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SaaS business

10 Principles of Great Product Vision to Guide Your Product Team

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13 Feb

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2023

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Have you ever wondered how to create a product vision that doesn't look like a cheap motivational poster but actually makes sense? Then, this article is just for you.

For years, we at Eleken have been creating UI/UX design for different kinds of SaaS companies, from startups to the ones that have been on the market for a long time. And one thing that we've learned is that product vision affects many aspects, including design. That’s why you should be thoughtful about creating it: an impactiful vision should be based on strict principles.

What is a product vision?

What is product vision? The future that we aim to create. What it is NOT - strategy, product spec, mission

The simplest explanation of product vision is that vision states the future that we aim to create. It reveals the purpose of your product, and the why behind it.

What product vision is NOT

A strategy

Strategy explains concretely the milestones that lie on the way to fulfilling product vision.

A product specification

While product vision is more abstract, specification tells in detail the tech requirements of the future product.

A mission statement

Mission is more abstract than product vision. “Making the world a safer place” is a mission, while “providing a safe and reliable opportunity for students to find accommodation” is a product vision.

3 signs of a good product vision

If you already have a raw version of product vision, I recommend checking it against these three criteria to see if it needs some improvement.

1. Easy to communicate and understand

The downside of inspirational phrases is that they can easily get too abstract and ambiguous. A good product vision is something that all team members understand in the same way.

To avoid the “curse of knowledge”, show the vision statement to a person outside of the team and ask how they understand it. If it coincides with what you think, the criteria are met.

2. Aligned with company goals

One can argue that the company goals are what must be aligned with product vision, but it doesn’t change much. In fact, the two must be coherent. That’s why “making the world a better place” is typically not a good mission statement.

This rule is a good reminder that a product vision must not just repeat the current company goal. If you are developing a fitness tracker app, for instance, the vision shouldn’t be “to create a great fitness tracker”. You can’t argue with this statement, true, but is it helpful..?

3. Open to changes

Many professionals would advise having a stable product vision, but we could argue with this position. Even the constitution changes sometimes, and so does the product vision. Sticking to the same no matter what means you assume you can never make a mistake. However, as the product goes through different stages of evolution, the vision must evolve, too.

Product vision must be reviewed from time to time (once every 3 to 5 years) to align it with the product development process. Strategic planning sessions are a good moment for that.

This is what makes a good product vision. Now, let’s see how to create one.

10 principles of great product vision

This is not a step-to-step guide, but rather a list of rules. Additionally, I suggest you get acquainted with the 10 principles of great product vision from Marty Cagan, author of Inspired: How to Create Tech Products Customers Love

  1. Start with why

There is a book written by Simon Sinek, whose title summarizes its plot. It tells how you should focus not on what you are doing, but on why you do it. Finding the why requires asking yourself many questions to get to the essence of the product.

  1. Focus on the problem, not on the solution

Marty Cagan uses “falling in love” here, but “focus” is quite enough. Why is it so important to think of a problem before anything else? When you are obsessed with the solution, you risk sticking to it even when it has proven to not be working. It’s like riding a dead horse.

To find the best solution, you need the courage to accept the fact that some of your ideas don’t work and abandon them. That’s why you shouldn’t be too much in love with your solution.

  1. Don’t be afraid to think big with your vision

Product vision is not a KPI. If the vision doesn’t come true in five years, it doesn’t mean that you failed. If you got a few steps closer to the vision, consider it a success.

That’s why one shouldn’t try to make vision “realistic”. If it is realistic, good, if it is a big dream, that’s fine, too.

  1. Don’t be afraid to disrupt yourself

(Or your competitors will, says Cagan). Again, it means not sticking to one solution, and leaving some room for experiments and innovations. Many successful companies create new products that compete with their own, and that’s what helps them keep up with the competitors.

  1. The product vision needs to inspire
If product vision doesn't look good on an inspirational picture, it's not a good one

It’s a joke, but only partially. The mission statement should be something that makes employees feel that their work has a greater purpose. Let’s face it, the product team’s work has many boring tasks that can decrease motivation. A vision statement must remind people what they are working for.

When a prospective employee is invited to a job interview, they see the mission statement and can immediately feel if it resonates with their values. That way, the company will get a motivated team united by something more than corporate parties.

  1. Determine and embrace relevant and meaningful trends

Even though each product has its own unique way, they all exist in a certain time and place. Success often depends on how well the product is adapted to the environment, and how it fits with the current trends. Being aware of what’s happening around is important to create an app that is well perceived by the public.

  1. Consider how things will change in the future

Or, as Marty Cagan wrote, “skate to where the puck is heading, not to where it was”. If you’re not fond of hockey references like myself, just keep in mind that the product vision is all about the future, but the world around will be different from what it is now.

Consider the trends around and try to place that vision in the world that is yet to come. Don’t worry if you can't guess in the years to come: remember, no one in 2019 could guess what turn the following year would take.

  1. Be stubborn on your vision, but flexible on the details

In other words, you can change some things, but don’t change the main idea. The rule is taken from the words of Jeff Bezos, so it’s safe to say it is more relevant to big companies. 

If you are at the beginning of your way, being flexible is natural. On the contrary, big companies are afraid to change their fundamentals, such as vision. This rule has to remind them that it’s OK to be flexible when it comes to details.

  1. Realize that any product vision is a leap of faith

Nobody knows if you will fulfill your vision and whether your vision is even good. We can judge in retrospect, but when you start formulating the vision, there is no objective measure to qualify it as good or not.

Even though we give a big piece of advice here, and even provide a product vision template, you have to be aware that it is a rather subjective matter. In the end, how well it resonates with the team will be one of the most important criteria.

  1. Evangelize continuously and relentlessly

The product vision should be communicated well. It’s often said that product vision is a “North Star” of the product. But to guide the team, it has to be visible. A common mistake is to leave it on the board after the strategic session and never get back. Don’t do that, get the most out of your product vision.

What is an example of a product vision?

In general, companies prefer sharing their mission publicly on their website, while the vision is not always that visible. Here is an example from one of our clients for whom we provided redesign services.

Gridle. Our vision is to make small businesses more efficient at managing clients

Gridle is a CRM platform that helps businesses store client information and manage sales. When they came to us for a redesign, they presented the product vision that became the North star for our designers just like it is for all their team.

This vision is short and concise. It focuses clearly on the target audience – small businesses – instead of claiming that they want to make the world a better place. It inspires employees, reminding them that their work helps small businesses owners. It also spoke to Eleken designers, since good UX design is something that can work processes more efficiently.

The result was the design that helps to automate working processes and make them as easy and fast as possible. To learn the details, read the full case study.

To sum up

Product vision principles are numerous, but to make a quick summary, here are the most important rules that will help you create an awesome product vision:

  • Dare to dream big and think of something that inspires you and the rest of the team
  • Start with why you’re doing this and what problem you want to solve
  • Always remain flexible and open to experiments

Ready to create a product vision? Check out the product vision templates!

Masha Panchenko

Writer at Eleken