5 min read

What is a Product Vision?

Many authors of books and articles always emphasize that having a vision is very important. That is the case regardless if we are talking about a company, product or even personal development.
What is a Product Vision?

In the book "The Professional Product Owner" the authors talk about the three Vs. The three Vs are Vision, Value and Validation and are used to fill in the vacuum between setting a business strategy and defining a sprint plan. In the context of agile product management, the Vs should help us understand what should happen in between. This is not the first time I read about the importance of having a product vision. Many authors of books and articles always emphasize that having a vision is very important. That is the case regardless if we are talking about a company, product or even personal development. However, I always become confused when I try to define it mainly because I often mix it up with a mission statement.

In order to avoid this I decided to do a very small research and deep dive into what having a product vision really means.

Definition of the word Vision

The Cambridge Dictionary has two explanations that I find interesting:

  • Vision is an idea or mental image of something.
  • Vision is the ability to imagine how something could develop in the future, or the ideas that come from imagining in this way.

There is a third one. Something about "things you see that does not exist physically when your mind is affected by drugs". But, I will disregard that for now.

Considering those definitions, a product vision would be a mental image of how the product could develop in the future. But this is just me coining definitions. There has to be a formal definition. I did a bit of a reasearch in order to try and asnwer the question

What does the literature say?

There are quite a lot of materials out there. I found people and companies talking about a product vision in posts, books, videos and podcasts. In all those mentions I found that there wasn't a single case when someone quoted an author who has a go to definition. Everyone had its own view on the subject. Sometimes views were similar but sometimes very different. Here are a few I found.

Roman Pichler: The product vision is the overarching goal you are aiming for, the reason for creating the product. It provides a continued purpose in an ever-changing world, acts as the product's true north, provides motivation when the going gets tough, and facilitates effective collaboration. A vision is a prerequisite for choosing the right strategy.
Agile Project Management for Dummies: The product vision statement is an elevator pitch — a quick summary — to communicate how your product supports the company's or organization's strategies. The vision statement must articulate the goals for the product.
productboard.com: You can think of a product vision as the mission statement for your product. It’s a long-term goal that answers the question: In X years, what do you want your product to be? When crafting your product vision, make sure it’s a stretch, but still realistic.
The Agile Developer's Handbook: The product vision differs from the product purpose in that it is a shorter, punchier version, something that gets people excited and engaged.
Product Roadmaps Relaunched: A product vision should be about having an impact on the lives of the people your product serves, as well as on your organization.

Product vision clarifies why you are bringing a product to market in the first place, and what its success will mean to the world and to the organization. The vision is the raison d’être of the entire effort, and forms the basis of the roadmap. As we mentioned previously for vision, it is the destination you plan to reach.
Escaping the build trap: The product vision communicates why you are building something and what the value proposition is for the customer.
INSPIRED: Buying into a vision is always a bit of a leap of faith. You likely don't know how, or even if, you'll be able to deliver on the vision.
Managing agile projects: Product vision provides a shared mental image or model in answer to the question, “What are we building and how will it achieve the project vision?” Product vision guides the reality that is unfolded daily by your team members through their project interactions.

Those are a lot of different ways to express a very similar idea from a relatively small number of sources. And there are hundreds more where the term "product vision" is mentioned. Nevertheless, it should be easy to extract a common denominator. That would be that a product vision is a mental image that acts as the north star, a guiding light to what your product needs to become and the destination it needs to reach a long term goal. The product vision also needs to make it clear why that journey is vital to the company and the end-users of the product.

It is important to remember that a product vision should not be a plan that shows how to reach a goal. The product vision and the product strategy are two different things and they need to stay separate. This allows to change the strategy while staying grounded in the vision. The product strategy is the sequence of steps or releases we plan to deliver in order to relize product vision.

What is the purpose of a product vision?

The primary purpose of the product vision is to communicate the mental image of the future product to everyone that is affected. That would be the stakeholders, employees, customers and even potential employees. When appropriately defined, the product vision is a potent recruitment tool. It can also help us in the planning efforts. It should guide us when we are creating a product strategy and defining short term goals.

Qualities of a Product Vision

The vision should be informative, focused, emotional, inspiring but also realistic.

Besides, the product vision should be well communicated and made visible and known to everyone. The product owner will probably need to keep repeating it over and over again, just to make sure that he has everyone's buy-in. There are multiple reasons for this. The first, I believe, is obvious. If the product vision is our compass, then we need to know what the vision is every time we ask ourselves "Which direction should I be heading now?". Another also important reason is to keep it realistic. In a World where condition change very often we need to keep adjusting our course. Sometimes that also means that we should adapt our vision as well. By repeating it, we can also gauge the response we get from the people. If we start getting overall negative feedback or if people start finding it difficult to be inspired, it is time to correct the vision. That is not only OK, but sometimes it is indispensable.

Techniques for defining a good product vision

While I was going through the vision sections in different books, I also ran into a few techniques that can help us define a product vision. I am just going to list them here and revisit them maybe in some following post.