Anchoring New Products on a North Star
Whenever I start on a new product area, I like to share the vision for the product by end-of-year with the team.
During my first product experience, I didn't even think about the long-term vision (let alone share it with the team), and once we released the MVP, all engineers left to work on other products.
No one wanted to staff or stay on a product build that wasn't valuable. And while the vision alone wouldn't have entirely fixed my resourcing problem, it would have helped.
The following sections detail the impact I've found connecting new products to a long-term vision.
Anchoring the team
North Star visions rally the team around something compelling. Each individual understands how their piece fits into the bigger picture.
For example, if someone is changing the color scheme of a website, then it might feel like a tedious task until that person learns the colors improve accessibility for the color blind. Understanding the context leads to excitement.
Boosting team feedback
A clear end goal promotes better individual feedback and decentralizes decision-making. For example, if engineers know the objective is to make the system faster, they will optimize for speed when choosing implementations.
As time goes on, it's valuable to re-iterate the vision so that new and old team members are on the same page. As the vision morphs, everyone will know the most up-to-date information.
Continuous sharing feels repetitive, but, in my experience, team members rarely complain. Existing members appreciate the clarity. And new members appreciate the catch-up.
Boosting customer feedback
North Star documents can be tweaked and presented to customers for feedback. Specifically, make the following changes:
The client-facing collateral needs to underline why the solution would matter to that specific customer.
Each feature needs to be more concrete than the broad strokes of a vision.
Lastly, the document should emphasize that this is a product roadmap, not just a vision. Individuals give the best feedback on solutions they think will be built.
On a tangential note regarding customer feedback, data collected from clients and about the market shapes the initial vision. However, I don't think the focus of the written document should be numbers. Instead, create an image each person on the team can picture that feels exciting.
Template for a vision document
Outline each of the below for your product:
Objectives that won't ever change
Summary of vision by the end of the year
Vision in five years
Key friction points today / Why it matters
User journey by the end of the year
Roadmap for the next year
Each category should have somewhere between 5 words to a paragraph written. Use fewer words for events further away.
Here* is a template deck based on previous documents I've written. I use decks as a forcing mechanism to be more concise, but do what works for you.
*Tip: If you use Google Slides, then try using Diagrams (Navigate to "Insert" -> "Diagram") for predefined professional charts (that's what the template contains). For complex diagrams, I recommend using LucidCharts.