Turn a Vision into a Vision Roadmap

Do you know how to turn a vision into a vision roadmap? Are you struggling to get a complex idea worked out in your mind? Are you having a hard time focusing on the “right” work?

In this post, I talk about how we might take our grand, worldly vision and transform it into an executable product roadmap.

The Founder’s Vision

A founder’s vision is about how she communicates and puts into action her values, beliefs, and ideals to innovate something of value for herself, her founding team, her investors, and ultimately her customers.

A founder’s vision is typically the foundation of the company’s culture and brand. It should facilitate the decision making process the company uses to create the products and services you offer.

This initial worldly vision is what inspires people to get involved in your founding team, as early investors, and as early adopting customers who also seem to have caught the infectious-nature of the grand vision. That said, it will help to note that there is a lot of pressure on this vision to remain consistent. You found the courage and words to describe the complexity of an idea you had been working on for a long time. You sold people on “why” you are in this project for the long haul.

If you haven’t watched Simon Sinek’s TED Talk about the Golden Circle, now is a perfect time – it is a quick explanation regarding the reason people buy things. He says we make purchase decisions based on the “why”. That is, why a founder created something. The story behind the product. The story is how we make a personal connection. Are you using stories to get people involved in your project?

If you go and change your “why” or change your grand vision without permission of your team or discussions with your customers then you are likely going to lose the loyalty and trust you worked hard to build up. Those two things do not usually come a second time from the same people so don’t f*ck it up.

It took me almost the better part of a year to be able to feel confident in my vision. It took me a long time to filter through the unecessary words and phrases and sentences and paragraphs. I started this process by writing over 100,000 words in 23 days. From that knowledge dump, I came to define my vision.

My Vision

I would like to live in a world where business, government, education, and technology work together in the community to design a sustainable way of life.

This sentence represents my north star. My purpose in life. I wake up each day and work towards realizing that vision.

It’s a worldly, multi-year vision with a lot of moving parts. I wasn’t sure if this was a good or a bad thing. Then I found this handy quote Taylor Westcot.

It’s easy for team members to rally ‘round the grand 5 year Grand Vision, but when they get back to their desk, then what? Work on that list of features, I guess, but they’re not quite clear on how they achieve the Grand Vision they just listened to. It’s also frustrating to work on something when they don’t know where it’s headed.

On another page of Taylor’s website he talks about peeling these early stages of the process apart.

vision roadmap

One of the reasons it can be so difficult to think big in regards to visionary ambitions is because our brain does not understand how to organize all the information. The four items in the graphic above are generally stacked on top of one another in our minds. We think something makes sense for a moment then abandon the idea once we realize how ambiguous it feels. Meanwhile, you may be losing time in your pursuit of your passion project that might change the world. Go get it. Don’t stop until you own that vision with certainty.

Unpack the Vision

The most effective method I have discovered for understanding existing problems and discovering the systemic problems is through card-sorting. When I first started to use the exercise I was unaware it was a thing – I only recently discovered this is a widely used tactic by orgs like IDEO and design thinking schools like the dschool at Stanford. There are strict rules, per say. Simply take index cards and start writing on them. One piece of the puzzle gets written on one index card.

Below is a picture of how it looked when I was unpacking the social problems which have plagued this great nation since 1776. This was for my postsecondary education program, Action Horizon Institute.

card sorting social problems

I just did what came naturally to me and that was to card sort the problem as I did above. Unpacking the problems you are working through is not necessarily an immediate step towards building an amazing product. However, it will allow you to gain a deeper understanding of what your users and customers and partners are actually dealing with in their real lives. Without understanding and empathizing with them it will be difficult to build a product that truly speaks directly to their pains and gains.

Vision Roadmap

Here is a breakdown of what goes into a Vision Roadmap as stated by product expert, Taylor Westcoatt.

Turning a Vision into a Vision Roadmap

Translating my vision for Action Horizon Institute required me to break down the world vision into much smaller segments that would lead a trail of breadcrumbs and take the shape of my Vision Roadmap – each segment comprised of unique propositions – that means each stage of development, or each breadcrumb, will have a specific way of speaking to my target segment based on who sees my brand at a given time. Each proposition, or stage, should then be brought into a User Journey of Behaviors that are required to achieve any given proposition.

