(2009-02-25) Cagan Visiontyping And The Hands-on Executive

Martin Cagan: Visiontyping and the Hands-On Executive. Executives that are deeply involved in the company’s products... the executive meets frequently with the product team, sharing his thoughts and ideas, looking at prototypes and the results of user testing, providing encouragement and inspiration, and being open to new information and new approaches that move the idea forward.

The job of the product organization is to support the third scenario so well that the executive loves the process and gets addicted to the results. The surprise for many product teams that operate in the first or second case is that this really isn¹t the way most executives want to work; it is an artificial consequence of the process.

So I thought I’d discuss one technique that I have found very valuable when working with hands-on executives, known as “visiontyping” (sometimes also called “concept prototyping”).

The only thing I trust when communicating with company execs (and customers) is a high-fidelity prototype. This is because a prototype eliminates a tremendous amount of the inherent ambiguity. And the very act of creating the prototype forces you to think about the problem at a much deeper level, uncovering important issues that are otherwise obscured until typically during implementation.

A visiontype is essentially a prototype, but with some key differences

a visiontype is not meant to be used as a spec, so it only typically covers the main concepts required to get the key ideas across; there is no effort made to be complete in any sense

a visiontype helps the executive to see both the power and the limitations of his ideas, often giving rise to new and better insights

Especially when a company has a visionary leader, it is the job of the product organization to help this leader to translate these ideas into actual products, to understand the benefits and the issues, and to move the product vision forward into reality. Moreover, even the most brilliant executive will have plenty of bad ideas too, and this process helps to quickly separate the good from the bad, or “fail fast.”

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