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Four Steps to Defining Your Product Vision with Agile Management

The first stage in an agile project is defining your product vision. The product vision statement is an elevator pitch — a quick summary — to communicate how your product supports the company's or organization's strategies. The vision statement must articulate the goals for the product.

The product owner is responsible for knowing about the product, its goals, and its requirements throughout the project and takes responsibility for creating the vision statement, although other people may have input. The vision statement becomes a guiding light, the "what we are trying to achieve" statement that the development team, scrum master, and stakeholders refer to throughout the project.

Anyone involved with the project, from the development team to the CEO, should be able to understand the product vision statement.

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Step 1: Developing the agile product objective

To write your vision statement, you must understand and be able to communicate the product’s objective. You need to identify:

  • Key product goals: How will the product benefit the company creating it? The goals may include benefits for a specific department within your company as well as the company as a whole. What specific company strategies does the product support?

  • Customer: Who will use the product? This may be more than one entity.

  • Need: Why does the customer need the product? What features are critical to the customer?

  • Competition: How does the product compare with similar products?

  • Primary differentiation: What makes this product different from the status quo, or the competition, or both?

Step 2: Creating a draft agile vision statement

After you have a good grasp of the product’s objective, create a first draft of your vision statement. In creating your vision statement, you help convey your product's quality, maintenance needs, and longevity.

One way to make your product vision statement more compelling is to write it in the present tense, as if the product already exists. Using present tense helps readers imagine the product in use.

A vision statement identifies a future state for the product when the product reaches completion. The vision focuses on the conditions that should exist when the product is complete.

Avoid generalizations in your vision statement such as "make customers happy" or "sell more products." Also watch out for too much technological specificity, such as "using release 9.x of Java, create a program with four modules that. . . ." At this early stage, defining specific technologies may limit you later. A few extracts from vision statements that should ring warning bells:

  • Secure additional customers for the MyXYZ application.

  • Satisfy our customers by December.

  • Eliminate all defects and improve quality.

  • Create a new application in Java.

  • Beat the Widget Company to market by six months.

Step 3: Validating and revising the agile vision statement

After you draft your vision statement, review it against a quality checklist:

  • Is this vision statement clear, focused, and written for an internal audience?

  • Does the statement provide a compelling description of how the product meets customer needs?

  • Does the vision describe the best possible outcome?

  • Is the business objective specific enough that the goal is achievable?

  • Does the statement deliver value consistent with corporate strategies and goals?

  • Is the project vision statement compelling?

These yes-or-no questions help you determine whether your vision statement is thorough. If any answers are no, revise the vision statement.

When all answers are yes, move on to reviewing the statement with others, including:

  • Project stakeholders: The stakeholders will be able to identify that the vision statement includes everything the product should accomplish.

  • Your development team: Because the team will create the product, it must understand what the product needs to accomplish.

  • Scrum master: A strong understanding of the product helps the scrum master remove roadblocks and ensure that the development team is on the right path later in the project.

  • Agile mentor: Share the vision statement with your agile mentor, if you have one. The agile mentor is independent of the organization and can provide an external perspective, qualities that can make for a great objective voice.

Discover whether others think the vision statement is clear and delivers the message you want to convey. Review and revise the vision statement until the project stakeholders, the development team, and the scrum master fully understand the statement.

At this stage of your project, you may not have a development team or scrum master. After you form a scrum team, be sure to review the vision statement with it.

Step 4: Finalizing your agile vision statement

Make sure your development team, scrum master, and stakeholders have the final copy of the vision statement. You can even put a copy on the wall in the scrum team's work area, where everyone can see it every day. You refer to the vision statement throughout the life of the project.

If your project is more than a year long, you may want to revisit the vision statement to make sure the product reflects the marketplace and supports any changes in the company's needs.

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