Of course, you should define a strong vision. Every company should have a clearly defined vision, mission, core values, and so on. Every company should know who they are and who they aren’t.
And yet, most product teams don’t take the time to define a clear vision.
Why is that?
Reason #1: It’s not clear whose job it is.
First, it’s not always clear whose job it is. You might be thinking to yourself, “Shouldn’t our founder or CEO be doing this stuff?”
That is a great question. And the vast majority of the time you will be right. But many companies struggle because they don’t have a strong vision. Instead, they wander.
Even in the companies where there is a strong founder or CEO driving the vision, you have to ask yourself, is it written down? Is it explicit? Is there a document that everyone can reference?
Product teams spend a lot of time responding to feature requests or needs that fall outside of the vision (explicit or implicit). When the vision isn’t clear, it can feel like the product team is arbitrarily saying yes or no to things.
One of the most common struggles of product teams is they have a hard time explaining to the rest of the organization why some things get built and others don’t. This is the result of not having a clear vision that has been communicated to the entire organization.
So even if someone else (like a founder or CEO) is driving the vision, the product team benefits tremendously from going through the exercise of actually documenting it.
Reason #2: It requires saying no.
People generally don’t like to say no. We like to keep our options open. We might do that some day. We like to leave the door open.
By definition, defining a clear vision is going to mean saying no and closing a lot of doors. It’s going to be uncomfortable.
But not nearly as uncomfortable as having to close every door because you weren’t willing to commit to one. It’s hard enough to do one thing well. Don’t try to do several things well.
Companies succeed by doing things that make them uncomfortable.
Take the time to say no to many things so that you can rock the things you say yes to. – Tweet This
Reason #3: It doesn’t feel like work.
Writing user stories and triaging bugs feels like work.
Sitting around talking about values and metaphors feels like kindergarten.
But if you don’t know where you are going, it doesn’t matter how fast you get there. It may feel counterintuitive, but take a moment, slow down, and define your vision. You’ll move a hell of a lot faster after doing so. And this time in the right direction.
Reason #4: It takes too much time.
This is just a variation on the previous reason.
I know you are busy. You’ve got six meetings on your schedule today. You’ve got 100 bugs to triage. You have engineers sitting waiting for work.
Let them sit. Engineers can always find things to work on.
Taking the time to define who you are and who you aren’t will save you eons in the future. It isn’t even close. This is the highest impact activity you can do to simplify your life in the future.
Stop saying you’ll do it tomorrow. Tomorrow is today. Stop what you are doing right now and start outlining your vision.
Reason #5: Why bother? Nobody else will read it.
You are probably right. Nobody else will read your vision document. Nobody else is going to know it nearly as well as you do. And that’s okay.
You’ll read it. You can make your team read it.
And as long as you start living by it, it doesn’t really matter who else reads it. It will start to permeate the organization as it permeates your product.
And the more you reference it as the reason why you’ll build some things and not other things, more people will start to care. And they might just go and read it.
But that’s not the point. Don’t worry about selling your vision document; just make it happen.
It’s hard to do that when you don’t know what it is. So put it down on paper.
Okay, I get it. How do I get started?
Go back and read about the 9 components. If you need help getting started, share your questions in the comments below. I’ll read every one.
In the coming weeks, I’ll be hosting a Q&A session for my email subscribers answering your specific questions about defining a clear product vision. Sign up for my newsletter to make sure you don’t miss out.