A simple workshop format to help you define an effective product vision

One of the reasons digital products and services are difficult to use is that they are run by organisations that lack a clear vision of what they are trying to achieve by making that product available to the world.

An effective product vision should describe your reason for creating your product or service in the first place. It should describe a clearly understood and desirable future that people will want to work towards achieving.

A client asked us to help them define a product vision to help guide the evolution of their global product portfolio.

They saw the definition of a clear and simple product vision statement as being vital to help them to:

  • Align product development with the purpose of their organisation.
  • Motivate and inspire staff by making it clear what their work was contributing towards.
  • Help them review and determine enhancements to their entire product proposition.
  • Clarify how the products would lead to a better future for their customers.

One of the key activities I ran was a workshop with the product team to generate a list of ‘product vision prototypes’.

Here’s an overview of the approach I took for you to use to help you to define your own product vision statements.

Step 1: ‘Product Vision Primer’

This is a useful exercise to get everyone thinking about the answer to some really fundamentally important questions.

The questions are designed to contribute to thinking about the most important thing in relation to the product vision, the ‘envisioned future’ that you are working towards creating by producing your product.

Product Vision Primer

When completed, this is itself a useful artefact for product teams to stick on the wall, to remind them of the relevance of their product to their customers, their organisation and to the marketplace.

Step 2: Mapping outcomes

This exercise builds on the previous exercise by asking people to focus specifically on the most important things they identified within question 10 of ‘Step 1’.

To do this, ask them to extract all of the different things that they think will be better in the future, thanks to the existence of their product.

Ask them to place each on a sticky note and to position it along the axis which identifies whether they feel the product vision should be more about or less about achieving that outcome.

Mapping Outcomes

This helps to identify the essence of why their product exists and prioritises which of these are the main sources of motivation for producing it. The things you should be left with here should be inspiring and should paint a picture of a better world.

Step 3: Creating prototype product vision statements

Harvest all of the outcomes that you decided that the product vision should be ‘more about’ from step 2 and have a go at writing them up into as many ‘prototype’ product vision statements as possible.

I’ve deliberately added the prefix ‘we will’ to the vision statement template because it’s a useful way of ensuring that the resulting vision statements paint a picture of an aspirational future.

Creating product vision prototypes

Once you’ve defined your vision statement use these evaluation criteria to stress test it.

If you can answer ‘yes’ to them all then you know you’re on right track to producing a great product vision statement.

  1. Will it benefit your customers?
  2. Is it both broad and ambitious but short and sweet?
  3. Does it reflect your motivation for developing your products?
  4. Does it capture your intent and does it inspire you?
  5. Does it provide a picture of a desirable future that you want to work towards?

Once everyone has created as many of these as possible ask them all to rate each others using the ‘Get out of Bed-ometer’. This was very tongue in cheek, but proved to be a good way of getting a quick gut feel from people about how motivated they felt by each of the statements.

This workshop format proved to be a really effective way of generating a long list of prioritised prototype product vision statements within a short period of time.

Following the workshop I worked with the product team to produce a short list of the strongest product vision statements. This list was then presented to the senior leadership team who helped to select the ‘winning’ vision statement that is now being used to guide future product development within the organisation.

Download a PDF of these resources and get in touch to discuss any questions or queries you have in relation to how we can help you to create your own effective product vision.

James is responsible for leading user-centred design projects across all industry sectors, and also runs cxlabs. He has written two UX books, speaks regularly at international conferences, and co-founded UXBristol.