Product Vision, Trust, & Creativity
Every day on a project, decision after decision is being made to push the project team closer to the delivery of the final product. But how do we know if our decisions will get us to our goal? One way is to have a clear product vision established early in the project. A product vision outlines success criteria for delivering value and can ensure the team — stakeholders and creators alike — are all on the same page and know what their objectives are.
In this article we’ll explore how a strong product vision leads to a higher degree of trust on the project team, and how that trust leads to high performance.
A product vision should articulate the most important objectives of a project and be supported by the why (the reason for the work) so that the project team can formulate the what (the solution/product being created) and the how (implementation) with a complete understanding of the relevant project information.
At Myplanet our process for product delivery goes through 3 distinct phases: Discovery, Definition, and Deployment.
In the Discovery phase, we focus on researching the behaviors and needs of the users and reconciling them against the stakeholder vision for the product. The final delivery of the Discovery phase is a product vision that is aligned across stakeholders and represents a workable balance of business needs and user needs. The product vision is then carried forward to subsequent phases of the product and acts as a guiding light for decision making.
In the next phase, Definition, the product vision informs how we approach the application blueprinting, the technical approach, and the delivery strategy. And in the final phase, Deployment, we deliver features incrementally using Scrum sprint by sprint. In this phase, the product vision guides tactical decisions and stimulates the right kinds of discussion around whether our deliver strategy needs to be revisited.
When you’re working in an Agile process (as we do), the product vision can become a cornerstone of how you structure your iterative process. The strength of Agile is in the knowledge gained as you work through a project, and the product vision gives criteria for determining how to refine the plan based on those learnings.
The plan must grow with us as we grow. The team that starts together on Day 1 is not the same team as on Day 60, nor on day Day 365. Throughout the journey of building a product, approaches will have been tested, assumptions disproven, and efficiencies discovered. Individuals will grow, learn new skills, and want to develop in new ways. Teammates will come and go and the team will find itself in the storming, norming, and performing stages over and over again. Accepting change and accommodating its pull is the foundation of Agile. A strong product vision will both encourage growth and keep the team oriented through the changes it brings to maximize value every step of the way.
A high performing team needs a way to evaluate if decisions being made are creating value. These decisions can range from backlog prioritization to technology approach, but fundamentally all come down to effectively managing money, time, and effort. All teams include members with different specializations, perspectives, and past experiences, and so creative conflict is something the team needs to accept as an inevitability. Conflict by its nature threatens to divide, but can also strengthen trust as teammates reveal their perspectives on how their actions contribute to the common goal.
A strong product vision best prepares us for creative conflict and can ensure that the benefits and drawbacks of a proposed solution can be measured against a metric of success. A product owner might make a sudden change in the priority of backlog items or a designer could make design decisions that may be more costly than alternatives. Two developers may differ in the implementation approach. The product vision guides open discussions around value, and helps prevent the discussion of opposing ideas from feeling like personal attacks. By understanding each other’s intentions and creating a space open to feedback, the team will trust one another.
Trust is at the root of many coveted behaviours on high performing teams. In particular, it can have a major impact on creativity. There is a link between trust and creativity, and therefore a link between creativity and strong product vision.
Trust gives us cognitive ease. Cognitive ease is described as state where perceived threats are low, so the brain loosens up on vigilance and suspicion. Research shows that this state is associated with good moods and we are more likely to be creative and intuitive while in this state. It’s the difference between a team feeling comfortable and having the mental bandwidth to explore new approaches, and a team feeling on edge, defensive, and struggling to complete the work in front of them.
Of course, this is not without its drawbacks: low levels of vigilance and suspicion can make us prone to logical errors. The key to this is that in building strong bonds of trust across the teams, we create an environment that supports and encourages higher creativity. Once that environment has been created, we can implement processes to add the rigor needed to counteract the logical errors we might overlook in that more open state. Checks and balances like regular peer reviews and referring back to the product vision itself are good ways of ensuring vigilance and suspicion stays active without drowning out the creative solutioning.
A product vision is a critical component to high performing teams. It helps to anchor the team to a shared vision. When the inevitable struggles, conflicts, challenges, and changes arise the team will have a way to stay the course and continue moving forward. Keeping a product vision at the core of your evolving plan will help maximize value one decision at a time.
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