5 Tips for Writing a Great Product Vision

Benji Portwin
Dec 23, 2020 · 5 min read

(and a couple of bonus writing tips)

As the end of 2020 draws near, many will be thinking about what 2021 may bring, and some will be trying to summarise their thoughts in the form of a Product Vision.

Cheesy binoculars image from VectorStock.com/27978322

Writing a great Product Vision is notoriously hard. It took me years to become half-decent and I’m still not great at them. When written well though, a Product Vision can not only inspire a team, but also align an organisation. In short, they are well worth getting good at!

Visions can take many forms, but they all share one key tenet: they tell a great story. Like all good stories, there are a few simple things that you can do to make them more engaging. Here are five that I’ve shared frequently when giving recent feedback…

This sounds like an ad slogan, and in some ways it is. If you’ve ever donated money to Oxfam (likely after watching a TV ad), or bought a band t-shirt after a gig, you’ll understand the power of emotions to inspire action. Visions are no different. I want to know what has changed for your users and exactly why I should care.

Amazon Alexa targeted their product at mothers with young children, why, because mothers are often holding a baby and don’t have any hands available to use a smartphone. It’s so easy to think about the joy and relief that might give someone in that situation — the ability to play some music to calm nerves, the reassurance that they could call someone for help, or simply the ability to Google a condition that is making them feel uneasy.

Making Users Badass does a good job of explaining this with an easy example. Kathy Sierra talks about why people buy cameras; it’s not to take photos, it’s so they can feel emotions when looking at the photo afterwards.

To make your Vision great, think about what emotion has your product innovation elicited for your user, why is their life now better than before? You need to make me care.

When trying to predict the future, it’s really easy to generalise. After all, who are you to say exactly where anything will be a year from now? Unfortunately, when visions are not specific, they come across as vague and this kills the story. Be bold, state specifics and help your reader feel like they’re actually there. It’s ok to get it wrong!

We could accomplish so many things in a year — I should list them all! Sadly doing so will make your story impossible to read and it will feel like you’ve stuffed it with keywords to attract better SEO.

Your vision is not a ‘catch all’ for everything you want to achieve; it should talk instead about the most impactful things you could do for your users. Specify exactly what you expect to change in their world because of your product.

This may sound like a contradiction of the above, but it’s subtly different. Just because an innovation may be small for us (it might not have been technically hard or taken a long time), that doesn’t mean it hasn’t made a huge difference to our users. By highlighting these changes, you’re showing you understand your users and will have your user research team nodding along as they read.

We mostly use “Day in the Life” visions at accuRx. This popular format follows a single user through part of their day and talks about the impact our products are having for them. Commonly for us, it’s someone working in a GP surgery or hospital, but it could be any user that you’re targeting with your products. Telling a user’s story in this way is a great way to build empathy, as if done well, can really stir those emotions discussed earlier.

However, although the story is crucial in a great Product Vision, don’t let it get in the way of being concise. Too often I read Vision’s where the writer has got carried away with the details of the story and forgotten that your reader doesn’t need to know the person’s hair colour, just what has changed in their life.

Be warned, you still will still need to close storylines off, as to not leave your reader in what can be a distracting suspense, but you must balance the context with the need to be concise. This is a really hard balance to strike, and can be more “art than science”, but with practice you’ll be able to thread the needle.

And… Two quick general writing tips

This is by far the most important thing I’ve learnt in writing. Staring at a blank page is the worst kind of analysis paralysis, there are simply too many options. I’ve found myself spending 15mins picking the right font as a means to avoid actually starting to write.

For your first draft, just write. No spell check, no font changes, no going back to fix punctuation. Trust me, once you have a first draft you will feel measurably better about the situation, allowing you to relax and unblock the more creative side of your brain.

It’s impossible to write well on your own, you must get feedback from people you trust. Once you’ve tidied up the brain dump so it makes sense, share it with someone else and tell them you want honest feedback. Listen to the feedback and don’t be defensive; if you realise you need to start again, then your friend has done you a massive favour, so thank them. Having to start again is incredibly daunting, but it will be a huge growth moment.

I hope you found this useful (feedback is welcomed as always) and if you want to learn more about writing a great vision, I recommend reading Zingermen’s guide as a great starting point :)

Also if you have your own tips, please share them generously!

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