Product Vision vs. Product Strategy: What‘s the Difference?
Product teams often lump together terms like vision, mission, strategy, and values. Maybe they don’t know the difference. Maybe their management, company, peers, and stakeholders want them to “get to work” and “produce results” fast.
These teams have forgotten the value of vision-driven strategy in favor of quick wins and boilerplate tools and processes. It’s tempting to download generic templates from the web, but filling in the blanks and checking off boxes won’t cut it. You’ll end up with incremental changes instead of higher impact results. In this article, I’ll clearly differentiate Product Strategy and Product Vision and show how they relate to each other.
Reading Time: 4 minutes
Last Updated: Feb. 28, 2022
If you understand the difference between Product Vision and Product Strategy you can use Product Vision to help drive bold choices in Product Strategy. Jeff Bezos’ famous quote on being “stubborn on vision, but flexible on details” is only useful if you have created and committed to a Product Vision that’s worth reaching for.
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What’s the Difference between Product Vision and Product Strategy?
Differentiating Product Vision from Product Strategy is not just about semantics but about the impact each element has on a team’s way of working. These terms are hard to put into a one-size-fits-all box, but they can be clearly distinguished.
The main difference between Product Vision and Product Strategy is that Product Vision describes the future state for your users, which emerges from the value provided by your product, while Product Strategy is about the set of choices you need to achieve your Product Vision.
A Product Vision describes the future state for your users, which emerges from the value provided by your product. It’s a big, aspirational goal: it should inspire others and, at the same time, be the foundation for your Product Strategy Choices. In short, a Product Vision defines where you are going.
A Product Strategy outlines the most promising direction for reaching that future state. For example, which problems will you solve? Who will use your product? Which business objectives will you aim for? In short, a Product Strategy defines how you will get there.
In other words, Product Strategy describes the set of choices needed to achieve your Product Vision.
How Product Vision and Product Strategy compare side by side
Some people have argued for further differentiating Company Vision and Product Vision. But getting into the nuances of that would go beyond this article. Besides, there are good reasons for product-first companies not to differentiate them. Depending on your company’s size, team slicing, and complexity, your Product Vision will vary in scope, scale, time horizon, and risk-level.
For a more visual differentiation of Product Vision vs. Product Strategy, check out this in-depth video from my YouTube channel:
Which Comes First?
Product development is a dynamic process. This chart shows how Product Vision and Product Strategy relate to other core domains of Product Management like Product Discovery or Product Management OKRs.
How ambitions like Product Vision and Product Strategy connect to tactics like OKRs or Product Discovery
So, which comes first: Strategy or Vision? These relationships must flow in both directions: just as Product Strategy and Vision must trickle down, insights and learnings from Discovery and Delivery must also trickle up.
But even before you start shaping any of the other Product Strategy patterns, your initial Product Vision probably relies on some kind of user insights. Start there. Envisioning a user-centered future and delivering value that leads users towards that future should be key to your Product Vision and then inform your Product Strategy.
The relationships between ambitions and tactics must flow in both directions: just as Product Strategy and Vision must trickle down, insights and learnings from Discovery and Delivery must also trickle up.
Without real insights and first-hand knowledge about the market you want to play in and the users you want to serve, your Product Vision about the future lacks grounding. If your Product Vision isn’t based on your users’ experiences your features and business goals will be disconnected.
Remember, you can’t create a truly user-centered Product Vision in a vacuum, or copy it from another company. It depends on discovering and valuing your users’ needs.
How Can Product Vision Help with Product Strategy?
This chart outlines some of the ways different Product Visions can generate different Product Strategies. By “low-key,” I mean visions and strategies that stay close to the status quo. By “ambitious,” I mean more disruptive visions and strategies that change the status quo. Neither path is right or wrong. Your choices will depend on your own product, company, marketplace, and tolerance for risk.
Product Vision can help drive the scale and scope of Product Strategy, whether it is low-key or ambitious.
Another influence comes in the form of the North Star Metric, which acts as the quantified sibling of the Product Vision. By treating it as an input of your Product Strategy, you can connect long-term value metrics with quarterly execution metrics like OKRs.
Connecting the Dots Instead of Filing in the Blanks
But how can you develop the best user-centered Product Vision to drive the best strategy for your product? That’s what I explore in How to Define an Ambitious Product Vision to Drive your Product Strategy. Continue reading for more hands-on guidance on your next steps.