Product Vision and Corporate Culture

What's the product opportunity?I was chatting with an old colleague the other day; he was describing a company that he has been doing some work with.  In it, every time employees identified an problem their response was to look at how their processes and procedures needed improving in order to stop that problem happening again.  Oh dear we lamented; not only is that not a fun organisation to work in, but they literally become ossified by rules and regulations.

How much better it is when such an organisation has a really positive culture.  Then the employees don’t need lots of rules to define what they do and don’t do because the culture makes it clear what their objectives should be (e.g. “ensure customer satisfaction”) and how to resolve any problems (e.g. “we just get on the phone and figure out how to solve it together”).

Carl Knibbs recently wrote a post “Communicating Your Product Vision” about the importance high-definition visuals in getting product vision across.  In it he wrote, as an aside; “I am less and less convinced by long lists of requirements”.

That made me think how those long lists of requirements are like the rules in a broken corporate culture; if it is clear to people what they are trying to achieve and how they should work to that end, there is no need for them.

So how do we paint that vision of our new product?  Well Carl is dead right that visuals certainly help and are a focus for discussion.  Add clear personas of believable customers that you can talk about, and some convincing stories of what their situations and needs are.  I’d add photos that might stimulate thought and discussion.  Given all that, we should not have to define every requirement in immense detail because the overall objectives are clear and smart employees will figure out how best to fulfill them.  Maybe they’ll do so better than we would.

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4 Responses to Product Vision and Corporate Culture

  1. Carl says:

    Interesting post Chris. I particularly like “we should not have to define every requirement in immense detail because the overall objectives are clear and smart employees will figure out how best to fulfill them. Maybe they’ll do so better than we would.”

    I think this is the crux of it. If you go to the trouble and financial commitment of hiring the right people, you need to trust and empower them to work out this stuff out for you.

  2. Chris says:

    Thanks Carl. Yes, hiring the right people… that is so important. I mused on some different approaches here: enjoy!

  3. Andy Ballingall says:

    Though running the risk of making a point which itself contains a list (!), two things which have helped efforts I’ve been associated with deliver great products are:

    a) Starting by imagining people using your product on a daily basis .

    b) Having the creative flexibility and freedom to put together a prototype which works towards that vision, even though the primary benefit of this prototype may in the end only be to understand more fully the challenge ahead.

    The first of these requires imagination, and the second of these requires faith in the right solution being found even though you don’t yet know what it’ll be. These two elements are often lacking in corporate culture.

    One of the problems with well specified long lists of requirements being set at the start and adhered to religiously is that very often, you simply aren’t in a position to be an expert on what the right requirements are in all but a vague form.

    The world is littered with solutions whose development was rigorously executed with little regard to lessons learned on the journey, and which as a consqequence faithfully reflect the partial ignorance about the challenge held by he team at the outset.

    None of this helps when you need things done by a specific time, but reality often kicks in anyway when an unrealistic schedule yields an unsellable product.

    (Does any of this make sense?)


    • Chris says:

      Thanks Andy, it makes a lot of sense to me.
      I think the major problem about creating a truly new product is that you can’t know what it is until you’ve built it, or even later. That is why so often it is second or third generation products which really hit the spot whilst first generation ones end up in museums, see: First-Mover Advantage or Winner’s Curse?
      I think of the process as a design one; creative, iterative, exploring and learning. More on that another time.

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