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Product Vision from Day One: Must Have or Nice to Have?

Explore the balance a product manager must strike between having an early product vision and the ability to adapt that vision over time, using case studies from Apple, Slack, and Amazon to illustrate the importance of being a 'balanced visionary'.

Product Discovery
Simon Robic
Product Vision

The realm of product management is a complex world where every decision can have a profound impact on the product's trajectory. But the question remains: does a product manager need to have a strong vision from day one to build a successful product? Let's delve into this contentious topic and unravel the enigma that continues to divide opinion in the industry.

Product management has evolved into an interdisciplinary field, blending elements of business strategy, marketing, engineering, and design. In this multifaceted discipline, one of the most contentious debates is around the role of vision in shaping a product's destiny.

The Unyielding Power of an Early Vision

There are those in the industry who staunchly advocate for the importance of a solid product vision right from the inception. For these proponents, vision serves as a guiding principle that forms the foundation of the product's direction. It's seen as the bedrock upon which all strategic decisions are based.

Consider the story of Apple, a company that has etched its name into the annals of history thanks to the unwavering vision of its charismatic leader, Steve Jobs. Jobs' vision of creating a user-friendly computer for the masses steered the company's efforts, leading to pioneering products like the iPhone and iPad.

Jobs' vision was not an afterthought; it was the cornerstone of Apple's product strategy from the very beginning. The success of Apple is a testament to the power of early vision in shaping a product's trajectory, illustrating how it can inspire teams, attract investors, and resonate with customers.

The Uncharted Potential of an Evolutionary Vision

However, an alternate school of thought believes in the potential of an evolutionary vision. According to this perspective, a rigid early vision could potentially box a product manager in, limiting their ability to adapt and respond effectively to the ever-changing market dynamics.

This belief is exemplified by the journey of Slack, a company that emerged from the ashes of a failed video game project. Stewart Butterfield, the founder of Slack, initially intended to build a multiplayer game, but the project didn't take off. However, the team didn't let their initial vision blind them from recognizing an opportunity in their internal communication tool. They adapted their vision, pivoted, and the rest is history.

The evolution of Slack is a compelling argument for the merits of an adaptive vision. It's a testament to the potential of a product manager who is not bound by an early vision but can adapt it based on insights and experiences.

Product vision examples : Balancing Vision and Agility in Product Management

Having explored the contrasting perspectives, it seems that the answer doesn't lie at the extremes but rather in a balanced approach.

A product manager needs to start with a broad vision. It's important to have a north star to guide the product's direction, but it's equally crucial that this vision isn't set in stone. Instead, it should be flexible, adaptable, and responsive to market feedback and changes.

Amazon vision

Amazon's journey is a classic example of this balance in action. The company started with the vision of becoming the biggest online bookstore, but soon expanded its vision to include anything and everything that a customer might want to buy online. This broader vision of being 'the Earth's most customer-centric company' has allowed Amazon to venture into diverse sectors and consistently deliver value to its customers.

Product Vision - Amazon

The Emergence of the Balanced Visionary: A New Breed of Product Manager

In conclusion, the debate isn't about whether a product manager needs a vision from day one. Instead, it's about what kind of vision they should have. A product manager needs to be a 'balanced visionary' - someone who starts with a vision but is also prepared to adapt, evolve, and expand it based on insights, feedback, and market trends.

As a balanced visionary, a product manager acknowledges that the journey of building a product is rarely a straight path. It involves detours, roadblocks, and course corrections. They realize that building a product isn't about sticking to the script, but about being agile and responsive enough to rewrite it as the situation demands.

And in this constant dance of vision and adaptability, a product manager doesn't merely build a product; they orchestrate a symphony of user satisfaction, business value, and market relevance. This symphony might start with a vision, but its melody is defined by the conductor's ability to adapt to the changing rhythms of the market.

Hence, the key to building a great product doesn't lie solely in having a strong vision from day one but in being a balanced visionary - someone who can harmonize the forces of vision and agility in their product management odyssey.

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