What a Clear Product Vision Looks Like

Gift Giving

Photo Credit: asenat29 on Flickr

On Thursday, we outlined the 9 components of a clear vision. Let’s put it into action and look at an example.

A couple of years ago, I worked on a side project called GratiGrams. I had, and still have, a strong vision for it. Because it’s a personal project (and I don’t have to worry about sharing someone else’s secrets), we’ll use it as a an example of how to clarify your vision.

Let’s take a look.

1. An Inspiring Vision Statement

My vision for GratiGrams is to help people do two things 1) develop a habit of gratitude and 2) see themselves the way that others see them.

There is plenty of research that shows that if you develop a daily habit of gratitude you’ll be happier. Therapists often prescribe gratitude journals to depressed or anxious patients. If you aren’t familiar with gratitude journals, you simply log five things you are grateful for each day.

It’s a simple change that leads to profound results. But most people don’t keep gratitude journals. On a day to day basis, they don’t seem that important. I want to change this.

As for the second part, we all know that we are often our own worst critics. We are harder on ourselves than we would ever imagine being on anyone else.

If only we could see ourselves the way that others see us. If only we could get a glimpse of how we impacted the world around us.

Perhaps we’d be a little kinder to ourselves.

2. A Strong Mission Statement

Armed with the where and the why, I set out to define the who, the what, and the how.

I wanted to help anybody who wanted to develop a habit of gratitude. But that might only be five or six people. Maybe more now as positive psychology research becomes trendy.

Really, I want to help spread the habit without people having to know about the research.

So I asked myself, why don’t people use gratitude journals. Some simply don’t know about them or their benefits. But I also realized that developing a habit of gratitude on your own is hard. In the beginning it feels awkward. You might even be too embarrassed to do it.

On top of that, when you first start, it might not seem like it’s going to have an impact. When you go for a run, you know that if you keep doing it, you’ll get fit. But with gratitude, most of us haven’t had the experience of a consistent habit before, so we are taking a leap of faith when we start.

I wanted to overcome all of this and make the first experience amazing so that people would keep doing it.

This need drove my how and my what. I realized that sharing appreciation for someone with that someone is a form of gratitude. If I tell you what I appreciate about you, I’m expressing my gratitude for you. And to you, it feels like a gift. Who doesn’t want to hear what others appreciate about them?

And it feels amazing. For both parties. The very first time.

Hence GratiGrams was born.

With the mission of spreading gratitude by encouraging people to share what they appreciate about each other with each other.

This mission also influenced my vision. i started out by wanting to help people develop a habit of gratitude. But as soon as I identified the how and the what of expressing gratitude by sharing appreciation, I realized that it also had the added benefit of helping people to see themselves the way that other people do.

Over time, this became a really important part of the vision. Even if I had discovered a better way of developing a habit of gratitude, if it didn’t also hit on this second part of the vision, I probably wouldn’t have been as interested in pursing the idea.

It’s not unusual for a vision and mission to co-evolve, particularly in the early days.

3. Core Values That Differentiate

Gratitude is a core value for me. And this product came about because I wanted to build products that were an expression of my own values.

So gratitude is an obvious one.

Sharing is another one. I didn’t want to just create a gratitude journal that you kept to yourself. I wanted to encourage people to share gratitude with each other.

Authenticity is another one. The last thing I want is to encourage people to brown-nose or flatter people just for the sake of flattery. I focused on helping people construct specific, meaningful feedback that expressed their genuine gratitude.

Each of these values shaped how I decided what to build.

4. Know Your Audience Better Than Anyone Else

I never picked a niche. And this is probably why this continues to just be a side project and not something more.

If I were to get serious about this project, there are a lot of paths I could take.

I could focus on people who suffer from depression or anxiety.

I could integrate with Facebook and focus on spreading the habit through circles of friends.

I could focus on founders who are going through tough times to help them stay in touch with their original vision and maintain a habit of gratitude for their team.

Regardless of where I focused, I would need to learn as much as possible about that audience.

These are some of the things I would want to know:

  • when do people naturally feel gratitude?
  • where are they?
  • what type of device do they have access to?
  • do they have internet access?
  • what are the barriers to sharing appreciation?
  • what is the risk in sharing appreciation?
  • what triggers throughout their day could be used to attach a habit of gratitude?

And so much more.

5. Define Explicit Guiding Principles 

I find that guiding principles start to become apparent as you build your solution. But it’s even better if you can identify them ahead of time.

With GratiGrams, right off the bat, I had the following guiding principles:

  • Sharing gratitude is good for people.
  • Expressing appreciation takes vulnerability. It makes both the giver and the receiver uncomfortable in the moment.
  • And it’s a remarkable feeling after the discomfort passes.
  • Appreciation is best shared if it’s specific, includes how you feel, and explains why.

These are all things that I held to be true and they guided my development.

I knew that sharing appreciation face-to-face can be awkward. Most of us don’t know how to graciously accept compliments. Sharing specific, meaningful appreciation requires being vulnerable.

One of my earliest hypotheses was that creating an asynchronous experience that encouraged people to share appreciation would alleviate some of this discomfort.

Similarly, I knew that in order for it to be meaningful, the appreciation needed to be specific, include feeling, and explain the why. I spent a lot of time designing the user experience to drive these behaviors.

It’s pretty easy to imagine that I might get to a point where I want to increase the number of GratiGrams sent. I would naturally want to make it as easy as possible to send a GratiGram. But because I’ve outlined meaningful feedback as a guiding principle, my optimization efforts would have to take this as a constraint. I couldn’t make changes that risked the quality of the feedback.

