Why Vision First?

Why Vision First?

There are many great ideas; but also many that never get off the cocktail napkin. Why is that? Could it be that product teams don’t ‘get’ the idea?

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Building a technical product is not terribly different from building other products. Let’s take a house for example. To begin, we need to take some time to answer the ‘Why’ questions, before getting to the ‘How’ and ‘What’ questions. Why, as noted by Simon Sinek, in his book, 'Start with Why - How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to take Action’, is really your most important first step, decision and way forward. Why goes to the emotional root of what ties us to a product or service that we, as consumers, are interested in spending our time and money on.

Let’s go back to building a house. Before buying a lot, engaging a builder and architect and digging footings, you fundamentally must assess and tap into your desires and define the house so you are emotionally tied to it before building it. Without this step, you may never be happy.

What in a home moves you? Is it the style; the kitchen; the master suite; the finishes; the sound / entertainment systems or activity amenities such as a gym, pool or spa? You need to understand your desires before you get to how your are going to build your dream home. Plus, going through this process is the fundamental base of the plan you will eventually follow to get exactly what you want.

This is a great place to start with your product team. Defining the vision before jumping in and directing a team of people toward what you are building is critical. There are a number of approaches to this process, but one that I’ve come to utilize consists of a good deal of socialization before building the team. Socialization of the idea should include some potential team members. Other stakeholders should also be included. These may include associates from work or your industry group; clients or potential target customers. Gathering stakeholder feedback of your idea will help solidify your vision before fully staffing up the team.

My goal with stakeholder ideation is to build a solid product vision, guiding principles or manifesto to better guide the team toward my end goal. Doing so from inception clears a good number of hurdles as you bring your team in to begin product design. I strive to simplify the product vision down to 5 or 10 key elements to keep the eventual team centered on building the best product.

I was recently asked to lead the development of the next version of a long standing product which had not been significantly updated for 6 years. Over this time period a great deal had changed in the industry. Our concentration would be almost exclusively on our user’s experience. Knowing this, my stakeholder group knew we had to make a big impact. We also knew that our work was to build a new foundation for the future of the product. We discussed many concepts and eventually settled on a group of guiding principles which included ease of use of the product through disciplined focus on the user experience; expanding the product's reach through a modernized mobile philosophy; and opening product access through broadened APIs.

While these concepts were high level, going through this process helped the team better understand the overall vision from inception. We ultimately delivered a beautiful and easy to use product that is accessible on every popular browser and virtually any mobile device used in business today.

When beginning your next initiative, always start with ‘Why’, well before you get to ‘What’. Seek out and share your idea and concepts with trusted, knowledgable stakeholders. Finally, build your vision in such a way that your product development team can always go back to it to resolve conflict when challenged during the throws of development.

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This article was originally created and posted on LinkedIn on February 19, 2015