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Use envisionments to align stakeholders and secure product buy-in.

Are you building a wall or a cathedral?

Sometimes companies find themselves in turmoil, they have a team working on a product and they don't know why. It doesn't feel like it's contributing the companies wider strategy, it isn't generating profits or it just seems to be floating without a rudder.

What a product like this is typically suffering from is a lack of vision. In Simon Sinek's Start With Why people are described to be far more motivated if they feel like they are contributing to a greater cause. An "envisionment" or a "visiontype" are artifacts that contribute to the evangelism of a product strategy.

Why an envisionment?

Build an emotional alignment

An envisionment's job is to help people connect a future state of the world with your product in it.


At the end of this exercise, you should have a evangelised audience that will:

  • provide financial investment
  • be aligned as a team
  • have clarity on your product's purpose
  • be excited about your product's potential

A successful envisionment will move your stakeholders from the apathy of today to belief in a future state.

Ask, who are you serving?

Be meaningful when choosing your audience, different stakeholders will help you achieve different goals, however, each have different needs to be served.

The team
Internal alignment and motivation

Pros

  • Build a shared understanding of what you're working towards
  • Motivate the team to take this journey together
  • cheap to undertake, doesn't need to be perfect

Cons

  • has little impact outside your immediate team
  • won't solve external challenges you might have
The product organisation
Strategic alignment across product

Pros

  • demonstrates how your team's work fits into the wider product strategy
  • evangelises your team's work to the rest of the product organisation
  • provides an opportunity to seek feedback from other people in Product

Cons

  • Product leadership may interpret the work as a roadmap
The wider company
Sign post your role in the organisation

Pros

  • show the business why you're hear
  • get the entire organisation excited by what the future holds
  • allow sales to see how the product will serve thier customers

Cons

  • Can't be as technical or product delivery focussed
  • Needs high level of production quality
  • Interests of product and business units don't fully overlap
The
C-suite
Get Product/Team buy-in

Pros

  • can lay the pre-text for investment into the team
  • act as a mandate for how the team will impact the business

Cons

  • less about the user experience and more about the business
  • requires careful preparation and readiness for HIPPO objections and ideas
Investors
Secure funding

Pros

  • use as a tool to seek further investment
  • articulate how business goals are being met with product at the heart of the organisation
  • small audience to cater to

Cons

  • requires very careful positioning to align to the needs of the stakeholder
  • requirements overlap with few other cohorts
  • production quality must be 5*
Customers
Sell ahead, align with purpose

Pros

  • invite customers to be part of your journey
  • allow sales to sell customers into the future state
  • position the company as pioneers and innovators

Cons

  • high levels of production quality needed
  • significant effort reaching customers
The world
Brand recognition, marketing

Pros

  • be a thought leader in the space
  • position the brand as pioneers
  • signal intent to your competition

Cons

  • the highest production quality reqiured
  • all content must be beyond repute
  • must communicate with the broadest audience with the least skin in the game

Determine the horizon of the envisionment

Too near the present day and the envisionment will lack innovation and look more like a roadmap. Too far and the abstraction will become so great it will be hard to capture the imagination of your audience.

I typically aim for a window of 3-5 years in order to:

  • escape the constraints of today's technical debt you might have
  • include technology not available today
  • give wiggle room for creative concepts to disrupt today's paradigms without raising scepticism

Ideate like crazy

I won't lie, this is my favourite part. I try to sit back and let the team rip. Don't let ideas be limited to features. Try workshops where you consider some of the following:

  • product principles
  • future target customer
  • ways of working
  • customer outcomes
  • product features

To generate a broad set of ideas ask the team to ideate individually first and storm together after. For the team, this segment can be engaging and inspiring, most ideas can be accepted into the next stage.

Translate your ideas into a narrative

Now it is time to curate a narrative. The narrative is the backbone of making an envisionment an effective tool. People remember a plot, connect with the protagonist and be captivated by the undulations of a good story.

An envisionment is often a Frankenstein of ideas all threaded together using a User Story Map.

If your team has landed on a singular concept that overrides everything else, then brainstorm the narrative around it, otherwise link each idea in a single narrative flow which you will use to tell the story of the product.

Split your actors like a Service Blueprint

Adapt a typical User Story Map to borrow from Service Blueprints by using the swim lanes to show above-the-line and below-the-line interactions.

Arrange and re-arrange

The beauty of a User Story Map is the ease of re-ordering elements. When your arranging things some things will have to go before others (think showering before getting dressed) but other things can be negotiated. Use the User Story Map for the basis of those negotiations. 

Add a priority order

Use the vertical ordering to agree on a priority order. Not everything needs to be shouted about. While the tool doesn't rank order every item, if there are items competing in the same scene of your narrative this can provide a simple representation of their rank.

The journey before your product

Don't just dive into your product, set the scene. Include moments leading up to your product. By doing this you'll build your character's backstory and allow your audience to empathise with them. 

Build your artifact

Keeping in mind your audience choose a medium that is accessible and engaging. From a notion document to a hardback printed book can all work.

I observed hardback books really resonating with investors who associated the quality and craft with success. Then as Covid-19 hit the team pivoted to micro-sites made just for this small audience that maintained those same high production values. 

Typically I find any between a clickable prototype and a micro-site will be able to meet the needs of most stakeholders.

Share your envisionment

It goes without saying that an envisionment that isn't shared with stakeholders is worthless. Make sure you have a plan to distribute the envisionment, to present it, and if applicable get it in the hands of your stakeholder.

From the right shipping address, to prototyping for the right screen size, or planning a roadshow to present your artefact. Do the groundwork to maximise the number of stakeholders you identified seeing it. Each additional person that experiences it increase your ROI and potential to achieve your future state.

Outcomes

Here are the outcomes I have anecdotally experienced when an envisionment was deployed:

  • Secured an additional £1,500,000 in funding for a team over 12 months to extend the scope of a booking app
  • Won a renewal SOW contract worth over £500,000
  • Placated a leadership team putting a product under intense pressure to articulate a strategy
  • Was a key artifact in customers signing statements of intent at an early stage start-up

Risks

Envisionments haven't always worked out for me. In one case the product team didn't support the output of the artifact, and it was never distributed. Despite the team generating the concepts that lived within the envisionment, I believe the toxic state of the team meant they were not comfortable publishing such a contrasting outlook to their stakeholders. 

While an envisionment is usually a great tool for building enthusiasm for the future I will be more mindful of if this is a tool for pulling a team out of a dark place or more of a tool to boost a flat or mildly positive sentiment.