re confronted with the same job, we tend to hire that product again. And if it does a crummy job, we “fire” it and look for an alternative.”

This is a fantastic framework to start with, but I have found it to be even more powerful when you combine it with Simon Sinek’s ideas from Start with Why. When combined, these two tools create what I call The Ladder of Needs.

The Ladder of Needs

The ladder has three rungs, read from the bottom up:

Let’s see this framework in action for a few companies by reading up from the bottom of each ladder. [Note, these examples are all for the initial incarnation of the company and represent my own perspective.]

Understanding the why behind your product is the fastest way to sell your vision, but more importantly, it also allows you to plan a more strategic product roadmap. It allows you to consider whether your initiatives are a new ‘what’, improvements to ‘how’, or product extensions that further support your ‘why’.

This ladder of needs also shows a path to some of the more genius product moves we have seen. And luckily, it’s a repeatable technique that you can apply for developing your own product roadmap. Let’s look at Amazon and Rent the Runway for two examples:

What is your product’s ‘why’?

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Questions, comments and debate desired…I’d love to hear what you think!


If you’re building a startup that is scaling, I’d love to hear from you and explore how I can help. Reach out to me at catherine@firstmarkcap.com