Why Every Product Manager Needs A Strong Product Vision

Westpac up-skilled its Product Managers by giving us the opportunity to participate in a 9 week Digital Project Manager course by Academy Xi. I’m excited to say we finished the course with a highly competitive bang today!

Today’s session involved solving a real life Westpac business problem to tie together all the concepts we had learned. The stakes were high. The winning group would receive an Uber Eats voucher. Friendships were tossed aside as we competed in a full day of battle.

The key learning was the importance of a strong product vision.

The winning team had a strong product vision right out the gate. Some of the teams were immediately distracted by trying to include too many goals in their visions. As we progressed through the exercise that lack of crisp vision really got in the way of a good 18 month roadmap. It made it really difficult to decide between strategic technology upgrades and smaller quick win carrots that were dangled in front of us.

For example, my team spent 20 minutes debating whether we should include a brand refresh in our roadmap. It’s not that branding is unimportant, but it had nothing to do with our priorities. Ultimately we decided not to refresh the brand however we could have saved 20 minutes of precious time if we had a clearer product vision!

To add to the pressure, every 30 minutes or so, an ‘executive’ would make an announcement that would impact our roadmaps and we had to quickly re-prioritise. This exercise simulated everything a Product Manager experiences in real life – shifting priorities, resource constraints and changing tech dependencies.

So what is a product vision?

The product vision articulates why your product exists. There are two reasons a product vision is non-negotiable:

  1. It gives you focus and focus is the true art of product management. If you’re clear on what your product vision is, you’re less likely to be distracted by anything that doesn’t serve your vision.
  2. It creates a shared understanding and alignment between your product team and your partners. You want your vision to inspire everyone so that you can collectively work towards your why.

For example, the product vision for Product In Heels is ‘to inspire people with stories that bring product management to life.’ I like to think my blog is different because I weave product lessons into stories. I don’t want to be another product management blog that only Product Managers can relate to. Right now, my theme for PIH is ‘scale’. When I find myself spending hours on Canva creating Insta graphics I remind myself of the vision and come back to writing!

You might recall the Amazon Kindle example I’ve written about before. Their vision was to have “every book ever printed in any language, all available in less than sixty seconds.”

How can you create a product vision?

If you’re interested in a template there is a great vision board tool from product management expert Roman Pichler. You don’t have to be a Product Manager to use this tool – try using it to build a vision for your book, blog, social media account.

You really just need to answer one question: why does my product exist? To answer that, you might think about what problem you’re solving or what unmet need you’re meeting. Why does your product shine? There is a good productboard article that goes into more detail on this topic.

You might be the first to document the vision but you want to make sure your stakeholders buy in to that vision too. There’s no point having a vision that no one wants to follow. It’s ok if you iterate on your vision over time.

What should you do with your product vision?

You repeat it over and over again to anyone who will listen.

I remember when I first started working at Amex being shocked by how many repetitive meetings we had. I used to think to myself how many more times can we present the same information to people?

Over time, I appreciated that by presenting a consistent story over and over again, it reduced friction when we were executing on our strategy. Any time someone wanted to throw in a new requirement we had a crystal clear product vision and strategy that allowed us to push back.

Finally, you avoid the situation where someone asks you to write a blog post about product vision, you write this article, but they were expecting “10 steps for defining a product vision”.

P.S. – my team came third for vision, second for execution. No Uber Eats voucher!

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