Phase One Customer Segments:

  • Early Adopters (the current cohort of scholars): “Unlock your potential by registering for our first program.”
  • Subscribers (donors): “Create access to opportunity for a local resident to realize her full potential.”
  • Partners (mentors): “Join us for weekly meetings to identify a potential scholar who might want you to mentor them.”

Phase One is defined by right now. Today. These are the first customer segments I am focused on. I am offering each of them a different proposition, or selling point. As I develop more of the product, more customers come onboard, and I can spend less time trying to convince people to buy something I will have to update the copy I use for each segment. The things I say to each segment will change.

Action Horizon plays a certain role in the customer’s life right now. We are currently managing the weekly learning community with the scholars and the mentors. I prefer that I had the opportunity to be the person to establish the learning community because I had a specific vision for the role I thought it should play. The vision was based on the last year of research, my daily knowledge transfer from the education innovation landscape, and the personal experiences I have from the last few years.

Now that the learning community is up and running consistently on Wednesday evenings it is going to give me the opportunity to focus on fundraising the initial capital for us to officially “open doors” by January 1, 2016. We are ready to grow right now, but without permanent space we can rely on that is near downtown Princeton.

The role Action Horizon plays in the lives of its customers is going to be different in the future as we grow our services and increase funding, capacity, resources, etc. Inside the grand vision I know that the company needs to grow and reach these incredible heights, but without peeling apart each stage along the way I will risk not speaking to my customers with the right verbiage, message, and potentially cause them to disconnect from my brand.

Taylor says to focus on key behaviors first. Only after which we can start to brainstorm features. This should result in a more aligned, well thought-out, and persistent Vision Roadmap. The final product in this case would be an MVP, or minimum viable product, to start testing my assumptions and validating the ideas which will drive our business forward.

Making the Vision Actionable

Breaking down the vision into small chunks, or perhaps a better word is crumbs, will allow me to act on the vision instead of being paralyzed by it. Think of the three segments I am proposing value to as early adopters, subscribers, and partners. As I go through each stage of the Vision Roadmap I should be able to articulate what my proposition is for each segment.

Phase Three Segment

  • Early Adopters (scholars): “Create value to meet an unmet need in your community.”
  • Subscribers (donors): “Support our crowdfunding campaign!”
  • Partners (mentors): “Set your holiday schedules for scholar meetings by this weekend.”

Now, these explanations were already in my mind. However, they were in my mind and they were each blocking one another fighting for my attention. It was not until I just typed them out in the paragraph above did I realize how liberating it feels to have those details on paper.

I also have to keep in mind that the Vision Roadmap is an important first step, however, it does not provide a clear breakdown of what I should be working on tomorrow or the next day. Fortunately, thanks to the Vision Roadmap, I can finally plan the actual roadmap of what we need to be working on right now.

Here is the next phase of Taylor’s process, Behavioral Roadmap for Startups:

Behaviours are “Actions” performed for “Reasons” with expected “Rewards”. I won’t go deeper on these in this post, but the more clearly you identify and validate these with your customers, the greater opportunity you have to compare, influence, and supplant them with the behaviours you want.

I am going to include one more paragraph from Taylor because it’s better to just give it to you straight:

Now comes the hardest part… coming up with great ideas! There’s no science to creating delight, but make sure you have your best people in the room. By focusing on Behaviours (action + motivation + reward), you have a better chance of coming up with a great idea than if you’re just focusing on features. IDEO’s work in the “How might we…” practice is worth looking at. The following three-step process (great article about Pandora here) takes you from which Behaviour you want to what Minimum Viable Product tests you want to undertake.

Taylor includes one more helpful graphic that shows you the entire customer process:

brainstorm to mvp

Vision Focus

This process also communicates to the team a much stronger sense of focus so when we get together or have the next stand-up we have a much more concrete roadmap with directions and destinations – without either of those things we are basically turning our wheels. Thank god I found this post this morning.

After I spend a bit more time doing this on paper and put more thought into the different phases of propositions I will update you with a new blog post and include pictures from my sketchpad as well as anything else I discover on the journey.