Once when I asked a Product Manager about their product vision & mission, they said it was all fluff and didn't really do anything!
I went on to explain that it drives alignment which impacts value creation and is critical piece of influencing and driving decisions.
More importantly, its key to inspire people.
Purpose of this guide
Help product managers understand the importance of product visions and what they can do to help influence it and how you can drive alignment in an organization.
A successful PM is able to influence without authority and create change to bring alignment on decisions and direction. This is definitely easier said than done and what differentiates an experienced PM from a junior one.
Updates to article
2nd Update 12/09/2022
- Edit to Intro
- Added Purpose of the guide
- Changed format to add Parts and added new content to detailed part of the guide.
- Added new images to explain concepts
- Redone formatting overall article
- Added external links
Part 1 - Alignment & Direction
The common enemy - Alignment & Direction
A common problem in majority of the organizations is lack of alignment.
This can be seen with teams scrambling or running around like "headless chickens" with their commanders giving convoluted and most often than not contradictory commands.
The main issue here is a lack of vision or alignment & direction on vision.
As a product manager, your job depends on bringing about clarity to the above.
One of my mentors and ex-line managers - Venkat Thatikonda, used this image in 2015 to explain me direction and lack of alignment. He had this image printed and stuck on the wall while we worked for a company that had 100,000+ employees, multiple business units and sub companies. Even to date he quotes this and sends it to me from time to time for a laugh when we talk about this topic! Thank-you Venkat for the lifelong lessons!
How can a product manager influence the lack of alignment on vision and bring clarity to direction?
- To do this, the product manager must understand what the organizations strengths and weaknesses are.
- They must also understand the opportunities and unfair advantages it has.
- Then determine a problem that is worth solving and can drive alignment on all levels using a technique such as product evangelism to get this idea across and validate if it has bones!
Note: Organization culture matters - if the culture is not supportive, no matter what you try it won't be successful. Or you may be fired or pushed out of the company for doing so - (yup been there more than once!).
For a Product Manager to be successful they have to learn how to build trust, engagement and work with circles of influence.
This also means influencing culture. This is an art that comes with trying.
So go practice and don't give up if you are unable to succeed more than once. Sometimes things are just not meant to be.
Part 2 - Evangelism
🤔 So WT* is product evangelism?
The easy answer - it's like being a car salesman who sells you on the vision on a fairly large investment.
The bigger question is how do you do product evangelism?
Well, think of a founder trying to pitch a product or business idea to a VC board to get funding.
🏆 They have to put in a lot of effort into creating prototypes, presentation decks and a pitch.
However, the way to go about in an organization is to find out where the key problems lie for the customer and your stakeholders and then creating a movement of change within the organization and revolutionizing it.
Start small and think big!
1- Define the product vision
When business vision is unclear, product vision can help define the business vision and bring clarity to teams and alignment across an organization.
So start with listing down the product vision on a whiteboard, then the problem that you are trying to solve and how this aligns with it.
Make an assumption here at first, if you don't know what the vision is, alternatively collect stakeholders opinions and views to generate a better view on what the vision is. Either which way - ask around.
- If you are in a startup - ask the FOUNDER!
- In larger organizations this may sit with the senior product manager or product director or even head of product and at times even the chief product officer (yup that means there are some huge delegation problems!).
So ask around.
Example of product vision, product definitions and value proposition
2- Make a low fidelity proof of concept of your idea
Create a hand sketch of what you are trying to pitch and ideate on it.
- Let it sink in, validate it with friends and family first and see what people you trust think about it.
- You will end up getting suggestions and feedback which can help you iterate it.
Here is an example from an idea I came up with in 2021 of a "superapp" connecting everything from paying your bills to social media platform like facebook to something like a payments engine like stripe and a loyalty platform behind that collecting points.
I used this to evangelize an idea across a team in a Fintech startup that had a whole bunch of products but not a vision to connect the experiences like the application WeChat.
3- Research - User & Customer
If you are lucky your organization has a product designer, if not speak to your UX researcher and see what they understand about the problem your product might solve.
There are 2 parts here - pains and gains.
Note: Maybe you are unlucky and neither roles exist in your organization, in that case then you need to roll up your sleeves and do some hunting!
The research team might have already conducted user interviews or have some research on these pains and gains.
They may also have a differential perspective to the idea you have which is great to avoid the problem of different types of biases product managers face.
Pro tip: Join the researchers in future research sessions with customers. This can be instrumental in understanding what customers really need (not want!) and give you first hand understanding of the customers point of view (POV).
Example of product needs - pains and gains
4- Enchant the engineers and figure out feasibility
Talk to your engineers & tech lead to see if the idea is feasible and what the complexities of solving this problem are. They are the true innovators when it comes to solution discovery! If you don't include them you have lost the battle already.
- Engineers carry special insights into solution and system design and this can help determine if you can actually build your product experience or if the problem is so complex to solve that it would take years to build a solution for it. In that case, you may have to investigate how to test out a smaller problem and solution!
It's then time to validate the viability of your product.
This will be the hardest part because you have to determine the effort you spend down this rabbit hole.
It generally involves
- competitive market analysis, market research on audience (hopefully something you already have?!)
- market SWOT and
- most importantly - Costs and Revenue!
Remember: You are in the business to solve customer problems but also be a profit center and not a cost center. You can build trust and engagement by delivering on that profitability of your product or products.
6- Spread the word - be the evangelist!
This is where the product manager has to literally walk around and evanglise, almost like a monk or priest!
Conversations are key, you need to share your excitement of the idea and influence your stakeholders and peers into believing in your idea.
Then when you get the opportunity to pitch it, showcase it like your life depends on it! Soon you will have a level of alignment and commitment towards a direction which can help you drive a vision and achieve some great outcomes.
Be sure to tune in for more lessons in product.