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How to define a product vision that lands
If you want to have a powerful product strategy, you need to know where it's taking you. Your product vision provides that guidance.
Last updated10 Dec 2021
In the previous chapter of this guide, we looked at building a brilliant product strategy to help you develop a product that truly solves user problems and creates customer delight.
This chapter looks at how your product vision points the way.
As we pulled this chapter together, we found that most product managers place a lot of importance on a properly formed product vision, yet few were comfortable creating one. This page will help.
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What is a product vision?
A product vision communicates what customer problems your product team and organization hope your product will solve in the future.
Your product vision provides insight into why you’re building the product and how it addresses customer needs in a way that’s beneficial to the organization.
A compelling product vision provides guardrails to guide your team's product decisions: when everyone understands the product vision, it becomes a North Star to align decision-making between stakeholders.
Why a product vision is important
You need a clear product vision when creating a new product to stay focused on the problem you’re trying to solve for your customer. When you create a vision for a new product, you’re basically stating a hypothesis about your potential customers' problem, which your product will solve.
A meaningful product vision is also important when working on an existing product. In fact, it may be even more important then: when you have an existing product, you also have an existing roadmap and backlog stocked with customer requests and stakeholder feedback. Your product vision is a North Star to guide you when it’s time to decide what feedback you’ll incorporate into your product.
What does a good product vision look like?
A good product vision helps guide decisions and inspires your team to deliver an impactful product. To do that, your product vision needs to exhibit the following characteristics:
Clear: your product vision should be easy for your team and stakeholders to understand.
Inspiring: your product team can recognize the link between their day-to-day activities and the product vision, and are inspired to keep that connection strong.
Concise: your product vision should be short and to the point so that people are more likely to pay attention to it.
Achievable: your product vision should represent a view of the future that your team believes in, and is confident you can achieve.
Customer-focused: the product vision should clearly explain the customer needs that your product satisfies.
Many product managers use a fill-in-the-blank approach to craft a product vision. One of the best-known templates that meets the above criteria is this structure from Geoffrey Moore, a venture partner and author:
For [our target customer],
who [customer’s need],
is a [product category or description]
that [unique benefits and selling points].
Unlike [competitors or current methods],
our product [main differentiators].
For example, here’s what the vision statement for Hotjar might look like:
For digital product teams
Who need to understand how users behave, what they need, and how they feel
is a product experience insights tool
that provides a way to connect the dots between what's happening in a product and why it's happening
Unlike the old, manual method that relies on guesswork, hard work, and biased user interviews
Our product provides user insights that help product teams prioritize brilliantly.
But simply filling out a statement template doesn't mean the product vision will truly land. A better approach is to build a story around your product vision. Here are a couple of examples of how product people have used stories to craft a good product vision:
Ben Newell, former VP of product at rewardStyle and Sabre Corp, likes to go beyond simple statements when crafting a product vision. He found that his team was inspired most by product visions that featured “a prototype that includes a story of a typical user’s interaction” with his product.
Ezinne Udezue, VP of product management at BazaarVoice, says her product leadership team uses a Strategic Intent Document to help them craft a story and explain their product vision. The Strategic Intent Document “explicitly calls out why we're doing what we're doing as a product organization” and includes answers to the following questions:
What are our priorities?
How long do we think these will be our priority?
What metrics are we trying to move and why?
What to consider when building a product vision
On the surface, it may seem like product visions are easy to build since they're typically short, concise statements. Don’t be fooled—there’s a great deal involved in creating a product vision that can guide and inspire.
Here are some of the key questions to ask when you build your product vision:
Who owns the product vision?
One of your responsibilities as a product manager is to craft the vision for your product—but you shouldn't do it in isolation.
If you want your product vision to guide and inspire your team, you need to make sure the team is involved in building the product vision right from the start. Keep in mind, though, that you’re still ultimately responsible for creating a meaningful product vision.
How does the product vision tie into the broader strategy?
The product vision is a connecting point between wider organizational goals and product strategy.
The product vision explains how your product helps further the organization’s strategy. Once you understand your product's role for the broader organization, you craft your product strategy to lay out the steps needed to realize the product vision.
Put simply, your product vision says where you want your product to be; your product strategy indicates how you’re going to get there.
How do you build a truly customer-centric product vision?
To ensure you keep a core focus on your customer when you craft your product vision, ask your sales and customer success teams, “What do customers consider when they select our product?” Use this insight to think of ways to better reflect your customer’s needs and wants in your product vision.
By asking the customer-facing teams in your organization for their input when you develop your product vision, you keep them involved and increase the chance they’ll buy in to the vision you create.
