How to Define an Ambitious Product Vision to Drive your Product Strategy

Using features to describe your Product Vision is like trying to convince fellow hikers to join you on an ambitious route by listing the capabilities of your boots. It explains what’s in front of you, but won’t get anybody excited about where you want to go. To avoid a disconnect between your ambitions and your user’s expectations, you need to balance internal and external inputs to collaborate with your team on Product Vision.

Written by Tim Herbig 

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Last Updated: May. 9, 2022

How to define an ambitiout Product Vision to drive your Product Strategy Article Header Graphic

As discussed in Product Vision vs. Product Strategy, Product Vision is an aspirational future state for your users. Your Product Vision should drive your Product Strategy Choices. So make sure you’ve developed a clear and actionable Product Vision. As the following diagram shows, your Product Vision will have both internal and external drivers.

The internal and external Drivers of Product Vision

The internal and external Drivers of Product Vision

Structuring your Approach

Defining your Product Vision from scratch can feel like navigating in the dark. You have to stay true to what matters to your company and the users you want to serve. And while the generic vision statements you can find on the internet look clean and straightforward, in practice they are hard to achieve.

The generic vision statements you can find on the internet look clean and straightforward. But they are hard to achieve in practice.

To be broad and impactful a Product Vision covers a lot of ground and draws on many sources. It’s helpful to start by providing structure for what you already know, so set up one or more workshops in house. Consider including tools you already use, like an Empathy Map.

Empathy Map Structure to describe the Future State for your users

Simplified Empathy Map concept to structure Product Vision creation

An Empathy Map is an effective way to structure the conversation about your users’ future needs. While it was initially developed to generate user-centered insights about current patterns, it can also illuminate future states. 

My favorite aspect of the Empathy Map is that it keeps the conversation away from features and products. It’s all about the user’s experience, desired value, and activities. This structure helps steer the (facilitated) group work in the right direction from the start.

An Empathy Map keeps the conversation away from features and products. It’s all about the user’s experience, desired value, and activities.

By encouraging participants to fill out an Empathy Map with an (aspirational) user state in mind, your discussion about your Product Vision becomes more tangible– and it will be grounded in existing user insights. The future state needn’t be too detailed, so the Empathy Map can be simplified.

Depending on the number of participants and their roles, you may want to experiment with your Product Vision workshops. But whether you split people up into groups or engage the entire group together, make sure to give individuals enough time to think and express their perspectives.

Here’s one way to set up an effective Product Vision workshop:

  • Decorate your virtual or physical workshop environment with mood boards containing inspiration for the future or quotes from recent user interactions.
  • Encourage a “together alone” way of working where there’s a couple of minutes of quiet time in which participants map out a user’s future state.
  • Compare notes and synthesize. This is the moment where the magic happens. The primary purpose of the exercise is to voice everyone’s perspectives and spark a conversation between the people who will support your Product Vision over time.

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How to define your Product Vision Statement as a Product Team

Synthesizing all the responses to the Empathy Map into a clear and coherent Product Vision is much like narrowing down the results of a general ideation session. Naturally, similar tools can come in handy.

One option is to lay out all the categories from the Empathy Map and give every team member dots for voting within every area. Pay attention to the framing of the voting. People shouldn’t just vote for their “favorite.” Use prompts like “which ideas make you most uncomfortable because of their ambition?” or “which feel almost unattainable for you?”

Input Structuring and Synthesis

Converging as a group on collected Product Vision inputs

You could also use word clouds to surface some trends and narrow down large results to a more manageable size.

After synthesizing your Empathy Map(s), start drafting your Product Vision statement. Don’t worry about the format. Concision and aspiration are far more important than the exact number of sentences or words you’re using.

And don’t get bogged down by other companies’ examples. Instead, focus on the essential ingredients of your Product Vision and use your Empathy Map insights to translate them into a statement you can get behind. Be sure to answer these questions:

  • Who are your intended users?
  • How will they behave, feel, or look in the future compared to today?
  • How will your product create this difference?
Product Vision Statement Process Structure

Defining a Product Vision Statement based on the future state Empathy Map inputs

Remember that your Product Vision should serve as an easily accessible guide. Create, disseminate, and maintain it with that in mind. 

Testing Your desired Future State

It is often productive—if risky—to test your Product Vision statement by sharing it with peers and stakeholders who were not involved in the initial drafting but are still invested in your success. However, don’t test for general approval or opinions—test for ambition, or comfort-level.

There are multiple ways you can borrow from the testing phase of Product Discovery to get additional feedback at this stage. For example:

  • Present readers with your Product Vision and use a 5-ish second test to capture ad-hoc associations.
  • Share the vision through a survey and have people rate it on a comfort-level scale to quantify their impressions.
  • Share it during an all-hands meeting. After the meeting, ask people to vote or react to it, or ask whether they would come on board to work towards that vision.

Moving Toward Product Strategy

As I’ve shown, Product Strategy patterns rely on a clearly defined Product Vision. From there, these four pillars can help you develop your Product Strategy: Idea, Values, Capabilities, and Market.

Product Strategy Core Pillars

The core pillars of Product Strategy and how they connect to Product Vision

You can start with any pillar. Ultimately, this work should reveal blind spots and potential gaps. If, for example, you’re struggling to describe your Market that could reveal a lack of clarity in your Product Vision or missing end goals (for example, IPO vs. Exit vs. Lifestyle Business vs. X).

And if, on the other hand, you’re struggling to name your (intended) offering or the needed team skills and structures to deliver them, you may have to create a deeper understanding of your users’ problems and motivations.

Fore more context on the topic of making Product Strategy Choices, check out this video from my YouTube channel:

Regardless of your workflow, your inputs from each pillar should shape your Product Strategy. Understating your Product Vision should keep you focused on existing users.

Regardless of your workflow, your inputs from each pillar should shape your Product Strategy. Understating your Product Vision should keep you focused on existing users.

This is not to say that one Product Strategy is, per se, better or more correct than the other. As so often in Product Management, considering the consequences of your choices and responding accordingly is more important than trying to get something right from the get-go.

Ambitious Product Vision Requires Creativity, Insights, and Structure

Make sure to invest the time and effort in capturing the different perspectives on your team, including your accumulated user insights ( i.e. from ongoing Product Discovery and proven Outcomes). Combine creativity and structure to develop a workflow that works for your product team. Avoid getting distracted by over-simplified templates that discourage ambition.