I never thought I would be a person to say something like this, but after making the same mistake over and over and over and over…I managed to learn my lesson.
Begin with the end in mind
I spend a lot of time thinking about the future. What is it going to look like? This type of thinking makes it easier for me to think about how I might solve a problem people have right now. This is typically how startups are born. “Oh! I have an idea!”
Once I had an idea that I felt was uniquely going to solve a well-known problem I would pick it up and start running towards the solution I thought the market needed. Did I even know what the market was? Did I know know what their actual problem was? When would I find out who my specific customer would be? How much would this “customer” pay me for what I created for them? If I was going to spend all this time and energy sprinting towards this awesome solution I know they need, then they better be ready to buy it. Right?
I would sprint, make things, change things, try things, stop things, and never really understand whether I was moving the needle or just getting really good at running in circles. Likely the latter.
I didn’t like planning. It was friggin boring. It goes against my nature. Even when I would try to plan because that’s what they say to do, I didn’t actually know what planning meant. Making a list? Coming up with the “idea” and then… ???
I read blogs trying to teach me a lesson about planning or building a startup with precision or how important the experimentation process is during the early prototyping and MVP stage, I would ignore it. “Uhhh, yea OK thanks but I think I know what to do after I make my cool thing.”
It is tough, though. Perhaps there are some things that we have to learn on our own.
I hope this makes a dent in your comfort zone. Just enough to get you to give this quick and easy planning exercise a shot.
I was able to shift my mindset because the exercise is actually a lot more fun than the standard “planning” process. Or, at least what I had as a misconceived notion of what planning might have been.
The vision roadmap is a framework I adopted from an innovative product designer who now works on an up and coming seed fund over seas, Taylor Westcoatt. Taylor designed the vision roadmap as a new innovation based on a few other frameworks. It is quite amazing how he designed this framework by blending just the right amount of the other frameworks into a new system.
Idea spark is the vision
For the first time in my life, I am able to take the most abstract “thing” and transform it into a tangible plan with realistic milestones and clear indicators that indicate I am walking in the right direction.
That reminds me, coming up with that initial idea that I was so proud of was only step 1 out of 100. That initial idea spark is usually so far away from what I could make right now or within a few weeks. This is so critical because this thought process led to me maintaining a specific perception of what the product is supposed to be and do right now. I could not comprehend the fact that the idea spark would only realize its full potential after a few other steps took place first. I am not referring to buying a domain name or figuring out what platform to build on. Those answers come way later and are organically discovered through interacting with the target market. These other steps I refer to are the milestones along the journey of crafting this beautiful product that started as a small iddy biddy baby idea in my mind. If I worked on a project for 6 months, I would have already failed on day one because I started building the baby idea into a real thing immediately – which I have found is not possible, and it caused me to never really reach a point when I could show something to a customer. It’s like, it would never be ready because the process I was using to build it was broken by design.
Understanding this on a deep level required a mindset shift for me. Reflecting on the last decade I’m able to see that the mindset shift only happened as a result of the experience of trying and failing, trying and failing, failing and failing and the result of the emotional experience led to my view on the situation to change.
It is interesting, now that I think about it again, each time I went through another try and fail it lowered my confidence and I would get further and further from success each time simply because I stopped taking risks and leaning in with no regrets. Thankfully, I am realizing this at age 32 which means I still have time for at least a few more attempts.
Designing the vision roadmap
If you checked out Taylor’s breakdown of the visioning process you’ll see it is complex. It was overwhelming the first four or five times I really put the time into trying to follow it along. It probably took at least six months for my mind to get strong enough to fully grasp what he’s talking about.
It’s brilliant. He’s brilliant. He takes the abstract, inspiring vision and transforms it into exactly what needs to be built today.
We often think about features we want to build and we forget the initial idea spark is the primary source of how we make every decision. Anything I do today or anything I make tomorrow must positively impact the momentum of my customer’s journey from day one all the way to the moment they decide to try, buy, and buy again.
Now that I have a better understanding of the process, I am going to innovate on top of it just a bit so that it fits my workflow and is easy for my customers to understand. Taylor talks great if you’re a product person, but for the common folk like myself it is intimidating – that’s exactly why it took me a million years to understand it.
I break it down into four questions. As you think through and imagine the answers to each question you are defining the path you need to take in order to turn that little beautiful baby idea in your mind into a game changing product that makes a dent in the universe.
(1) Where are you going? This is basically the vision statement. “I want to live in a world that looks like this…”
(2) When will you arrive? Think about the potential checkpoints or milestones you will need to reach on your journey towards the vision.
(3) Who will you bring with you? Get specific about your potential target market. Define the characteristics of the individual customer – how old, what pains do they experience that you aim to solve, and what value will you propose to them in order to get them interested in trying, buying, and buying again?
(4) What will it look like at each checkpoint or milestone? Describe what you will need to see and hear that will indicate you are on the path towards realizing your vision.
With the answers to each of the questions listed above, you should be able to fill-in-the-blanks to the below roadmap.
Question #1: this is phase 3. If you succeed in creating this awesome product, what will the interaction with those customers look like?
Question #2: In the top row, you’ll see “Phase 1, Phase 2, Phase 3”. This is where you place the amount of time it will take for you to get to each milestone in the journey. Taylor advises a 90 day total, and researching this topic at-large has left me with the understanding that 90 days is the typical length of a roadmap that leaves you with enough wiggle room to be innovative and agile.
Question #3: I list user and customer separately, but this is where you need to take creative ownership with your own project and fill those slots in with your own members. Specific answers to this question will be discovered in your value proposition canvas.
Question #4: Similar to #1, but broken down by milestone. Taylor advises to describe what your customer will be able to say they get from interacting/transacting with your brand
I find this to be a good exercise for stepping back from your big picture idea that you one day hope to deliver to your customer.
Before you can deliver your idea to your customer, your customer has to become aware that you and your product exist. In the table above, the first 30 days of your roadmap might be dedicated to introducing your brand to your customer.
How might you take the customer from being UNAWARE of you, to being AWARE?
How might you take the customer from being AWARE of your product, to CONSIDER your product as a potential option?
How might you take the customer from CONSIDERING your product, to DECIDING to use your product?
How might you take the customer from DECIDING to use your product, to being LOYAL?
The four questions I just listed are helpful to think through as you define your value proposition within each column of the vision roadmap table.
If you are able to deliver the value proposition to each user interaction along the journey, it means you have successfully delivered your value proposition at each milestone of the journey.
Continue to work backwards, if you deliver on the value proposition xyz, what might you have to build in order to have accomplished the delivery of your proposition?
This is important because too many people rush straight into the feature development without fully thinking through what the purpose of the technology solution is meant to provide to the customer. Using the vision roadmap approach allows us to make educated decisions about features, and features are only a small piece of the big picture. Roadmaps are not a list of features you think your product needs to have. Showing a feature list as your roadmap is a clear indication that you have not nailed down value propositions, milestones, or a clear understanding of where you are going.
Get my next post about visioning…
Visioning is like lifting weights for the mind
It is a new process so it might be awkward at first, but it is super fun. Ha…I think it’s fun. I am happy to give you feedback on your idea or vision or whatever is on your mind. Contact me anytime or let me know what’s up below.