No One Has a Vision for Your Product — Now What?
September 25, 2018

No One Has a Vision for Your Product — Now What?

by Brian de Haaff

“Why are we building this?” This is a painful question for product managers. Maybe you have mumbled it when sales pushed through a new feature to close a deal. Or when leadership decided to pivot plans based on one big, angry customer. The reason for your “what are we even doing” inner monologue — there is no clear vision for what you should and should not invest in.

Leading product without a clear vision is like walking through a foreign city without a map. You might be moving, but you are going nowhere.

Let’s start here: What is a vision, exactly? Product vision is where you want to take your product and why that is important. Knowing this helps you make the right decisions for your product. You cannot build anything great without knowing why you are building it.

For example, our vision at Aha! is to help teams build lovable products and be happy doing it. If a new feature idea does not help us achieve that for our customers, we can be decisive when we say no to working on it.

But I know that many of you are working on products that do not have this kind of clarity. Maybe the vision is ever-changing, painfully vague, or simply nonexistent. Maybe leaders are so focused on the nuts and bolts of the product that they do not have mental space to think at a more strategic level. Or maybe you work in a company where there are conflicting strategies depending on where you operate in the business.

How can you tell? Here are the signs there is no clear vision for your product:

Shifting strategy Product strategy has become a moving target. Just when you think you have a solid plan and are working hard to accomplish it — the shift happens. Leadership wants to pivot plans and go in a new direction. The initiative that was business-critical last week? Just got mothballed. You and the team keep having to start over again and again.

Wasted time Of course, there is a lot of time spent in meetings. You talk about plans that never materialize. The team ends up throwing away months of work and adjusting to the new direction. Sometimes you wonder if leadership understands how much work this takes — changing key components like the next feature set, instructional content, and marketing messages. Any velocity you once had now feels like a hazy memory.

Cross-functional conflict It is getting harder and harder to collaborate across the product team — people are retreating to their separate corners. You might hear rumors that the sales team is bypassing product and going straight to development with their requests. Or that marketing is working on a product launch campaign behind closed doors. Without a core direction to rally around, teams are simply not aligned.

Poor customer growth You have read the data and seen the unhappy faces of executives: sales are down. Is it any surprise? No one is clear on the target market — the people you are supposed to be building solutions for. So, it has become difficult to build what people want to buy. Everyone is frustrated.

Revolving leaders With sales down, you can bet a new leader will soon be walking in the door. This seems to happen every couple of quarters or so. Each new leader promises a new strategy that is sure to “move the needle.” But it is hard to be optimistic when you know exactly where this is going. All the signs mentioned above? Simply rinse and repeat.

The signs are clear — there is no vision for your product. But this does not have to be the end of the story.

As a product manager, you can be part of leading a change. Start by having honest conversations with your boss. Share how the lack of vision is hurting the team and suggest a few distilled vision statements that you think would galvanize the team and present the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Then, go talk with your product team and get their thoughts. The statement should be simple and make it easy to understand what is a priority and what is not.

After all, you became a product manager because you wanted to build and create value for customers. The only way to do that is to have a vision for where your product is going.

Do you have a clear vision for your product? Can you define it in one sentence?

Brian de Haaff

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability and The Startup Adventure newsletter. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the journey of pursuing a meaningful life.

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