A Vision is All that You Need
While most product organizations aspire to excel in developing, marketing and selling their products, the great ones make their presence felt across the board. The not-so-great ones try to do a little of everything and do not make that presence felt. While organizations are good at setting up vision and mission statements and letting all the employees be aware of them, very few spend time and energy defining their vision statements for the products. This article is our attempt to sensitize the need for a product vision.
What is a Product Vision?
A product management process on vision is in our previous article, PM Process: Product Vision. Here we focus if the product vision is needed and is good enough. A product vision can be composed of these three simple statements:
- What customer problems does your product address?
- How does it address these problems?
- Why is your way superior to the competition?
In these three simple answers lies a lot of clarity, first, the definition of a customer, the problem of the customer the product is addressing, and lastly, the realistic subset of competition. Recently, I reviewed a market analysis proposal from a summer intern whose suggestion was not to launch the product as it lacked a feature available across all the competing vendors. When we raised the veil, we realized our potential target market hardly needed such a feature. The competitive product had a bigger target market. It’s good to be David and do something good for our small market than targeting the full coverage with a Goliath. With just 5–10% of the desktop market share, Steve Jobs always believed he had reached a market leader position in the professional workstation business. Bill Gates wanted a computer in every home and office. Michael Dell wanted to dominate the customized workstation market. Three personalities looked at the same market differently yet established their dominant positions.
Building a Product vs a Solution
You are at the end of your sales cycle. The potential buyer likes your product. But he wants a solution that is not there in your product. In the hope of getting the deal, you assure the feature in the product roadmap. Keeping a customer request in mind, we implemented a file sync feature. Several years later, when we were at the end-of-life of the product, we realized this was the only feature stopping the migration to the later version of the product. We debated some and realized that feature didn’t fit the product vision. We immediately had the professional services team provide a solution around open-source rsync. The customer happily moved to the later version.
A product roadmap without a product vision is just a ranked feature list. The product excellence of building goes with the principle, DO NOT BUILD. If you have to build, then target the largest possible audience with a minimal set of features. Look for reusability in the architecture such that the benefits are stacked one above the other. You will analyze the competition. The features relevant to the market will be part of your immediate roadmap. In the early stages, every organization loses a few customers on the way. What if you provided a customer-centric solution without backing it up with a vision targeting a customer segment or market, and the customer leaves? The feature will be a dead code draining maintenance resources every release. A good product vision can take up such loose ends and tie them to the complete offerings of the product.; only when such solutions are within the product vision.
Messaging and Pitch
Nothing communicates better internally and externally than the product vision. Presenting a compelling product vision as part of the pitch, you clarify your understanding and direction of your market. When you explain, you relate to the audience, solve a specific problem, downplay your competition, and establish your prowess. It is quite possible the customer may not like it and suggest changing or expect you to do more. That’s where the vision gets upgraded so is your roadmap. Vision will get enhanced with time.
When we looked at product management as a function, we realized most product management consulting is around training and explaining product management processes like agile practices, design thinking, etc. All are essential concepts, yet mere adherence without linking to the core management objectives will not bring many benefits. Some product managers offer specific functional processes, like helping with agile planning, defining workflows and UX, etc. These are important aspects but they do not tie to the larger management objectives. We defer from the competition.
We engage with our customers to assess their understanding of their market and help them realize their achievable horizons. We have aligned our product management processes along Porter’s Five Forces, the industry-leading framework for sustained competitive advantage. Lastly, we tune the framework around the organization’s existing processes. Do not change if not broken. Hence, we present our vision:
We help you realize your true potential,
Gearing product management for Sustained Competitive Advantage,
Unlike others who insist on ritualistic adherence to processes.
Note: Sambit Kumar Dash is a founding director of Lenatics Solutions Pvt Ltd, which provides product management services to businesses for Sustained Competitive Advantage. You can reach him at: email@example.com