Product Vision, Strategy, Roadmap

We keep using these words, but what do they mean?

Product organizations often discuss needing a (new) product vision or strategy, or will talk about what is on their roadmap. However, what is sometimes lost in these discussions is the unfortunate fact that none of these terms have clear definitions, and in fact some people call different concepts by the same names and the same concepts by different names. So in order to help clear up some of the confusion, I collected some definitions and references and will attempt to put them together in a bit of a coherent framework.

The Product Strategy Pyramid

Vision

Company Vision and Mission

To understand what a product vision can be defined as, we actually have to start at the company vision and mission, since product vision and strategy should ladder up to the company mission/vision. In contrast to the term “product vision”, these are somewhat more well defined. Here is a concise definition from management consultancy Bain & Co.:

Product Vision

The product vision should act as a “north star” for all product development. Sitting at the tip, it should be the most succinct and most stable element of the product strategy pyramid. However, what exactly it should look like isn’t exactly well-defined.

Product Strategy

In contrast to the vision, which should have a lifetime of many years, a product strategy is typically seen to look at a horizon of months to a few years.

High-level definition of product strategy

This definition pulled together by the team of product management podcast “This is Product Management” is one of the more high-level ones, which could stay stable for years (notably, it has quite a bit of overlap with the most detailed “vision” template above):

Goal-oriented definition of product strategy

The second kind of definition of product strategy is a more actionable one. As one example, in “Product Leadership”, Banfield/Eriksson/Walkingshaw define product strategy as a set of goals to be reached over the next year:

Product Roadmap

While “roadmap” is the concept that at its surface seems clearest, it is actually also ambiguous.

Putting It All Together

For all layers of the product strategy pyramid, there are different definitions, and none of them are inherently right or wrong. As with so many things in the life of a product manager, it all comes down to alignment with stakeholders: everyone needs to agree what a product vision / strategy / roadmap looks like before you can go ahead and create one.

The expanded product strategy pyramid

Experienced product leader, previously at 8fit, Yammer, BCG. Currently working on something new.