This may seem obvious. But when you get focused on optimizing around a single goal, it can be easy to forget the constraints. Outlining your guiding principles can help keep them top of my mind.

6. Be Clear About Your User Experience Metaphor

The metaphor that I relied upon the most was that of gift-giving. I wanted sharing gratitude to be treated like a remarkable gift.

I wanted to create special moments that would be remembered.

We give gifts on special occasions. We give gifts to people we care about.

It feels good to give a gift. It feels good to get a gift.

Gift giving can lose some of it’s appeal when it feels mandatory or forced.

These were all elements that guided my development.

I also drew on the analogy of a telegram. And really wanted to create the opposite of a nastygram. Hence the name GratiGram.

I liked the idea of getting a personal message full of gratitude that I could treasure and read on my own time. I was relying on the asynchronous nature of this type of communication to remove some of the discomfort of sharing appreciation.

This guided me to consider things like the length of the message, whether or not they should be public or private, how long to keep them around, and much more.

And finally, because I wanted to help people see themselves the way that other people saw them, I wanted to help people collect these moments in a place where they were always visible (to them, if not to others) so that in moments of need they had a great resource to engage with. For this need, I relied upon a pin board metaphor.

I imagined a cork board hanging in your kitchen or your office littered with appreciation. How great would it be if at any time you needed a pick-me-up, you could just glance up and see all the things that people appreciated about you. This became a central part of the user experience.

7. Define What You Would Never Do

As I gained clarity around what GratiGrams was and wasn’t, I started to learn what I would never do.

It became clear pretty early on that people were sharing some pretty personal experiences. I had to be pretty serious about privacy from the get go. I toyed with the idea of creating public GratiGrams, but decided against it, to encourage these amazingly personal moments instead.

Similarly, because I thought of sharing gratitude as a gift, it limited how I wanted to monetize the service. I wanted to encourage people to share appreciation and I wanted it to be a remarkably special moment. As a result, I decided that I would never monetize the transaction itself, the sending of a GratiGram.

I also wanted the service to feel personal. I wanted each GratiGram to be about you specifically. I wanted to focus on remarkable moments. So I decided to focus on one-to-one messaging rather than group messaging or broadcasts.

8. Outline a Business Model

While this product has primarily been a hobby for me (hence, why I can share so much of the vision publicly), I have thought about how I could turn it into a business.

As mentioned in the last section, because I want to encourage the gift of sharing appreciation, I don’t want to monetize in a way that would discourage that.

But the gift metaphor does suggest some potential business models. Could GratiGrams be turned into physical artifacts that could be sold? The photo sharing sites that sell greetings cards, photo books, posters, coffee mugs, etc. all come to mind.

A business model certainly wasn’t a priority for me. I simply thought the world needed GratiGrams. But even so, I did think about how a business model might work. I even created a business model canvas for it.

9. Know What Success Looks Like and How You’ll Measure It

And finally, I knew from the very beginning what success looked like, and from day one I measured success according to it.

I wanted to encourage people to share appreciation. I wanted to create remarkable moments. - Tweet This

I thought that if someone received a GratiGram, if it truly was a remarkable moment, they would feel compelled to pass it on. To share their own GraitGram with someone else they appreciated.

So rather than measuring how many GratiGrams were sent – a measure that I singlehandedly could have gamed – I measured how many people who received a GratiGram followed up by sending one of their own.

It was a great measure, as it kept me focused on creating remarkable moments.

A Clear Vision Guides Success

You can see even with a side project, there are benefits to outlining a clear vision. If I were to recruit some friends to help me work on this project, I could share this blog post with them and they’d come up to speed so much faster than if I tried to impart this knowledge on them piecemeal.

And yet, on many much larger teams, we do just that. We rely on everyone to just figure it out.

What would it look like if everyone knew where you were headed and why? Do you have questions about how to define a clear vision? Please share your experience in the comments.

On Thursday, we’ll look at why most teams don’t take the time to define a clear vision and what you can do about it. Don’t miss it, be sure to subscribe to my mailing list.

Comments

  1. avatarGretchen B. says

    Hi Teresa, I love your example of a product vision. I think there is frequently a confusion between Vision, Roadmap and Release Plan (I see this when executives ask their product managers to provide them a Roadmap; they are delivered a Vision when they really wanted a Release Plan :-) My question is how to best communicate vision to key customers in a way that will squelch Sales request to communicate a release plan. Would you do this with a statement of direction?

    • avatarTeresa Torres says

      Gretchen, you raise a good point. I think many people (who aren’t in product) assume that building products is a predictable process. That you can outline a project schedule of what you’ll build when and that you can put a date on success. It’s the classic step 1: do x, step 2: do y, step: 3 profit.

      Unfortunately, it simply doesn’t work that way. When executives ask for a roadmap, what they are usually asking for is for certainty in an uncertain world. This is exactly why I’m not a big fan of roadmaps. Instead, I prefer to focus on a process of exploration and discovery. Here’s what we know. Here’s where we want to go. Here’s how we’ll experiment to get there. Rather than here’s what we build.

      I find that if communicated correctly, customers are open to this as well. Most people know this stuff is unpredictable. They just want it to be otherwise.

      But both executives and customers will respond better to a clear expression of uncertainty couple with clear direction than to a roadmap with deadlines that you miss over and over again.

      I’ll be writing more about roadmaps and communication in the coming weeks.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment and raising such a great question!

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