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Dec 16, 2021

How did we break the Product Vision Paradox?

We did it!

I am proud to say that at OCUS, we now have a Product Vision for the next three years. It may not be perfect (yet), but at least we know where we are heading, and it changes everything for Engineering.

First, let’s backup

Ten years ago, I discovered Product Management and fell in love with this new job. It brought me closer to the spirit of being an entrepreneur and building digital product.

Learning how to become the best Product Manager ten years ago was a completely different challenge than it is today. We had few peers in Paris to exchange with, very few books and newsletters around, etc. It was nothing compared to the wealth of knowledge we share with each other today.

But one thing that was already out there in the early product literature was the need to have a Product Vision.

A Product Vision is a clear description of your product’s future. It’s your goal and what you want to achieve as a company and as an engineering group in three to five years.

Creating a Product Vision is like putting your destination into a GPS so all your Engineering folks know what to work on for the next three years.

Without this direction, teams get lost and companies either scramble or go under. With a shared vision, the entire company works together toward a common goal, and a group united can accomplish incredible feats.

Product Vision paradox

So we’ve established that a Product Vision is one of the most important things to have or to build as a Product Leader, right? Then how can it be so hard to have one?

It’s because of the Product Vision Paradox. The Product Vision Paradox is simple:

Everyone agrees (including most CEOs I’ve met) that having a Product Vision is extremely important, but …

  • It’s never the right time.
  • Building new features end up taking priority over workshops about vision.
  • We have no clue how to achieve a Product Vision.

If you are a Product Leader I am sure you already face the Product Vision Paradox.

Two things helped me to break the Product Vision Paradox:

  • The marvelous OCUS team
  • An incredibly inspiring article

The inspiring Product Vision Sprint article

A few months ago, I came across this article talking about a Product Vision Sprint to create inspiring Product Vision by Kelsey Shanahan.

It was a shock to me how simple and actionable this article is. Using the focus methodology of the famous Design Sprint to achieve a Product Vision is just brilliant.

I won’t explain what Kelsey wrote—YOU ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO READ IT.


Are you sure?

Good. Now I want to provide some perspective about the exercise and a full return on experience.

Boost your preparation

Having done the exercise once, I would have spent more time working on preparing the Vision Sprint. For us, two weeks was not enough.

I would have spent more time in at least two areas:

  • Vision room
  • Finding workshop champions

Vision room is a good investment

In a company like OCUS (100+ employees, fast-growing context, …), having an up-to-date and ready vision room is a gift. It’s helpful for newcomers and current staff alike; they can always return to the room and better understand the why behind their day-to-day job.

We didn’t spend enough time preparing our vision room for the Product Vision Sprint, resulting in a lower-quality product and insufficient time for the sprint participants to review everything.

My advice: Start preparing at least a month before to have an up-to-date vision room, especially if it is your first time.

Having the best workshop champions is key

While the overall Product Vision Sprint framework is super clear, what happens each day was not so clear to me.

OCUS is a multi-persona digital service, so we decided to split daily workshops by persona and so have four groups. The core sprint team included 24 people, so it also made sense to split into smaller workshop groups to boost participation.

The downside: we need workshop champions to lead each group. I asked our Product Managers to be our workshop champions and, given the challenges I’m explaining in this article, I think they did an excellent job.

I clearly underestimated the amount of preparation and work this represented considering the Product Leader I am. I also underestimated the need to align methodology and framework before the workshops so that each group could produce similarly-structured results.

But also the need for methodology and framework alignment is required to have some common results after workshops so we don’t have to mix carrots and potatoes to create a compelling vision.

My advice: Nominate your champions early on to help you succeed this week. Work together on a complete workshop framework that is broken down by day. This will ensure you all share the same methodology and result formats should you need to split into groups.

Explore the now is easy …

I have to say that I found Day 1 – Explore the Now fairly easy but super valuable for OCUS.

People don’t have trouble explaining where they stand and describing their daily pain points. Putting that in writing is a Product Manager’s natural strength.

If you have a clear framework to document this effort—for us, a Journey Map—this is a great piece of content for your company.

It’s a day you will enjoy for sure.

My advice: Meet with your champions in the afternoon and end the day with a digestible document to share with the entire company, to sum up, the now. It’s your first Product Vision win!

Imagine the Future is extra tough

Day 2 – Imagine the Future is where we struggled most; my assumption is that it will be the same for you. OCUS, alongside several competitors, is building the future of an entire industry: Imagery. Where the industry will be in five years is not an easy thing to figure out.

For this challenge and to kick off the day, we started the day all together. Then, we followed up the work by persona in the same groups. The kickoff took longer than I anticipated; we clearly were missing some structure to run proper prospective workshops and lost a lot of time aligning on the methodology.

We ended up using the 11-star methodology from Airbnb. It’s a great methodology for envisioning the future of product experience, but at the same time, it confuses a lot of people.

We created great prospective content but with erratic formats. I had a lot of work to do in the afternoon to reunite the work.

My advice: Coming back to my previous point on champions and framework, you should use a methodology that you know and can scale. Your champions should also be trained. It’s worth doing a dry run before the sprint. I recommend doing a Story Mapping exercise of the ideal journey for your product during the dry run.

They hated Stated Vision & they loved Tangible Vision

On Wednesday, we spent a lot of time on the Stated Vision—probably too much. It’s a tough exercise for a Product Manager but a necessary one. This will bring more value than you think to your engineering group and will highlight the things that your team cares about. For us, it highlighted that our team cares about ease of use, providing value, enabling growth, ethics, and more.

For the Tangible Vision, we chose to use a “Pick your own adventure” storyboard following a great idea from our fearless Coley Woyak. As a Product Leader, the pitfall here will be to describe YOUR vision. You need to step out of your role and use the results from the previous day to feed the Tangible Vision.

My advice: Give yourself three hours tops to work on the Stated Vision. It will change a lot anyway after the stakeholder engagement in the following weeks. Pick the right format for the Tangible Vision. Make sure it is super clear and that your champions agree so they can use it as a three-year roadmap.

Be the Product Manager of the Product Vision

Thursday and Friday of the Sprint are all about stakeholders and refining the Product Vision. We finally put our Product Manager hats back on to check that our assumptions (The Product Vision) are actually validated with our stakeholders, pivoting if needed. The goal here is to check if we properly captured what teams intended to say during the workshops.

It’s a pretty straightforward step but a very long one. For us, it wasn’t finished on Friday but Monday of the week after.

My advice: Take the time you need to reflect on stakeholders feedback, but:

  • With a strict deadline so you don’t go over the week
  • Without changing the spirit of your vision or you will go back to square one
decision tree infographic

What’s next?

A Product Vision is a living organism and should evolve with time. We’ll adjust ours based on team feedback, user interviews, investor pitches, and our learned experiences. My goal is to complete a Product Vision Sprint annually to make sure that our vision stays accurate and innovative.

Now it’s your turn to read, write, and share, just like we did at OCUS! I am thrilled to know where we’re going today, and you will be, too.