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Building Successful Software Products: Vision, Strategy and Tactics

The connection between vision, strategy and tactics is critical for effective software projects.

June 12, 2020 5 minute read

Building a software product is a large investment. Having a clear understanding of what a company is hoping to achieve and why that product is necessary plays an important role in ensuring value is delivered. Gaining that level of clarity requires a clear understanding of the vision, strategy and tactics and how they all connect.

Vision

To be successful, every product needs a vision. A product vision is the “north star” that gives a purpose — the why — for building a product. When defined well, a product vision will align with the company’s business goals. This ensures that the product will deliver value to that company.

Furthermore, the product vision defines the overarching goal of the product, which will guide people, product strategy, tactics and product decisions in achieving that common goal. This top-to-bottom planning approach plays a critical role in ensuring there is full alignment from product vison all the way down to the product tactics.

From the other direction (tactics to product vision), the product vision is the ultimate destination that the development team is steering towards when building that product. The daily duties of product owners — communication with stakeholders, maintaining backlogs, taking new feature requests — can often drive the product owner to focus on too many details while neglecting alignment with common goals and product vision. This increases the risk of scope creep, misalignment, inefficiencies and missed timelines, increase in cost, decrease in user and business value and unnecessary features.

Let’s take a deeper dive into the impacts of a product vision (also illustrated in Figure 1).

Vision, strategy and tactics
Figure 1: Vision, strategy and tactics

The product vision informs and guides the product strategy, which is the plan or approach for achieving your product vision.  

Strategy

To define that approach, the product strategy addresses who the product is intended for, the way the product benefits or meets the needs of the primary user, key features and differentiators of the product and the product’s business goals (which outline the value that the product will deliver for users and the company).  

The product strategy should align with and drive the company strategy in order to ensure that the product helps move the company in the right direction in achieving its goals. For example, the target users that are defined in the product strategy should align with the market group that is defined in the company strategy. Otherwise, the end-product could deliver the wrong solution for the target market which may ultimately result in millions of dollars spent with no value in return.

Tactics

Tactics outline the implementation approach for the product strategy. That approach materializes through defining an increased level of granularity and depth around the product’s features, stories, priorities and key dates. If the vision and product strategy are not clear, then it’s very difficult to understand what features and stories are needed, and it may be even harder to conclude how best to prioritize those features and stories in order to provide optimal value. 

These elements impact both top-down and bottom-up approaches. If there is a change in the product vision, then the product strategy (e.g., product key features) and tactics (e.g., timelines) will be impacted as well. Likewise, a new feature request (e.g., tactics) may impact both the product strategy (e.g., timelines) and the product vision.

How they tie together

When evaluating new enhancement requests, new requirements or new technology, it is critical that the product owner evaluates the impact that those changes will have to the product vision and strategy. Any change that moves a product closer to, and aligns better with, its vision would be a valid consideration; whereas, changes that do not reflect the current vision are more likely candidates for new or existing products.   

For example, consider a grocery store chain that is building a shopping app. The product vision was defined as “grocery shopping from your couch.” During the development cycle, a request is made to add a feature for tracking daily food calorie goals and intake. It is critical to evaluate this request on if and how it aligns with the product vision and company goals. This request seems to deviate from the existing product vision of “shopping.” 

There are a few options you could take:

  • Update the product vision (which would impact strategy and tactics) to more closely align with the request if the request aligns with company goals and strategy.
  • Keep the current vision and decide to build a new product with its own product vision (e.g., “establish healthy eating habits") if the request aligns with company goals and strategy.
  • Say no to the request, with a clear explanation backed by the product vision and company goals.

If you do not choose any of these options and neglect to validate how this new request aligns with your vision and goals, the impact could be the following: an increase to the product’s scope and cost; a delay in the product launch; misalignment on what the real product goal is; a more difficult decision making process; an overly complicated user experience that may decreased product adoption rate; and/or further investments in requests that do not solve a specific problem and do not deliver user or business value.

In conclusion, it is absolutely instrumental to have a strong product vision and continue to iterate on all elements (vision, strategy and tactics) throughout the entire product development lifecycle in order to ensure that there is continuous alignment and, ultimately, to build a successful product that will deliver optimal business and user value. After all, the investment is a big deal.

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