Visioning projects are identified in a roadmap backlog and define the WHY and WHAT to build, but not HOW to build it. Visioning should define the strategy, ask and answer questions, and explore possibilities. Visioning ensures a shared understanding across stakeholders and sponsors.
Visioning precedes concepting and implementation, with the objective to produce hills and epics for the product roadmap backlog.
Visioning projects are led by a senior designer or strategist, working in a core team across leaders of design, product, development, and research. A wider team of stakeholders, sponsors, and SMEs are providing guidance, and feedback, continuously or at playbacks.
Visioning uses market and user research, competitive analysis, ideation, and alignment workshops. Visioning also makes the strategy tangible through conceptual prototypes. Information and data architectures are ways to structure workflow experiences.
The vision projects preferably use agility, by working in sprints or workflow models, addressing objectives and questions in order. The team engages sponsors continuously, or through sprint playbacks.
Smaller vision projects may run for 3 sprints, larger projects may run for a quarter or two. The project ends with a Playback Zero stating the unity of the core team and sponsors on the resulting Hills and Epics in the roadmap.
Visioning is a part of the product and portfolio roadmapping process.
Product initiatives are created by product management and form the bridge between our strategy and work as a ranked backlog. Some initiatives may require strategic research or visioning, and are tracked as a visioning activity in the backlog. These initiatives may lack clarity or alignment of intent and strategy in the evolution of the product or portfolio.
During monthly reviews, the vision backlog is reviewed, prioritized, and vision projects are initiated based on size, scope, and available resources.
Types of vision project
There are different kinds of Visioning projects. Here are a few example types:
- Exploratory vision projects take a more strategic research perspective with activities on competitive research, user research, concept testing and hill writing. The outcomes may be a strategic North Star vision, and demonstrations of key experiences.
- Strategy and alignment vision projects take a more collaborative perspective with alignment workshops that unify the team around the roadmap direction. The outcomes may be more informative with hills, storyboards, and delighter and satisfier experiences.
- Experience definition vision projects take a more concepting perspective that drives end-to-end flows and MVP experiences. The outcome is the product-level personas, hills, to-be storyboards, and resulting information architectures.
Defining a vision project
A good practice is to ‘Start with the end in mind’.
Start by understanding the objectives to meet and the questions to answer. The product management function is responsible for the roadmap strategy and defines the vision project. Make sure the vision definition is well-formed and has a clear ‘done criteria’. If the vision definition is not well-formed, use a Sprint 0 and an alignment workshop to get input from multiple sources for the definition. Use voting or prioritization methods to resolve conflicts.
Use a vision project template to ensure well-formed definitions.
Exploration Lead: [Name of sponsor/main owner]
Visioning and research: [Target date]
Estimated date for concepting: [Target date, likely at the quarter level]
Estimated date for delivery: [Target date, likely at the quarter or half level]
[Short 1-2 paragraph ‘setting the scene’ statement that provides context for the problem this project will solve.]
[List the problems that our customers and their users are facing that this vision project would seek to better understand and set a direction for solving.]
A visioning cycle would help us understand:
[Eg: Competitive design analysis, Finalize persona research for X, As-is flow including screenshots, User research with X type of users to understand pain points and needs when Y, Design led workshop with X users, Prioritization of goals that X users are trying to solve, To-be story-boarding of UX journey, etc]
Questions to Answer
[Eg: What tools are X users using today to make decisions? and how closely are these tied together? and where are there gaps?]
[Eg: Administrators, Operators, Technicians]
[List customers and partners that the team can use as examples, and/or perform validation & research on for this project].
[Outline risks faced if this visioning does not happen or is not successful]
[Eg: Visioning kickoff with stakeholders to align Opportunity challenge & Visioning mission, Research with X users from target customers identified by PM, etc]
[List any helpful resources or reading that may support or inform the vision project.]
[List any helpful resources or reference materials that may support or inform the vision project.]
