Catherine (Kit) Ulrich
3 min readJul 28, 2018


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!

I am an investor and advise a number of companies. If you are building one of tomorrow’s great companies or need product advice, I’d love to hear from you and help. Email me at



Catherine (Kit) Ulrich

product & tech obsessed. lover of behavior change. vc @firstmark. former cpo @shutterstock and @weightwatchers.