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How to Define a Clear Product Vision to Lead Your Team to Success

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When you think about the world’s most visionary leaders, whose faces do you see? Steve Jobs? Elon Musk? Perhaps Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, Sheryl Sandberg, Henry Ford or Amelia Earhart? In hindsight, what makes these leaders “visionary” is often the enormous degree of impact they enabled. However, leaders like the list above rarely stumble into their success; they enter their field with a resolve for how they will make a difference. They see things no one else does. They have a vision.

Seeing things no one else can see takes practice. It’s not a bolt of lightning, but consistent practice that allows truly visionary leaders to constantly push the boundaries of what products can enable a better world. Subsequently, forming a product vision enables you to set the North Star to guide you and your team toward a goal without leading you astray.

In the context of product management, business strategy, and entrepreneurship, if your company’s mission is to solve problem “X,” your vision is the imagined and idealized world in which your product has solved problem “X” with the greatest conceivable outcome. The best product visions paint a picture of a dramatically better world in which the lives of your users are improved by your product.

Having a clear product vision allows product teams and leaders to:

  • Suspend constraints. It’s impossible to develop a vision without dreaming big. Thinking about the ideal end-state, even if only for a moment, will allow you to open yourself up creatively to all the possibilities of how a problem can be solved without being held back by feasibility concerns. When developing a vision, anything is plausible as long as it doesn’t violate the laws of physics.
  • Inspire greatness. A well-articulated vision allows your stakeholders (both internal and external) to close their eyes and envision the same thing as you. Your customers who see themselves as part of your vision will be more likely to buy your product. Talented employees who share in your vision will be more likely to join and stay on your team.
  • Set strategy. A vision helps you forge a path from where you are to where you ultimately want to be. Your vision will inform short-term roadmaps as well as long-term strategies, where you can plan concrete steps (e.g., minimum viable product, future version releases) toward your end goal, saving you time spent via trial and error iterating in the wrong direction.
  • Align teams. Having a shared North Star means anyone on your team can constantly evaluate whether the work at hand gets you a step closer to the end goal, lending a level of built-in focus to your team.

A great company mission and product vision informs clear strategy and roadmaps. To clarify further, here’s an excerpt from a post I wrote about product strategy:

… I want to provide a relevant and concrete example using Tesla. I choose Tesla because a) Elon Musk is rad, b) Musk and Tesla have been unusually public and transparent about their strategy, and c) Tesla is a rare example of a company that has followed through on its strategy with execution that is down to the “T”. This puts it into a godly territory that is almost difficult to believe.

  • Mission: “Tesla’s mission is to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable transport.” (This was recently updated when Tesla merged with SolarCity.)
  • Vision: To summarize, Tesla’s vision is to reduce vehicle carbon emissions through the advent of electric vehicles.
  • Strategy: This is the famous “Master Plan”: 1) Build a sports car, 2) use that money to build an affordable car, 3) use that money to build an even more affordable car, 4) while doing above, also provide zero emission electric power generation options, and then finally 5) don’t tell anyone.

Interestingly, despite all of these benefits, many teams don’t (or don’t know to) explicitly define a clear product vision. Often, teams will home in on a short-term solution and begin defining, designing, and developing a product without a long-term vision. Product teams can go on for months and years building features and fixing issues based only on reacting to user or stakeholder requests without a clear end-goal in mind.
In the absence of a vision, product leaders from all backgrounds (product managementengineeringdesignmarketing, executives) are required to step in and define a vision and ensure that the team gets to a shared understanding.

Product Vision at General Assembly

We’ve spoken primarily about product vision at a grand level, but it can also be something as small as how a single feature can transform a user’s experience in the product. It is never too early for early- or mid-career professionals to practice developing and sharing a product vision.

In General Assembly’s part-time Product Management course, students practice developing a product vision as part of their final project. The course guides each student through the steps from identifying a problem in the market to solving that problem — no matter how small the product or feature may be — through the development of the product ideas into a concrete vision, executable roadmap, along with success metrics, and product design.

For businesses, train your team to get the full picture of the product development cycle. Through design thinkinglean methodology, and agile development skills, you can ensure your company is equipped to efficiently develop and deliver effective digital products and services.

Meet Our Expert

Vince Law is a Product Management instructor at General Assembly San Francisco, where he has helped newly promoted product executives become effective leaders and aspiring product managers land jobs. He was previously GA’s director of product management, a role in which he directed, mentored, and built a team of 15-plus product managers across a spectrum of initiatives. In addition, he advises and consults various startups around the world, and blogs on Medium. He has previously served as the senior product manager at Storm8 and as a product manager at Kabam, and has worked in the consulting, finance, telecom, and automotive industries in various capacities.

“Companies across a spectrum of industries are realizing the importance of product management, specifically around innovation and growth. The industry is experiencing a surplus of PM jobs, but with few qualified candidates.”

