Creating A Tangible Product Vision
Creating A Tangible Product Vision
Product managers and design leads often get asked to define the vision for a product or service, but rarely does anyone agree on what that looks like. A vision should not only connect to business strategy, it should be stable enough to withstand new learnings and pivots across the product lifecycle. The hard part is in making it tangible enough to be actionable, without falling into the trap of big Design. This talk will uncover how a collaborative partnership between product, design, and tech can help shape a tangible vision, that can empower and inspire teams.
Creating a Tangible Product Vision
Hello, everybody. It's the last talk. I don't know if this is either a good thing or a bad thing when you're up on stage but I just want to say how happy I am to be here in Dublin. I actually come here often and I'm proud to say that Mastercard has a design studio here in our tech hub and some of our wonderful designers are in the audience today. Hurray!
It's one of my favorite cities and you put that together with the fact that I'm also have the opportunity to talk about one of the things that I'm been very passionate about for a long time and that's just like the perfect recipe and I've been really passionate about this idea of how do you create a tangible product vision? And it's funny because I think about the theme for this conference about how do we build together faster or build the right thing together? This is a critical component and if you're someone who's at a very mature digital company where the service or the product is the company, like Zappos or a Facebook, this may not be so relevant unless you're starting to build new products and services that extend beyond your core brand but if you're someone who's working at a startup, if you're someone who's working in a company with lots of different products and services, or you're in an agency, or working to evolve something that exists, that just needs a bit of a refresh.
You might ask, is there a real vision for what we're trying to do here? Before we get started, I would like to know who-- I'm talking to in the audience. How many of you in this audience are technology folks, developers, etc., technical Product Managers? OK, good mix, because I know we have two different rooms here.
How many of you are in the design team, whatever discipline you have?
And how many of you are product managers? Oh, good. We have not as many but that's good.
How many of you just wandered in off the street, not knowing what this was? OK. All right. So we're good with that.
So, I'm going to start with a story of what happened when there wasn't a product vision but first, let me just give you a little context.
This is Mastercard at a glance. A lot of people don't really understand what we do but we are in fact, a 50 year old technology company that connects consumers, merchants, governance, banks, and other partners to enable them to make payment transactions instead of using cash and when I started Mastercard about five years ago. The company was just getting the hang of digital product development for a 50 year technology company and the reason is because the world had changed and there was a need for new digital products and services that actually touch the consumer, even though they might be distributed through our customers and partners and when that's the case, that requires really acting and behaving like a b2c company, and all that it entails in product development.
So this was a big digital transformation, if you will, for the company and we had had our-- One of our first forays was this product called MasterPass and it was a digital payment. It was meant to be a wallet enabling digital payments in every SIP device online in the store and would eventually connect to every IoT device out there.
Well, unfortunately, this product didn't get the traction we had hoped. It's really complex to do wallets. Maybe we were just a little bit too soon. It's still the jury's out as to how we use those today and I wasn't around for this but I want to say, did we have a validated vision for the consumer need here? I don't know and that's not for us to answer but this was the beginning of this digital change.
But I want to talk about something much smaller and more personal. So when I joined Mastercard, they tell you, especially at a certain level, you got to get your quick wins. You've got to make an impact really fast and as you all know, there's nothing particularly fast about digital product development in other words, especially if you're doing it new. So I looked around for some partners, places to opportunity because I did start out as a team of one essentially and looked for some partners that had something that was at a smaller scale and I found the perfect opportunity with a digital marketing team and Mastercard who had-- For a long time, they wanted to create a digital app for priceless. We have this whole platform, priceless cities which enables unique experiences and travel promotions, etc. So I wanted to create a digital app that was useful to people that was differentiated in the market and that completely demonstrated Mastercard is this technology company and so that seems totally doable.
It was direct to consumer, it was very small and we pulled together a team, we had some agency partners and we started to teach this team in particular, the ropes, bringing design thinking into early product development. We did research, we created concepts. We actually jumped straight into building a live prototype to show that we could do this quickly, in a matter of like six weeks, just to demonstrate that concept and we had designers and developers working in a room together to solve this problem and it was a new like, this is how we're supposed to be working and it felt great.
Until about six months later, we were having a meeting with the CMO who was the person who was requesting this new product and the head of consumer marketing, she was the one who was accountable. The head of digital marketing was the responsible person, I was their partner in crime and our technology partners were all in the room and everyone was excited because we had moved rapidly, we created this thing, it did feel new, it felt different than the things that were out there and it tested well and so someone after going through the roadmap and how we were tracking on everything, someone decided to show the CMO the build where we were with the design.
