Can’t See the Future without a Vision

I recently worked with a team which constantly asked for the product vision. Leadership happily provided it and held several group sessions to do so. While Leadership was reveling in their ability to accommodate the request of the team members and demonstrate their servant leadership, the team members where huddled around privately complaining how leadership presented a strategy and not a vision. This cycle of presenting a strategy rather than a vision by leadership went on for months finally resulting in both sides getting very frustrated with one another. Despite the Leadership’s efforts to provide a vision to the teams, the team members were still at a loss for what they were trying to build.

Leadership was angry because they didn’t understand why teams weren’t getting it. The team members were angry because Leadership wasn’t getting what the team wanted. Does this situation sound familiar? Vision and strategy often collide where one is thought to be the other. A strategy is high level and explains how you plan to execute or realize the vision. The vision is the REASON behind the product such as “I want to promote teenage health” or “I want at risk kids to believe they have a chance to go to college”.

Teams need a vision so they know how to proceed forward and to feel confident they are making the right decisions at a lower level to support the future vision for the product. When the vision is sketchy and a bit muddled, the possibilities are endless so they wander around wondering which one to shoot for. Teams need clear direction on which possibility they need to strive for. You can imagine if someone came to you and said, “Build devices to transport people anywhere” how difficult it would be to know where to begin. You may understand the importance and why but you don’t know the ultimate vision. Is the vision to capture the outer-space market? That may require some expensive equipment, materials and specific skill sets. Or is the vision to make travel on earth easier?

A vision should create a picture and ignite emotion and excitement. For example, “Our vision is to disrupt the transportation industry and allow people to travel instantaneously without the need of an automobile or plane.” What vision did you just create in your mind? Was it the same as the one you thought of when you read the vision of building devices to transport people anywhere? Which one created more emotion, excitement? Without a vision of what the future will look like, strategies, roadmaps and business value means nothing to teams building your product.

If you’re a Product Manager and you want your teams to understand your vision and get behind it, ask them what they are looking for in a vision. Translate your existing vision if necessary so they understand it and can get excited about it.  It’s much easier to build products when you have an idea of what the future of the product may be. Don’t underestimate a good vision and its impact. Also don’t confuse vision with strategy. Remember, your vision is the foundation that supports the future. When people can embrace and see the vision in their minds ideas, thoughts and enthusiasm flow effortlessly.

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