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Your success as a product manager is pinned directly to the positive contributions to the firm’s bottom line. That means, your product’s business needs to hit the target in the market and fulfill your commitment to the bottom line of the company. Successful products begin life with a spark of inspiration and a vision.
According to research done by my firm, Sequent Learning Networks, almost all leaders expect product managers to create a future vision for their product; a vision of what they want to see for their product’s business as some point in the future. Vision is, considered a non-negotiable for a CEO, and is often non-negotiable for a product manager.
Unfortunately, when we ask product managers to explain their vision, it’s usually nebulous and without sufficient grit to get any traction in the company. To be blunt, a majority of the ones we hear when we’re interviewing product people are just bland and meaningless. Being a leading solutions provider, or striving for excellence, or being number one just doesn’t cut it.
In all my years of being a Product Management leader and in all my experience working with my clients, conveying—or trying to convey—the importance of vision is often quite frustrating. One reason is that not all product managers have the innate sense of a vision for the product. If you inherit a product (most of us do), vision isn’t a genetic transplant. So, if you are a newer product manager or if you’ve inherited the product, it’s likely that you may not “see” that vision right away.
Vision stems from passion for an idea, a cause, a goal. Think of Richard Branson’s Virgin Group or the legacy of Steve Jobs at Apple. Think of Steven Haines (me) and his (my) vision to professionalize Product Management. To me, vision is the dream you have for your product or business.
But what do you do if you aren’t a mystic visionary? As an alternative, picture your product as realistically as you can and try to answer this question: In two or three years, if you needed an industry analyst to portray your product, or if you wanted a customer to write the most incredible testimonial about the product, what would you want them to say?
Or try this: Think about all of the product’s virtues. List how its use makes life or business better. List any other positives you can think of. Use this method to articulate your vision when it isn’t passionately engraved in your heart. And, remember, not every product can inspire passion, and some temperaments don’t access emotion easily.
Based on my experience with thousands of product managers in my workshops and working with hundreds of my executive-level clients, I have learned that cultivating product vision can be difficult because by its very nature it defies definition. After wondering how to help those who have trouble developing vision, I came up with these exercises. People learn to list their good qualities when they can’t envision themselves realistically, and it works for a product as well. Continue to maintain a deep sense of where you want to take your product, new or otherwise, and that force that will help you drive your product and establish your position of leadership.
Another secret to innovative future product success resides in your effort to uncover problems customers don’t know of, or in solving problems with resourcefulness and creativity. However, creativity and innovation are not available on demand. Your work to continually understand the customer’s world and their evolving, shifting needs provides a continuous supply of fuel for clarifying and re-clarifying (aka “editing”) your product’s vision. Before you know it, you’ll “see” the future in ways you never imagined.
If you’d like to learn more about how to create a vision and strategy for your product, consider Sequent’s online, on-demand Product Strategy Workshop or Sequent’s live, instructor-led Product Strategy and Roadmapping program designed for training your team .
Oh – and don’t forget to pick up a copy of my book, The Product Manager’s Survival Guide, 2e!