Now, I had shown it to him six months before when I could grab 15 minutes on the phone using the Live app and he's like, “Oh, this is good, great.”
Well, at that moment, we got to three screens and he said, “What is this? This is a horrible user experience and design.” And we only got through three screens. You didn't get a chance to hear about what this was about, didn't get any further. You could imagine what that room felt like. Everybody's just like, Oh, my God, they just fell into their shirts and fortunately-- I mean, he made it very clear-- Not fortunately. Unfortunately, it was very clear that this collective team had massively screwed up and the project soon after that was just killed.
There's been months, lots of money invested in it and just stopped because he didn't feel like it was living up to the strategy, the vision that he had in his head. What did we do wrong here? We did not take the time to socialize a vision. We had a deck around the strategy, we did some of that, but everybody was so worried about moving quickly that we didn't take the time to ensure that all the stakeholders were aligned on what we thought this was, what it could be and did it align to the CMO’s strategy and even when you think you're in a room with a bunch of partners, and you're talking about this thing that you're going to build, and you're all excited, there's still no guarantee that everybody has the same thing in their head. In fact, here's another team this-- Imagine that to your product manager, he's saying, “Yes, we are going to go build this new thing.” And his partner says, “Oh, yes, it will be a star.” And then the other person, she's listening and nodding her head and she goes, “Oh, I get it. It's a triangle.” And then someone else is non English so this guy’s, “Of course, it's a square wrong way.” So this, I always like to use this as an analogy for like a vision to me is not a vision until you have everyone seeing the same picture in their heads but how do you get to that?
When you think about the world, and the increasing complexity of technology and how they're becoming more ecosystems of connected partners, and orchestrations of multiple services, and data and AI coming into play involving lots of cross functional teams, big teams. A vision is so essential to my mind for helping to crack through that complexity, to ensure that there is alignment that teams can work smarter together and alone, ensuring that they are swimming down the same stream.
Also, with the opportunity to pivot with new learnings but what does vision really look like? So when you think about new product development, you always have to have a business strategy, right? What is our business? Where do we want to grow? How do we want to grow? What are we going to-- Where are we going to invest to do that?
And then you have great product managers. They’re going to be creating product strategies, right? How does this fit into the market? Why do people really want to use it? Understanding that piece, making sure it's delivering on the business strategy but to me what sits in the middle is that vision, and the problem is it's-- While there's agreement on what a good business strategy looks like and generally, what kinds of things you need to tackle in a product strategy, I don't think I haven't seen a lot of collective agreement on what it means to create a vision. Anybody-- Any nod head-- Nodding heads? Does anyone know what a vision is like and immediately have a strong point of view about what a vision should look like? To think about.
So I took some time and I did a little bit of research and reading just because I have an idea in my head but what's that? What are other people doing? And I found that really in the spirit of vision, most people have an agreement. It's your North Star, people are using that word a lot. Your North Star product development. It talks about the purpose for creating the product. What positive impact will it have on the world? Could be a part of the vision, etc. but that still doesn't get to what it looks like?
So a couple of **patterns **emerged when I was looking through this and one is the vision statement. We are going to create a North Star, casting an ambition for what we are going to achieve as a company. This is an actual one. To empower and connect every person across an organization to maximize their impact. It sounds awesome. Though, you could substitute any product or a lot of other products under that, not just Yammer. Right? If a vision is that broad and it's not specific, then it's not a good vision. Moreover, is it a realistic one? Which you don't often think about.
The other one is metrics. We are going to be like a billion dollar business in two years. Or in this case, more generically, it'll be the number one social fitness cycling application in the market. Great! Metrics are important and to me, they are-- You need to have metrics as part of your vision but it's not the vision. It's not showing how or what.
And then another pattern is the value proposition statement that-- I like this one because it actually is talking about the value you're providing, forcing people to think about the problem they're solving and the key need, and why it's different. That's pretty common but it's still not enough to my mind.
So to help describe what I think is a good vision, I'm going to talk about three examples and the first is a product in our prepaid world and I-- We partnered with our prepaid team. This is some of them when we're in the midst of doing some concept ideation and they have done some research around prepaid products. Yes, I'm sure you all know it but just to be sure. So prepaid are the things that you buy and top off with money and you can use them like a credit card but you don't have to worry about getting into debt, or about paying interest rates.
