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Product Vision Statements (aka Your Elevator Pitch)

Success. If one were to look at the key elements to success across teams, organizations, groups, even ourselves, one element would be common – a vision of where we are, and where we want to go. Some can be short and sweet, like Amazon’s Vision Statement:

Our vision is 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.

Others can be powerful even when they are less formal, such as this statement by Apple CEO Tim Cook:

We believe that we are on the face of the earth to make great products and that’s not changing. We are constantly focusing on innovating. We believe in the simple not the complex. We believe that we need to own and control the primary technologies behind the products that we make, and participate only in markets where we can make a significant contribution. We believe in saying no to thousands of projects, so that we can really focus on the few that are truly important and meaningful to us. We believe in deep collaboration and cross-pollination of our groups, which allow us to innovate in a way that others cannot. And frankly, we don’t settle for anything less than excellence in every group in the company, and we have the self-honesty to admit when we’re wrong and the courage to change. And I think regardless of who is in what job those values are so embedded in this company that Apple will do extremely well.

These vision statements are an extremely powerful part of your toolkit as a team or organization, because it helps provide not just a vision, but a map and guidelines for how to get there. It sets the boundaries of what is “in” and what is “out”. For example, looking at Apple’s statement above, if an investor called for them to outsource a large chunk of their development staff to cut costs, that would be clearly out of bounds. Or if a Product Engineer wanted to add a new feature to an iPhone, they would be clearly thinking through the balance of innovation and simplicity.

These boundaries are important for teams delivering software as well. Every day, team members make between 25 and 200 micro-decisions which impact the project, the team, and the company. How can we help provide a framework for them to feel confident to make the right decisions?

Sample Product Vision StatementOne way is the use of Product Vision Statements. These statements help the teams understand the boundaries of their work, and are considered a crucial part of Scrum. While there are lots of ways to write a Product Vision Statement, one of my favorite templates comes from Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore. The template looks like:

For [target customer]
Who [statement of the need]

The [product name] is a [product category]
that [key benefit, compelling reason to buy].

Unlike [primary competitive alternative],
our product [statement of primary differentiation]

As an example, here is a former Product Vision statement from Blackberry:

For business e-mail users who want to better manage the increasing number of messages they receive when out of the office, BlackBerry is a mobile e-mail solution that provides a real-time link to their desktop e-mail for sending, reading and responding to important messages. Unlike other mobile e-mail solutions, BlackBerry is wearable, secure, and always connected.

The key things to note – the target market was clearly people who not only were mobile, but important enough to need rapid access to their email. Clearly that ties into the idea of security and connectiveness. (Which is why it always baffled me when I saw BlackBerry tackling the consumer market, but that’s another discussion).

Sample Product Box PictureProduct Visions don’t have to be super formal statements either. In the picture to the right, a team used the Product Box Innovation Game to develop the key elements of a product vision statement. They could then use that to create a formal statement, or leave it up as is to remind them of what they are trying to achieve.

Regardless of the approach you take, ensure that your team and your organization has a clear vision you are executing towards. Find out if they understand the vision, agree with the vision, and, most importantly, understand how the work they are doing fits in to that. It may be the clarity link your team is missing in their delivery.

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  • Allison January 24, 2014, 11:57 pm

    I agree. I’ve found that teams with well-written vision statements seem more engaged and creative in their work because the team members are inspired and have a purpose to strive for.