Great products don’t happen by accident. They usually require both a great idea and excellent execution. For an organization to follow through and turn that idea into a viable product, the team needs both a product vision and a product strategy.
Both of these play a critical role in motivating those responsible for bringing the product from concept to market. Moreover, it ensures the team doesn’t lose focus during that process. This article will discuss why the best products require both vision and strategy and their codependent nature.
Product vision—often articulated in a mission statement—lays out the grand idea for a product. They are ambitious and aspirational yet brief and direct. In an ideal world, this is what your product will achieve when it’s all grown up.
The product vision itself isn’t achievable in the short term. Moreover, your team can’t just knock it out with a few product releases. It’s instead a nebulous point in the distance. With each subsequent product update and enhancement, your team gets within striking distance.
This dreamy destination the product may never reach isn’t just for impressing investors or analysts. Its primary function is centering and focusing the energy and attention of the entire organization. The goal of the product vision is to align stakeholders and drive the product roadmap.
Most importantly, the product vision tells everyone the “why” behind the product. With this shared understanding, everyone from junior coders to the C-suite to the sales and marketing team all works toward the common goal of advancing the product in service of this vision.
Product vision examples
Many familiar brand names building popular products use their product visions to keep their vast array of employees, teams, divisions, and product lines aligned. Here are a few examples:
Google: To provide access to the world’s information in one click.
Amazon: To be earth’s most customer-centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.
Peloton: Use technology and design to connect the world through fitness. Empowering people to be the best version of themselves anywhere, anytime.
Uber: Transportation as reliable as running water, everywhere for everyone.
Salesforce: To empower companies to connect with their customers in a whole new way.
What do these product vision have in common?
Looking at the examples above, a few commonalities become immediately apparent. First and foremost, they’re very short and direct. They’re all a single sentence and not overly complicated.
Second, they’re intentionally vague. Notice the absence of “bike” from Peleton’s vision and no mention of “search” in Google’s or “cars” in Uber’s. This enables the company to both think big and far beyond its initial product offerings. It also empowers the company to pivot if necessary without completely abandoning its product vision. For example, Peleton expanded into treadmills or Uber offering scooters or buses as transportation options.
Even an expansive product vision still provides some boundaries to what the company and its products should do. If anything falls outside that scope, product leaders can use the product vision to say “no” and maintain focus.
The other shared characteristic most relevant to this discussion is that these product visions don’t dictate a specific tactical path. Ten people could read the exact same product vision and dream up ten different ways to achieve it. Therefore, organizations need a product strategy to more fully define the “who, what, when, and how.”
With a product vision in hand, organizations can build out a product strategy that fleshes out the details while remaining at a high level. Product strategies must include some key details to be useful for those attempting to implement them.
This often begins with “who” you’re building the product for. These user and buyer personas narrow down the total addressable market to the specific segments the company aims to satisfy and delight with its products. It also allows the team to concentrate on specific problems and pain points most relevant to those target users.
With a better-defined sense of who might use the product, the product strategy can include specific, measurable goals. Each of these objectives should ultimately contribute to achieving the product vision.
Some of these SMART goals will track usage-based metrics, such as retention rates, recurring revenue, and net promoter scores, which all indicate how well the product satisfies the needs of its customer base. However, others will be a little loftier and less specific, such as establishing product differentiation and securing market share in the competitive landscape.
At this stage, the product strategy gets translated into a product roadmap by prioritizing which key themes should be addressed first. This sets up the “when and how” pieces of the puzzle. The implementation teams can now design, resource, and build out the product features and components.
What makes a product strategy successful?
Great product strategies have several important similarities. They obviously always tie back to the product vision, making their intent unimpeachable in the eyes of any stakeholder.
Superior product strategies also include measurable goals and objectives so the organization can gauge success and build features that drive specific behaviors and outcomes, enabling the team to prioritize for maximum IMPACT. And they ideally provide enough latitude and flexibility that the organization can incorporate user feedback and other learnings to adjust and adapt on the fly to remain customer-led.
We don’t need to wait for investor briefings and quarterly earnings reports to find examples of successful product strategies. We see these illustrations in the products we rely on every day.
Love it or hate it, pretty much everyone has used Zoom in the last few years. It has replaced in-person meetings or faceless phone calls with this interactive video conferencing platform. Zoom’s vision of creating frictionless video communication is unwavering in its product strategy.
Every feature and enhancement Zoom introduces with the intent of bringing customers joy and removing any barriers to connecting people across town or across the globe. In the face of unprecedented demand and growth, the company doubled down on scalability. Furthere they still supported new use cases such as remote learning.
Zoom’s product strategy enabled the company to adapt to changing market conditions without abandoning its vision. The company is now even better positioned for whatever the “new normal” ends up looking like, as remote work and learning are now here to stay in one form or another.
Slack began as an internal tool for game developers to communicate with each other, but quickly pivoted into a standalone solution. With a product vision of making “work-life simpler, more pleasant, and more productive,” Slack turned asynchronous communication into a way of life for millions of workers and collaborators.
What helps Slack separate from the pack of other messaging tools is its commitment to putting itself in its customers’ shoes. This begins with “eating their own dog food” by exclusively using their own product for all communications. They combine this with a healthy helping of customer feedback, customer advisory boards, and a willingness to strive for further improvement even when receiving rave reviews.
This customer focus and the company’s particular focus on enterprise users allowed them to thrive during the pandemic and retain their title of the fastest-growing SaaS company in history. Slack’s product strategy of integrating with everything to make the customer experience as seamless as possible has kept it at the top of the charts and led to an acquisition by Salesforce.
The e-commerce giant began as a humble online bookseller, but today it’s an essential provider of every good under the sun, including sustenance from Whole Foods and computing power from Amazon Web Services. Amazon’s vision never really changed, but its product strategy has.
The company to this day still bases its product strategy on four pillars:
- Customer obsession
- Passion for invention
- Operational excellence
- Long-term thinking
This philosophy enables the product development teams to “think backwards” from goals three-to-five years in the future, providing plenty of time and opportunity for tests and experiments. And with each new offering, the ultimate goal of their product strategy is customer stickiness to build a loyal customer base for decades to come.
The Cornerstones of Success
As we’ve seen, it’s not really a case of product vision “versus” product strategy. Instead, it’s a codependent relationship, as the vision dictates where you want to go and the strategy lays out how you’ll get there.
You can’t build a strategy without a vision, and you can’t achieve that vision without a strategy. Without both of these core elements, it’s nearly impossible to build a product roadmap that satisfies short-term needs and works toward achieving longer-term goals.