So they had done some research looking for whitespace opportunities in this area and they learned some things about people who were using prepaid products and it turns out there were a lot of millennials out there. They're using prepaid instead of credit because one, they didn't want to go into debt and they were not-- They just didn't like traditional banks. They just didn't—No, not interested and the other thing is, these were the same people who are starting to gravitate to new financial management services by fintechs, like Venmo to easily pay friends money after going out at night. Does Venmo exist out here? No? OK, that's interesting. I didn't check.
So anyway, it's a p2p payment product, you might have something like that here.
Oh, is that the one that exists here? OK, I have to look it up. I should probably know these things.
Anyway, we took the time to use this research. The challenge was, how do we come up with a digital product attached to our prepaid that actually addresses some of these behaviors? And one of them was really interesting where consumers would actually buy multiple prepaid cards to help them budget. Like, I'm going to put this much money on a card so I can get my groceries. I'm going to put this much money on a card to go out with friends and that way I can control my spending.
I mean, it's a great solution, but how can we define a digital solution? So what we did is we took the time to use the research to ideate and again, it was a new team learning. The ropes, bringing design thinking into product ideation and all that good stuff partnering with design teams and we started to build concepts from this and one part of it was this. Just a very simple explanation of what this is. We called it bloom because it helps grow your financial capabilities and it consolidates and simplifies your money management activities into one easy to access service.
Now, this was-- We started to put together this concept because we wanted to socialize and we actually wanted to test it with consumers and we did do a value proposition because I believe in always doing a value proposition where it works but we wanted to make the value proposition tangible. So we talked about that there were three value prop-- Value proposition pillars.
One was to simplify bringing all your money together and it would demonstrate some of the high-level features.
Another one was to guide-- Knowing what amount is safe to spend set saving goals easily.
Another one was the Protect piece, the security and that we're going to make sure that nothing's going to happen. You can freeze or unfreeze this account if you lose it or don't want to use it and this was really great because it helped us validate the desirability with consumers but we also built a prototype.
So we went deeper into this. Let's see how this could really work because we wanted to assess the technical feasibility, what would we have to do to create it? We also took that into testing and found out that the prototype gave us much richer information than the concept testing did earlier on and that changed our point of view within Mastercard about how we should be doing that and the great thing about getting this far, this to me is still the vision.
So research, its ideation. It's getting to a value proposition and then using this prototype led us to the idea of like a whole platform. This is how we could technically deliver this to our customers. It allows us to shop it around to leadership, we got funding, and it built-- We built the platform that led to a friends and family prototype internally. We're able to continue to test and learn and build off of that and that became our sales tools, which lead to a pipeline of customers because we had something real and at that point, we're still in this iterative vision, if you will. So that's one example.
Now, the other value of vision is when you have a big transformational initiative. In fact, I think it's absolutely essential and before coming to Mastercard, I actually worked for three years working as a consultant with Nike and it was an incredible experience partnering with their technology and business partners in trying to completely remodel or update and modernize their go to market transformation. It's all the typical stuff, like they were just talking about for the UK Government, outdated processes, lots of manual work, systems that weren't connected. It was just getting old and it needed to be replaced in order to allow Nike to scale to a $50 billion business and they had to fix it. So they had-- They wanted to set out-- Well, how do we actually accomplish this? Where are we going to start? And how are we going to do that?
So this particular effort was looking at the end to end customer experience. There was research around where the customers were? Where were the pain points? Where the internal processes were broken down? And a lot of the key drivers for really moving the business if we were to fix these things became part of the thinking behind the vision and because this is so big, I'm going to actually show you a short video that describes the-- Where this was 18 months into the project.
Welcome to the future of selling at Nike. Focused on building new capabilities, optimizing processes, and a smarter, more connected way of doing business. Nike.Net 2.0 is our go to market engine, an integrated platform of sales tools that will help us bring the category vision to life as well as drive mutual profitability for Nike and for our partner retailers. Never before have we been so efficient, so integrated, so connected. These new capabilities, processes, and tools are transforming the way the company connects to the company and to the marketplace and we're expanding our reach, rolling out to more and more planners, merchants, DTC buyers, account executives, customer service reps and Nike retailers around the world each quarter and already, we're seeing the benefits futures orders jumped from 44 million in spring 14 to 1.6 billion in spring 15 and the feedback so far is off the hook. Now that's what we call doing things the Nike way. With Nike.Net 2.0, we are launching the tools that will help us become a $50 billion company. A company that works with their customers like no other. Nike. Net 2.0, the future of selling has arrived.
