Creating a Useful Product Vision

Mark Haseltine

General Manager at Teachable



One of the most important parts of a company strategy is a product vision that supports that strategy. What is a product vision? The definition varies depending on who is asking, but in my mind it is the North Star for your product organization that points everyone in the direction of what you want to achieve. It is a motivational artifact that tells the company what the product will be when it is “done” -- not that products are ever actually done. It tells a story of how we are leveraging our unique capabilities to create a compelling product that solves real customer problems.

A product vision should not be confused with the company mission. When I worked at the online education company edX, our high level mission was “Quality Education for Everyone, Everywhere”. That is a very broad view of what the world will look like when we are successful at some point in the future. It is not a product vision that we can align the teams around, and it led to a set of teams going in different directions. It was important for us to have the difficult conversations we needed to reach consensus on a product vision that will lead to the best possible outcomes for our customers.

The product vision will have a huge impact on your organization. If done right, it will inspire your employees, help recruit/screen new hires, drive your detailed roadmap, inform your technical architecture, etc. It is very important to get right.

Actions taken

We spent time discussing/debating our product vision as a group, and then testing out the effectiveness of it in various situations. We considered a number of options before landing on a vision that encompassed many of the key aspects of what we believed. For example at edX, our vision included prioritizing programs of courses geared toward career outcomes over individual lifestyle courses.

We were careful not to confuse our product vision with a product roadmap. Roadmaps take various forms but generally end up being lists of features. Lists of features are not inspirational or motivational. We want to incent our employees to deliver on the vision by giving them a view of where we are going to be which is more than the sum of a set of features.

We kept our product vision short and straightforward so that it was easy to communicate and understand. We held firm to the purpose behind creating the vision to ensure it was delivering on the goal of empowering teams to make decisions and move more quickly toward results. Although it may take a few iterations to get there, a product vision is undoubtedly worth the investment.

Lessons learned

  • Make sure everyone understands the purpose behind a product vision and how it will be used. Don’t confuse it with the company mission, product roadmap or other statements. Be clear about what it is, and what it is not.
  • Employees will provide feedback about a lack of product vision, especially if you do not have a good one. Take this feedback seriously and channel their energy appropriately.
  • You will know it is time to create a product vision when you need to align teams in a common direction. When people start asking: What is all this work leading up to?

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Mark Haseltine

General Manager at Teachable

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