Leading a vision project
Vision project are advised to use agile principles. By working in sprints the core team addresses objectives and questions in order and stay focused on a smaller set of questions while continuously making process and receive feedback to validate outcomes. Plan the sprint with clear objectives. End the sprint with a playback to sponsors. Declare the objectives for next sprint. And end the vision project with a Playback Zero stating the unity of the core team and sponsors. Set an expectation on project end date and playback zero.
Agree at start of the meeting cadence of core team meeting and playbacks. Work continuously in the core team, by meeting every or every second day. No less than weekly. Be sensitive to core team workload and other responsibilities. As a vision lead, manage the team calendar and invitations. Keep a backlog list of meeting topics from the sprint objectives. Plan 3-5 meetings ahead, minimally for next meeting.
Forming the vision team
Establish a core team from product PM, design, development, and key Subject mater experts (SMEs), to minimize knowledge transfer and enable rapid decisions. Work close in a 3-in-a-box.
Form a sponsor team with related Product Managers, Design leads, Development leads, and Architects, Technical and User Research, SMEs, and Executive sponsors.
Start the project with a 30 min Vision Project Kick-off with the core and extended team focusing on the project objectives and expected outcome. On indications that the objective is not well-formed or agreed, add a Sprint 0 to reach unity on the definition. Use a vision project kick-off template to guide at the first visioning team meeting, including Objectives, Preliminary hill, Questions, Project plan dates, Vision team and Stakeholders.
Perform competitive analysis
At the start, create an understanding of the bigger business context by analyzing the market and competitors. In cases where the market is less understood, start with a Strategic Research project.
In the competitive analysis
- Research competitive solutions.
- Compare solution capabilities.
- Identify, list, and rank gaps.
- Align insights with strategy.
- Identify requirements and epics.
Running the vision project
Be artifact driven
Collect and share visioning artifacts
- Quickly pull together information from multiple sources to feed innovation
- Use collaboration tools for quick information collection, discussions, and documentation
- Accelerate team sharing and learning
- Accelerate decisions to a shared direction
Be design experience driven
Collect, classify and organize product screens by comparative capabilities
- Analyze common patterns
- List and rank experiences
- Identify opportunities for reuse
- Add to requirements, strategy and epics
Use Mural for rapid design and scrapbooking
- Quickly pull together page designs from existing and new concepts and patterns in bits and pieces
- Playback purpose, scenario, concept, ideas, and experience
- Capture quick feedback for the next iteration
Use information modeling
Model artifacts and relationships
- Explore data and workflows in scenarios
- Create information models with artifacts and relationships
- Extend models across products and portfolios
- Identify system or record
- Prototype experiences and points of integration
- Add to strategy and epics
Be test driven
Test early and often. In vision projects, one decision leads to next decisions in a dependency chain. Early testing at playbacks allows for early validation and changing of direction before spending too much time in a chain of decision dependencies.
- Seek continuous feedback
- Use rapid prototyping, like scrapbooking, for rapid daily validation
- Use scenario flow prototypes for sprint playback
Manage the vision content
Be document driven. Document the strategy through hills, concepts, prototypes, and epics in the backlog. Express vision in the staged release plan.
Be formal in the management of content. The material assembled and produced will be your legacy to any following concepting and implementation workstreams. Do not leave all insights only in the head of the core team. Document the details of the vision outcome for new teams concepting and implementing the vision.
Use corporate collaboration tools.
- Create a Slack channel for team collaboration. Start with the core team and grow to the extended team after sprint 0.
- Create a Mural room for visioning activities. Consider a private Mural room or sub-folders to control open and confidential material.
- Create a Box project folder for all project files.
Suggested box folder structure:
Conclusions on best practices for visioning
Best of luck with your vision projects!
- Manage a backlog of visioning projects
- Start with well-formed visioning questions to answer
- Establish a core team from product PM, design, development
- Use agility and work in sprints with playbacks
- Prototype and show, don’t tell
- Look for reusable patterns
- Validate early and often with stakeholders and sponsors
- Conclude with a Playback 0 unifying the team on hills and epics, and concepts.