The article was originally published at the Scrum Alliance website, http://www.scrumalliance.org
Have you ever worked on a Scrum project where the overall goal was not clear? Where you had a product backlog but the people involved in the development effort only vaguely understood the purpose of the release? It happens more frequently than any of us would like, even on projects with multi-million dollar budgets! Often Scrum’s emphasis on “getting work done” is misunderstood as a rush to develop with not enough thought to where the project should be going. Don’t make that mistake. Every Scrum project needs a product vision that acts as the project’s true north, sets the direction and guides the Scrum team. It is the overarching goal everyone must share – Product Owner, ScrumMaster, team, management, customers and other stakeholders. As Ken Schwaber puts it: “The minimum plan necessary to start a Scrum project consists of a vision and a Product Backlog. The vision describes why the project is being undertaken and what the desired end state is.” (Schwaber 2004, p. 68)
"Vision is the art of seeing things invisible," observed the English writer Jonathan Swift. The product vision paints a picture of the future that draws people in. It describes who the customers are, what customers need, and how these needs will be met. It captures the essence of the product – the critical information we must know to develop and launch a winning product. Developing an effective product vision entails carefully answering the following questions:
- Who is going to buy the product? Who is the target customer? Who is going to use the product? Who are the users?
- Which customer needs will the product address? What is the product’s value-added?
- Which product attributes are critical to address the customer needs selected, and therefore for the success of the product? In which areas is the product going to excel?
- How does the product compare against existing products, both from competitors and the same company? What are the product’s unique selling points? What is its target price?
- What are the sources of revenue and what is the business model?
- What is the target timeframe and budget to develop and launch the product?
Answering these questions gives us the information to create a business case. It allows us to decide if and how the project should proceed.
Creating the Product Vision
Since the Product Owner is responsible for the success of the product and its return on investment (ROI), the individual should lead the vision-creation activities through close collaboration with the team. For innovative projects, this team may include business and technical people; for instance, marketers, product and user interface designers, and developers. The more innovative and complex the product is, the more functionality is provided, the more effort is required to create it. For new-product development projects and major product updates, market research and prototyping activities are usually carried out. Since it may take several weeks or even months to compile the relevant information in this case, running one or more sprints is the best way to carry out the visioning work. Contrast this with a small product update or a maintenance release where creating the vision may only take a few hours or days.