Ben Newell learned the importance of understanding customer-centricity when he became a product leader in a new industry. He wanted to know more about the company and its customers before creating a product vision. “I wanted to take time to listen to everyone and really understand the challenges that our customers were facing.”
By asking colleagues from across your business about their experiences with customers, you build out a broader, more nuanced understanding of your product to better inform your overall vision—and ensure it’s one everybody can get behind.
How do you communicate the product vision?
Your product vision won't be helpful if no one’s aware of it—you have to communicate your product vision to everyone in your organization.
Communicating your product vision should start in the early stages, as you're creating it. Again, the product vision shouldn't be built in isolation: include key teams and people in your organization. If you build the vision in isolation, stakeholders can often feel surprised, might be less likely to buy in, and may ignore the vision or strongly question it.
When Albert Lee, co-founder and former head of product at MyFitnessPal, was first asked to communicate his product vision, he did what most of us would do—he searched Google for examples. The examples he found were so abstract that they didn’t provide any helpful guidance. Albert then tried to convey a product vision by creating a product prototype, but it was too specific and didn’t leave the team enough room to innovate.
To find the middle ground between too abstract and too specific, Albert finally decided to use storyboards to help everyone on his team understand: "Here's how we see our customer. Here's how we see these fundamental things that they're dealing with …. Here are the types of experiences that we aspire to create … to hopefully allow them to be successful."
How to keep your product vision fresh
When you create your product vision, you create a hypothesis about what you think your product should be in the future. And since it’s a hypothesis, you might need to revise and iterate on your vision based on the feedback you receive and how people respond to your product.
You’ll also need to regularly revisit the vision with key people in your organization to see if it still resonates with your company and product's current reality.
Look for ways to regularly update your organization about the product vision and how your product teams live up to it. This regular sharing of the vision and dedication to it helps you remind people what the vision is and gather feedback that helps you refine it.
Ben Newell uses a Product Update meeting to give his product teams a chance to get in front of the whole company and share what they’ve been working on for the past six weeks. The teams use these updates to share A/B test results and their tracking metrics. The updates gave Ben’s teams a chance to explain their progress toward realizing the product vision and get input on where the product vision may need to be revised.
Pro Tip: one way to keep your product vision fresh is to make sure you aren’t so focused on the short term that you lose sight of the more distant future.
Gib found the best way to achieve a product vision that stretches over multiple years is to break it into a series of steps:
First, identify a customer problem that people will buy your product to solve. You’ll 'Get Big' in the market for that product to build competitive advantages. For example, Netflix started 'getting big' by providing mail-order DVDs.
Next, determine the next trend you want to point your product toward. This may be a new problem you solve or a better way of solving the problem you already solve. Take steps to 'Lead' in this area. For Netflix, this was streaming.
Finally, use the foundation you built in the first two steps to grow your business and product. This is where you 'Expand'. Netflix expanded into worldwide distribution.
To build a product vision that helps you think long term, ask yourself (and your product team) the following questions:
What’s the initial solution that enables our company and product to gain market share (i.e. 'Get Big') over the first 3–5 years of its life?
Three to five years in the future, what is the next wave your product or company will ride—what will you 'Lead'?
Once your product has a leadership position, how can you 'Expand' even further? When you consider your brand, network effects, economies of scale, and unique technology your product has, what is the next wave of activity?
How Hotjar can help you craft your vision
Customer feedback provides powerful insight to help you create your product vision and keep it fresh—and product experience (PX) insights from Hotjar can help.
Here’s how Hotjar helps you build a product vision that ensures customer delight:
Use Heatmaps to find out what works
When crafting your product vision, you need to know what works—and what doesn't work—for your customers.
Hotjar's Heatmaps give you a broad overview of where people spend their time on your website so you can see where they pay the most attention—and where they get distracted. You can use this insight to inform your product decisions and refine your vision.
If people tend to use certain features in your product more than others, you may decide to double down on them moving forward. But if people tend to ignore other features completely, you may revise your vision to the extent that those features are no longer needed.
Use Surveys and Incoming Feedback widgets to find out what people are trying to accomplish
You need to understand what your customers are trying to accomplish with your product—but to really empathize with them, you need to understand the user experience in context.
Let’s say, after looking at heatmaps and watching session recordings, you notice that people spend a lot more time in some areas of your product than others. To find out the context behind those patterns, you can use a survey to ask them why they do or don’t do certain things with your product. When you’re crafting those surveys, take a jobs-to-be-done (JTBD) approach to formulate your questions.
How does your product solve customer problems?
Product experience insights from Hotjar give you the actionable feedback you need to keep your product vision fresh and customer-centric.