That was big. That was a three year effort. I managed to be there. The entire time is one of the most successful efforts in Nike. They've made back every penny they spent on this and then some and one of the things I always go back to and I tribute to its success is they had a very clear vision. They also had a 250 person team that was managed like no other PMO I've ever seen but the thing is that they had at the very beginning based on all that work that I was describing, defined a vision in this form. So it was essentially a story.
This is a go to market process that has five key steps that takes place over 95 weeks every season and it's very complex and there's a lot of people working on it but they wanted to simplify. So we partnered together to create this and so this is the first step in that go to market process planning the business and so the key themes were the key changes that would occur by actually making these changes who the key players were? We had personas, everybody knew them by name. They knew Bart, Louise, and Rebecca and what roles they had, and they would even talk about them and it talks about these are the key players, there were more people, but these were the primary people internally-- Inside Nike and then it started to tell the story of what happened each season.
So Louise, Bart, and Rebecca review their strategic financial plans and bring pictures into it and some of the high level wireframes. These weren't really real. These were just ideas to say we could go do this more digitally and more efficiently when this used to all be a bunch of Excel spreadsheets and that's what we need to do in order to modernize and they would talk some more and let's see.
Bart has to manage the marketplace intelligence and then he goes on to review Rebecca's performance and stock levels to ensure profitability and then they get back together again and it's telling a story of like guys, this is where we're headed and you know what? This is how it's going to impact the business and this is what I thought was actually really cool, because it talked about deeper analysis planning in line with accounts, it had stated clear outcomes for having made this change and so every one of those five stages had a chapter that was done in this way. They created the little books that were created and that were translated into multiple languages because not everyone in Nike globally spoke English as their first language and this was a global effort and this thing lasted for three years. It held true. Even while some of the details changed and the learnings that came along throughout the journey impacted, the North Star that this set out, held true and it was also absolutely essential for getting the funding and supporting the business case that led to a massive investment. I think of like $100 million on my Nikes part to make this happen. So this, to me, is like one of the best examples of a very big transformational effort that actually, in part, was supported by a clear and tangible vision that had an understanding of customers at its core.
The last one is a story of how a product vision can actually help reset a product after it's been in development for a while. So we are-- About a year ago I guess, we jumped on a moving train with the team who is thinking about how to solve for digital identity. You've probably heard a lot of people talking about this in the world and there are a lot of startups, certainly trying to tackle it but it's the idea that as a person, you have all of your digital identity, all the data that makes up you safely stored. So you can use that data, you can unlock it in situations where you need to verify who you are? Like you're getting a mortgage, you used to have to go and collect 100 different things to be able to get it. Now, maybe it's all here, or you're setting up as a seller on eBay or you're getting liquor at a store but the idea of a portable, secure digital identity was something that became very interesting and while a lot of startups are trying to do it, it's not a thing that one startup is going to be able to solve for we know that much and so Mastercard felt there might be an opportunity leveraging our broader network and capabilities and the security behind it to facilitate a service that involves multiple parties.
It's a com-- Big complex thing to solve for and so the project got kicked off inside of Mastercard because someone had a really good vision based on observations but it was the vision of maybe a couple of people and so a year later with learnings, we're realizing you know what? We need to go back and rethink that. So for I talked about that, let me show you the video for the vision around this when it first started.
A digital identity is a mosaic of personal data. Data that's verified by multiple trustworthy sources like your bank, government agencies, and mobile network operators, and done so to an assurance level that meets the needs of all those that need to rely upon them.
With connected devices, making our digital life simpler and more convenient, it would be as easy as saying, “Hi, it's me again.” Traveling abroad? Use your digital identity for one click check in and then in the airport, use your digital identity on your mobile to speed through security and passport control.
Tax filings or payments, applications for insurance or a mortgage loan. Again, the ease and convenience of one click identity verification and authentication. You can also link health related details to your digital identity or any other useful information that you can selectively share adding value to each interaction. Imagine a verified identity accepted globally and across multiple touch points. In both the digital and the real world, one that gives you control of your data. That's digital identity.
So that's pretty cool, right?