Vince Law, Product Management Instructor, General Assembly San Francisco

An Introduction to Agile Methodologies for Product Management

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By Cliff Gilley

Agile methodologies in product development are those that embrace the principles of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development, a set of guidelines created in the late 1990s by a group of software development professionals seeking to revolutionize the business. These methodologies focus on performing work in small, iterative steps that allow a product team to validate its assumptions and test hypotheses frequently. Examples of these methodologies include Scrum, Kanban, and Extreme Programming.

These Agile methodologies are often contrasted with “waterfall” approaches, which focus on defining as many of the requirements as possible before the project can begin, in as much detail as possible, so that there is no question as to what will eventually be delivered. The biggest downside of a waterfall approach is that it requires a large amount of up-front work and long development times before anything useful and testable is actually completed.

The importance of the Agile way of thinking cannot be understated in the modern business of software and general product development; its application stretches from development and quality-assurance work up into product design and management, and even into marketing and business strategy. While Agile began as a solution to a very specific set of problems developers were facing, it has grown into its own culture that permeates every aspect of modern businesses. It’s essential for any product manager to understand the fundamentals of Agile methodologies so that they can influence an organization to change for the better or engage more meaningfully with their teams on a day-to-day basis.

Scrum: The Most Commonly Used Agile Methodology

In practice, the most popular Agile methodology is Scrum, one of the first methodologies designed to deliver software products following Agile principles. In Scrum, the product manager creates a backlog of “user stories,” simple statements of the problem a development team is being asked to solve. Each user story gets stored in a “product backlog” that the product manager prioritizes according to business and other needs.

The development teams, usually sized between five and nine members for optimal effectiveness, look at these stories, estimate their complexity, and take some of them into a “sprint” as a commitment to deliver. A sprint is a two-to-three-week period during which teams work to deliver their commitments. During a sprint, the product manager and development teams work together to discuss, clarify, and deliver all of the previously agreed-upon stories. At the end of the sprint, each development team demonstrates to the product team and interested stakeholders what it has completed. Once the team has iterated to the point that the product team believes the work is worth sharing widely, a release can be created and push out the product updates.

Kanban and Extreme Programming

There are other Agile methodologies, besides Scrum, that are important to understand given that many companies may pick and choose from one or another to build their processes. Kanban focuses on limiting works in progress, only allowing teams to take on a set number of stories or efforts at any one time, then working them through to completion before taking on more. Extreme Programming, on the other hand, is a very hands-off methodology that puts most of the power and authority on individual developers rather than taking a full-team approach. This methodology stresses that constant pairing and test cycles ensure quality outputs from the teams.

Why Agile Methodologies Work

The main value of Scrum and other Agile methodologies lies in their focus on atomic units of work. The Scrum team commits to a small number of user stories for each sprint, which means that, at any time, the future work can be reprioritized, or even abandoned or added to without affecting the team’s work in progress. At the beginning of the next sprint, they look at the next set of priorities and commit to delivering another set of work. This is the opposite of “waterfall” methods, which establish a large commitment over the course of many months and apply strict processes for changing those requirements.

The other value in Scrum and Agile methodologies lies in the testing overhead required to validate the work the team completes. Because the team is delivering small sets of functionality, each of those sets can be tested during the sprint. This reduces the kind of massive, overarching integration testing required with a waterfall approach, in which everything is “done” only at the end of the entire project.

Agile Methodologies at General Assembly

General Assembly teaches Agile methodologies as it relates to software development in our part-time Product Management course, full-time Web Development Immersive (WDI), and in workshops. We focus on the difference between the principles of Agile methods and the real-world application of those methods. Expert instructors, who have used these methodologies to help teams through Agile processes in their own careers, prepare students for the use of Agile through lectures and practical examples from their real-world experiences. In WDI, we reinforce Agile principles through lessons on user stories, pair programming, and more.

Meet Our Expert

For nearly 15 years, Cliff Gilley has been a product manager and Agile coach at a wide variety of companies across many different industries, and is currently working as a technical product manager for the K2 corporation in Bellevue, Washington. He teaches General Assembly’s 10-week, part-time Product Management course, as well as shorter-form product management courses at GA’s Seattle campus. He also blogs regularly as the Clever PM and is an active board member with the Pacific Northwest Product Management Community.

Product Management is the ultimate “jack-of-all-trades” role in a healthy organization. It’s one of the few roles where you’re likely to be needed to contribute to the success of so many other teams.

 – Cliff Gilley, Product Management Instructor, General Assembly Seattle

Looking to grow your executive network? Here’s what I’ve learned over 15 years.

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Executive Networking Tips Strategy

Don’t be afraid to take risks, like introducing yourself to someone — in person — on a whim.

I still remember the early days of networking, before LinkedIn existed to help organize your professional life. When you’re fresh out of college, networking typically means going to happy hours, checking in with former classmates, and keeping in touch with mentors from your summer internships. But it’s the people who decide to go above and beyond college or corporate happy hours — with creative approaches to introductions — who can really stand out.

After you’ve been in the workforce for 15-plus years like I have, your networking strategy needs to evolve to place you in front of the right senior executives at innovative, cutting-edge companies. Remember that you are your own best publicist and it’s OK to be forward, ambitious, and scrappy to open the right doors. Don’t be afraid to take risks like introducing yourself to someone — in person — on a whim. Don’t hide behind LinkedIn connections online. Instead, create real, long-lasting relationships that will connect you with the biggest opportunities of your life.

