Why Product Managers Need To Learn How To Do Visioning

by drjim on January 2, 2012

Can you see where your product will be 5 years into the future?

Can you see where your product will be 5 years into the future?

Being a product manager is a hard job. It seems like there is always too much to do every single day. Keeping yourself focused on what needs to be done today or maybe even tomorrow is enough to keep you fully booked. Oh wait, there is one other thing that you need to be doing – visioning.

What Is This Visioning Thing?

I’m pretty sure that we’re all familiar with the concept of a business case – creating one is a basic part of every product manager job description. It’s the written document that product managers put together once a year in order to request that the company fund their product. Part of this effort involves telling the rest of the company how great the future is going to be if they give you the money that you are asking for.

Visioning is a little bit like that part of a business case. However, it also has its differences. The first of these is that a visioning exercise is solely focused on creating a clearly defined picture of what the future is going to look like for your product. You don’t have to worry about how much money you’re going to need or in what order you are going to roll out new features. The vision document should be something that you can hand off to an account manager or business development manager in order to show them where the product is going.

The output of a visioning exercise is a vision for your product. This vision will clearly describe the world as you see it 3, 5, 10 or however many years you want to go into the future. The vision that you create has to answer a bunch of questions: what will your product look like? How will it stack up against the competition? How does your company feel about your product?

Note that a product vision is not the same thing as a strategic plan for your product. The difference is that a product vision very clearly describes where you are going with the product. A strategic plan lays out how you are going to get there.

How Do You Do Visioning Correctly?

The expert in how to do visioning correctly is Ari Weinzweig. He points out that visioning isn’t necessarily something that you just sit down and do in order to crank out a vision for your product. Rather, you need to view visioning as being a process that keeps getting executed. Learn to do this well and it’s something that you’ll be able to add to your product manager resume.

In order to make this happen, you are going to have to secure some quiet time for yourself to sit down and do some writing. Here are the steps that Ari suggests that product managers take in order to create a vision for their product:

 

  • Pick Your Product: a vision can be created for just about anything. Be very clear what you are going to create a vision for: is it your product, is it your product team, or is it for a brand?

 

 

  • What Time Is It?: How far out into the future do you want to position your vision at? Ari suggests that you go far enough out that you can get beyond all of the issues and challenges that you are facing today, but not too far where everything may have changed.

 

 

  • Create Positive Energy: spend 10 minutes coming up with a list of past accomplishments for your product. What are you the most proud of – key sales, great new features, etc. This is designed to get you in the mood for what comes next.

 

 

  • Write It: Now just sit down and do it. Just crank it out – don’t waste too much time on it, just get your words on a piece of paper. Make sure that you paint a great future for your product. Make it something that everyone would be proud to be part of.

 

 

  • Review: Spend some time reading what you wrote the first time and then start to rewrite it. Don’t be surprised if you end up changing most or all of what you wrote originally.

 

 

  • Review Again: You’d be amazed at how many changes you make the next time that you come back and take another look at what you wrote.

 

 

  • Get Input From Peers: Now is the time to shop your vision around. Collect everyone’s inputs and consider them. Add the ideas that you like.

 

 

  • Advertise the vision: now that you have a compelling vision for your product, make sure that you get it into everyone’s hands. Promote it far and wide both inside and outside of the company.

 

What Does All Of This Mean For You?

As a product manager you are the chief evangelist for your product. What that means is that it’s part of the strategic management portion of your job to keep everyone excited about making your product a success. In order to do that, you’ve got some visioning to be doing.

Visioning is the process by which a product manager takes the time to picture what the future is for your product is going to look like. There is no wrong way to do this. However, you need to make some decisions about how far out into the future you want to look and how much detail you want to add.

Once you’ve created a compelling vision of the future you need to share it with everyone. Only by doing this will you be able to get their support and generate excitement about what lies ahead. As experienced product managers know, working with an excited and motivated bunch of people makes everything a lot easier to do!

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: How often do you think that a product manager should perform visioning for his/her product?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

So there you are, a happy product manager creating and delivering products that meet your customer’s needs. All of a sudden (but you should have seen it coming) a big box competitor with tons of selection and low, low prices shows up in your backyard. Oh, oh – what’s a product manager to do now? It turns out that we can learn some lessons from the world of women’s fashion. Boutiques have been dealing with this very situation for awhile and they have a thing or two to teach us…

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Giles Farrow January 9, 2012 at 7:38 am

It can be really hard for a product manager to find time to think strategically.

Totally agree that thinking about a vision for the future of your products and how customers benefit is the way to go.

Reply

Dr. Jim Anderson January 20, 2012 at 4:43 pm

Giles: what’s interesting is that it’s not that we don’t want to think strategically, it’s just that in the busy world in which we all live, it can be very difficult to find the spare time to do this type of thinking…

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