Now, the thing is, that was created with market understanding and consumer behaviors but not any actual consumer research hadn't been done. The complications around technology, how would you actually accomplish? Had some ideas not fully tested because it hadn't got started and so what we've realized is that now we have tested this with consumers. We better understand what it requires to have someone trust a service like this. We have a better understanding of what it means to where this service can provide value in what instances and how that could possibly gain traction in the marketplace for real. It's like, where do you even start to get this to happen?
And we also have some new domain experts on the team that weren't around in its inception. So everyone's agreed that it's time to step back. There are a lot of points around the original vision that-- You know what? They still hold true but some other things that we need to rethink and make this a little bit more tangible because the team is starting to grow. We have a lot of market development, people going out there to sell it and we're still we've got to clarify this and so it's very important that we do that.
Now, what all these things have in common is that it's essentially-- A lot of it's about storytelling and none of the forms are exactly the same. So when you talk about a template, I don't think there's anyone template for a vision but it really depends on that problem, the size, the scale, the scope of the thing that you're trying to solve for but if you do ask me if there's some common characteristics, I would say what comes down to this.
A good product vision should articulate tangible value. I'll talk a little bit in a minute about specifically what it means for the business and the customer. It should be achievable by the business and it should be actionable by teams. That to me in my head is where I'm starting to go is what really makes a good vision.
If you were to break that down further, here are some points that I would add. So tangible is you starting with a core problem and having an understanding of customers. If you haven't done any research and understood 10 customers before doing this, you're just doing agency pitch as far as I'm concerned, because that's usually what happens.
It's got to be grounded in real understanding of the people and the value you're going to bring and it's not just words, it tells a story with some visual picture.
And then achievable. Validated with some type of prototyping and testing. It's also, is it-- Does it fit with the business? This is all starting to feel like product development, but the thing is, we're not even into product development. This is like getting to, is this a concept we should invest in and move towards?
And then actionable. Is there a roadmap for getting there? I didn't show you any of those examples, but I like to think of a strategic roadmap as key phases of how this will be broken down and then suggest** experiments**.
Oh, we got an idea of where there are some things that we need to go deeper into the test and learn as we go along but it should always be adaptable.
So the reason I've been so passionate about visions is because of what happens when you don't have one. The story I told earlier on was the probably the worst case when something just gets next all together but more commonly, what happens when you don't have a clear vision is that teams-- There's a lot of false starts in your products, you probably felt that you're pivoting and pivoting and it's not like you're making continuous progress forward.
It's also-- I think, sometimes teams get mired in the incremental, especially when you're evolving something that exists. They're so focused on the backlog and serve at solving the pain points but they're not actually taking that leap forward that will truly move the needle on this thing and the other thing that I think is really critical is that you have a lot of supporting players on any product initiative and if you don't have the same vision, you can have the marketing people who are not marketing the right product. You have the business development, people who are selling to the wrong customers.
And you might even have blind spots from a technology team because you're not able to think of some of the services from a technology point of view that need to be created. So I was trying to find a metaphor and I thought this was interesting, because it can go either way, this is just the chaos of not having a vision or the fact that you have a vision can actually allow people to do what they need to do whether individually or together and these guys, they all know that they're making an anthill. They know that that's what they're doing and that's what they're going to do.
So at the end of the day, a vision is not a vision unless everyone to me has the same picture in their head. It's not this and how do we get there? And how do we work together? Because I really believe that as a design team, and a lot of you are from multiple parties, but we actually have the tools, we have the storytelling, we have the visualizations to partner with product, to work with technology, to be able to create these visions and I don't have a lot of time to take you through this but we've created what we call a more or less scalable, repeatable process for how we get to a vision and this is actually before you even decide to fund and the big takeaways here are technology teams, I believe need to work at the very beginning.
It's not just waiting until a business is defined by something and then please tell us how to go build it. We need to bring multiple voices to the table to bring the best ideas and to get to that right thing that we want to build in the first place. It'll also involve some customer understanding, some prototyping, some of these things I've already mentioned but I just wanted to give you a sense of like, how do we actually help people do this more frequently in a way that gets us the best outcomes and helps point to the right product? Because at the end of the day, if you don't have a tangible and actual vision, I think-- Well, the benefit is it will de risk so much of what you're doing and accelerate speed at because everyone will be able to make decisions based on that in a way that prevents waste and that prevents zigging and zagging in places that aren't providing value. So that's what I have to say about a vision.
Thank you for letting me take this time to talk about it and I would love to see if there's any questions from you in the audience.