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Measuring What Matters: General Assembly’s First Student Outcomes Report

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Since founding General Assembly in 2011, I’ve heard some incredible stories from our students and graduates. One of my favorites is about Jerome Hardaway. Jerome came to GA after five years in the United States Air Force. He dreamed of tackling persistent diversity gaps in the technology sector by breaking down barriers for other veterans and people of color.

In 2014, with the help of General Assembly’s Opportunity Fund scholarship, Jerome began one of our full-time Web Development Immersive courses. After graduation, he had the opportunity to pitch President Obama at the first-ever White House Demo Day and has launched a nonprofit in Nashville, Vets Who Code, which helps veterans navigate the transition to civilian life through technology skills training.

Exceptional stories like Jerome’s embody GA’s mission of “empowering people to pursue the work they love.” It’s a mission that motivates our instructional designers, faculty, mentors, and career coaches. It also inspired the development of an open source reporting framework which defined GA’s approach to measuring student outcomes and now, our first report with verified student outcomes metrics.

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L’Oréal Pioneers General Assembly’s Newest Assessment Based Training Model

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Assessments at General Assembly

The shift to data-driven marketing is changing the way we all do business. It is a powerful tool that enables us to cultivate more meaningful relationships with our customers – all of whom expect more value, more services, more engagement, and more conversations with all of our beauty brands. This is what makes our 7,000-person worldwide marketing team so invaluable to L’Oréal’s success.

We’ve always invested in the growth and development of our employees, and last year committed to building an online learning platform for our digital marketers through a customized education program with General Assembly. By arming our marketers with the most innovative tools and trainings, we are simultaneously upskilling our talent while transforming the company’s digital capabilities.

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General Assembly is Best for NYC

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General Assembly is Best for NYC

Earlier this spring, the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC) launched the Best for NYC campaign, “designed to inspire and equip New York City businesses to measure and improve practices that help create well-paying jobs and improve the quality of life in all five boroughs, while also strengthening their bottom-line.”  

Earlier this week, General Assembly was recognized as “Best for NYC” along with businesses from multiple sectors across the five boroughs. We scored in the top 10 in the Community category for metrics including “charitable giving, diversity and inclusion, worker ownership, and social impact through products and services.”

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What UX Designers and Web Developers Make in Major U.S. Markets

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UX designers and web developers salaries

You did it! You nailed your interview and you’re feeling great. But then, right when you least expect it, the recruiter finishes up the conversation with the dreaded questions, “So how much are you looking for?”

This question is awkward and even worrisome for a job seeker, particularly if you haven’t done your homework. However, here’s the good news! When you do take the time to do the research and know your worth, it can help you answer this question with ease.

In this article, we’ll take a look at average UX designers’ and web developers’ salaries in major job markets and at varying career levels. Please use this article to further your own research and help you better understand the market but know that this by no means a definitive or all-encompassing list.

The ranges and averages throughout the article were determined based on a compilation of information from Payscale.com, Glassdoor.com, Salary.com, Simplyhired.com and information from current practitioners.

Now, let’s take a comprehensive look at average salaries and the varying salary ranges of UX practitioners and web developers in some of the hottest tech markets in the United States. We’ll take a look at each tech hub and then break down the numbers from there.

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6 Tips For Negotiating Your Salary

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If you were offered $2 million right now, no strings attached, would you take it? Of course, you would! But did you know that you may have already inadvertently said no thank you to this offer? Author Linda Babcock writes about salary negotiation in her book Women Don’t Ask: The High Cost of Avoiding Negotiation—and Positive Strategies for Change. She states that when an employee fails to negotiate salary early in her career, it could add up to as much as $2 million in lost wages over the course of a lifetime.

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How to (Successfully) Ask For a Raise

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women in tech discuss a salary raise

Photo: WOC in Tech

We all could use a little extra in our paychecks, but asking for a raise is anxiety-inducing, even when you have a strong case to make. Asking for a raise without preparation can be awkward at best, and unsuccessful at worst.

A veteran hiring manager, Josh Doody, author of “Fearless Salary Negotiation: A Step-by-Step Guide to Getting Paid What You’re Worth,” walks us through how to ask for a raise — and what to do if you’re turned down.

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The Top 5 Podcasts for Aspiring Product Managers

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You are a product manager. Or you want to be. As the fearless leader for your product, you need to be the best-informed and most up-to-date member of your team. From market trends to failed startups, your knowledge of the product ecosystem is critical if you’re going to succeed. Which you will. Ready?

Don’t waste your precious time reinventing the wheel. While each product has its own unique set of challenges, plenty of product folks have been in your shoes before. Learn from their mistakes and accomplishments, then iterate and innovate your own path. We rounded up five of the best podcasts for product managers so you can make big decisions, build your team, and make products people love. And do it better than before. Next time you reach for headphones tune into one of these shows.

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