Stories abound of products launched with much fanfare and failing miserably in the market. What does it take to build a software product that sells? Would the best technology, the best architecture and the best brains guarantee a product that will sell?
A lot of energy is spent by the Engineering teams on building the product right – bug-free, scalable, reliable and secure. Throughout this journey the teams also need to be confident that they are building the right product – usable (fit for use), serves the purpose (fit for purpose), solves the customer’s problem and delivers value.
A popular representation of this relationship is given below
A Product Vision is a well thought through “future state” of the product that serves the customer’s needs as well as furthers the organization’s product strategy. The product vision serves as the “guiding light” that the teams constantly refers, consults and steers towards.
This article is about how a good product vision paves the way for scrum teams to build a good product. It is not the only step but definitely one of the first steps to build a product that will sell.
Components of a Product Vision
A well thought through and finely articulated Product Vision includes the following components
- Purpose and Intent – Why are we building the product and what value it brings to the Customer? What problems is the product going to solve for the Customer?
- Target Market – Who is the Customer(s) / Market Segment that the product is meant for
- Business Goals – By building this product how are we aligning with the organization’s strategy and goals in the market. Every product offered by an organization should align with the larger goals and strategy so that it fits well with the organization’s product portfolio.
- Differentiating Factors – How and what features are we offering that is a differentiator in the market and which sets the organization apart from its competitors.
Many a product fails to see the light of the day or serve the purpose of the customer if it has failed to justify on any one or more of the above components.
Creating the Product Vision
Anyone who is connected to the Product can contribute to the Product Vision. Organizations usually have idea boards and forums to welcome innovative ideas from all employees.
But the ownership of defining, communicating and nourishing the product vision lies with the Business Group or Product Management Group. Usually the vision is created through a Workshop involving the right stakeholders who have the expertise to contribute. The stakeholders represent Business, Engineering, Marketing, Sales, Support, Training etc.
Various techniques such as Brainstorming, Affinity grouping, Dot Voting can be employed in the workshop to come up with the final Product Vision. Prior to the workshop findings from Market research on target customers, competitors, information on Personas are made available to the participants so that they are well informed and bring the best to the table.
Product Vision Formats
The Product Vision board as recommended by Roman Pichler, leading Product Management Expert. The Product Vision BoardA Simple template first introduced in the book Crossing the Chasm
by Management Consultant and author Geoffery More.
Communicating the Product Vision
A great Product Vision will not get realized into the final product unless it is communicated well, not just once but multiple times, to all the important stakeholders – the Senior Leadership, the Engineering teams, Sales, Marketing, Documentation, Training and Support.
It is the responsibility of the Head of the Business (e.g Director of Product Management) to introduce and explain the Product Vision to the rest of the organization before the product development is started. A Kickstart All-Hands meeting usually happens when a new Product Vision is ready. The road map and strategy for the immediate future (every Quarter/Release) to realize the vision is also shared in this meeting. It is important that all stakeholders who are participating in building the product gets to hear the same information at the same time from the Head of Business.
This All-Hands happens at a defined cadence (every Quarter /Release) where the changes to the product vision, strategy and road map for the next quarter /release is communicated. The Heads of Engineering would also present their plans for the Quarter /Release to further the product vision.
Heads guiding the teamIt should not be an open and shut communication for a day, but the Product Managers and Owners need to constantly refer and draw from the vision when interacting with the Scrum Teams. When requirements are refined into Epics and User Stories and prioritized the Scrum Teams need to be able to relate them to the Vision.
Changes in the Product Vision
So is a Product Vision written on stone never to change? No, because that would defy Agile Principles of continuously seeking feedback, embracing and adapting change.
A learning organization has a pulse on the market and actively seeks feedback. It adapts the product vision according to the changing market, competition and customer feedback. It has a constant sense of Urgency to Fail Fast, has the Courage to Pivot when required and Persevere on the right track as part of the Organization culture.
There are stories of many organizations that have imbibed and practiced this culture and succeeded.
Significance of Production Vision within the Scrum Teams
A journey without a destination sounds exciting but not practical and not always fruitful. R&D engineers would not have any dearth of imagination to build products that are beautiful and perfect. But would these products serve the customer’s needs?
Understand the Larger Purpose: Scrum teams need to understand the big picture and the larger purpose of their everyday work – for whom are they building, for what and most importantly why. During Backlog Grooming sessions, the Product owners can act as ambassadors for the Product Vision helping the teams to refine user stories with end goal in mind. The questions to be constantly asked and validated include “Are we solving the customer problem?” , “Are we adding value?”, “Are we building the right product?” Product Strategy and Vision to Plan your roadmap
- Contribute in Product Strategy and Roadmap: Scrum teams can contribute effectively to the product strategy and roadmap if they know and understand the product vision.
- Understanding the Priorities: Understanding the Product vision helps the team to identify with the priority put forth by the Product Owner. The Product Owner and the teams can make use of the product vision in the Sprint Planning and Backlog refinement meetings to streamline user stories.
- Influence in Sprint Execution: Having the product vision in the back of their minds plays an important role in the story writing, refinement, acceptance criteria, coding and testing. Knowing the customer problems and target market helps teams to build “just enough” and stop from over engineering and manufacturing unwanted imaginary requirements. Unwanted code is a waste that can cause unwanted testing, bugs and needs to be avoided.
Knowing the target Customer / market, purpose and the problems that need to be resolved, helps the teams to
- Refine and write better Epics and User Stories .
- Helps to identify the ‘Must Have’ and ‘Good to Have’ Acceptance Criteria.
- Helps to architect and design better knowing the immediate priority and the upcoming roadmap.
- Helps to code incorporating enough customization for reuse and extensions in future.
- Define and formulate the appropriate test scenarios and data
Collaboration: Multiple teams come together to build a product. Having a common Product Vision to refer to improves their collaboration and serves as a good point of reference to manage conflicts and dependencies.
Alignment with the Organization’s Goals: There is also another very important piece of information within the Product Vision - How the Product Vision aligns to their organization’s overall strategy. This is definitely of interest to every employee of the organization. An engaged employee always is curious about how the product he is helping to build today fits and aligns with the organization’s goals. The fact that he/she is contributing towards furthering the Organization’s goals does instil a sense of pride and confidence.
Adapting to Changes in the Product Vision: The changes to the vision has to be constantly communicated to all the stake holders especially the Scrum teams who are building it. The teams need to also be told why there has been a change in the Product Vision. Only then would they appreciate and embrace the changes.
Tips for your Product Vision:
- Ideas can come in from unlikeliest of places. Inputs should be encouraged and accepted from all stakeholders and funnelled into the Product Vision creation workshop.
- Prior to the workshop, sufficient Market research has to be conducted to get information on target customer, personas and the competitor landscape.
- A vision not shared well remains only that and does not become a reality. Communicate at every opportunity – kickoff meetings, through posters and through dedicated ambassadors -Product Owners , Product Managers , Line Managers.
- Seek feedback and gauge the market continuously to adapt
- Do not fear to pivot if needed and change course. Failing early and fast is better.
- Do not try to address all the “How” and “When” in product vision, but the “What” and “Why”.
In conclusion, a Product Vision plays a very important role in the working of a Scrum Team providing the larger purpose of what is being built by them everyday. Only through constant communication about the vision and about the changes to it can the Scrum Teams keep relating to the vision and make the vision a reality - a good product that sells.