I’ve realized the importance of a product vision and think that any start-up must work towards defining it. A product vision is what you envision as the end state of the product from the point of view of a customer.

The first step towards this discovery is an insight. An insight into a category is nothing but the knowledge of a key pain point in their category, felt by majority of the users. This pain point could be felt either strongly or sub-consciously (unstated) by the user of the category. A category is the business you’re in. In redBus’ case the category is that of bus tickets.

The best insight discovery method is to talk to as many customers as you can. The second best method is to observe customers at a point of purchase and hear what kind of questions he asks the seller. These questions can be a great source of understanding of what’s most important to the buyer. There are many other ways and there are books written on this. You can find good dope on the web.

The other half is to ensure that you figure a way to solve that real pain point. Again, this can be done by asking customers for suggestions or by being innovative and using customers as a sounding board once you’ve figured a few of them out. Either way, the solution must directly solve the pain point. Any direction that you take in product development, that’s not based on this insight, is futile. I am of the opinion that it can define your success or failure in the market.

Once you have a solution in mind that resonates well with the customer of your category, it’s time to execute to solve the pain point by working on features that help solve it. You may have to answer very difficult questions and choose directions that may not have been very obvious from the start. This is where the insight is so crucial because the direction you take will completely depend on what insight you have into the category.

For example, an e-commerce player selling books can take two routes based on two insights:

1. Customers want to shop where they get books the cheapest.

2. Customers want security of transaction and predictability, in that, they get what they asked for, on time and at the right price, even if it’s not the cheapest.

If they were to take the first insight, they would ensure the lowest price possible and spend most of their time and might in negotiating with suppliers.

If they were to go with the second insight, they’d spend all their time in ensuring timely and predictable delivery even if the book was available cheaper elsewhere, because that’s not what customers really care about. The cheapest price may be a good-to-have for a large percentage of users.

Though insight discovery is a qualitative method, you should back it up with quantitative data too. You need to get a sense of the number of people who face that pain point. You need to collect a decent-sized sample and get a sense of how many customers would go with insight 1 and how many with insight 2. You may even choose to do this with heavy users of the product instead of occasional ones. Once you get a sense of that, focus your energy in solving that pain point.

It’s the insight you choose to go with that can make all the difference to the product you will build. And it’s the product that you build that will decide whether or not you’ll win in the market.

What next?

Once you’ve thought of a product vision you need to document it, discuss it with everyone involved in the product creation journey (product team, engineering team, operations team, marketing team, senior management). Once this has been bought into, it should be put up on everyone’s desk and they should live and breathe that vision because it’s that idea that everyone in the team needs to build on to ensure a uniform direction.

Whenever you / the team come across an idea you’d like to evaluate, you must always answer this question: Does this help me in achieving my product vision? If not, you know what to do.

Your product vision should invigorate your employees and make them feel proud about what they are doing and the fact that they are solving a real pain point. It should be something that a product manager should be able to explain to anyone he has a conversation with, no matter how daft that person is. It should be something that you should be extremely proud of achieving every time you take a step towards it.

Final word

Discovering and communicating the product vision has made all the difference in what we do and how we do it. This is the key responsibility of the product head and he should involve anyone in the organization who has anything to do with the product, to understand the vision and work towards delivering on it.

It can completely change the way supporting teams like engineering/operations look at the product. They will be more engaged in achieving the vision than they would have been if they were blindly working on product and feature requirements.

If you haven’t got that insight that you can base your product on, you need to get on the phone with customers right away and find an insight that resonates with their pain point. What are you waiting for? The company’s future depends on it.

[Guest article contributed by Mayank Bidawatka, head of marketing at redBus.]

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