How to Create a Product Vision That Your Entire Team Can Rally Behind

Data and metrics are some of the most powerful tools we have available to guide our business decisions, informing what we change, what we maintain, and what we value. Taking a disciplined, focused approach that empowers and motivates your team is the best way to harness the power of data-informed decision-making.

Here are six steps for building a product vision that inspires.

1. Focus on One Goal When Developing a Product Vision

The most successful product leaders will wake up in the morning with one metric on their mind, work all day trying to make progress on that metric, and go to sleep thinking about that very same metric. Such thinking allows you to operate with greater focus and drive clearer, more immediate, results than you would be trying to improve 25 different things at once.

This hyper-focused approach depends on deep pre-planning. Commit to the hard work of deciding what’s actually the most important thing to accomplish before you do anything. If instead, you prioritize several goals at once, you’ll find you can rationalize anything (or never agree about what should be done).

2. Bake in Priorities

Let me illustrate this step with an example. For a long time, our performance engineering team at Mixpanel measured query latency—the time it takes for a request to travel from the browser to the server and back again—as an average, or percentile, across all requests for all customers. This had the effect of weighting all queries from all accounts as equally important. When we reduced the 90th percentile latency from 2 seconds to 1.5 seconds, we celebrated improving things by 25%.

The problem was, meanwhile, the queries of some of our very largest (and highest-paying) customers were taking minutes, not seconds. A huge chunk of ARR (Annual Recurring Revenue) was caught in this long tail, so in reality, it would be better to eliminate the awful experience of waiting a minute than to marginally improve what was already decent.

After realizing this, we changed the metric to “FastARR,” which is the percentage of ARR associated with accounts for which all users are experiencing acceptable latencies. This tells us how much ARR is at risk because Mixpanel is too slow.

Case in point: digging into what really matters will orient your team toward solving the biggest problems for the biggest customers—and drive more value for your business.

3. Let Your Customers Measure Success

Tracking deadlines or number of features shipped can make you feel more in control, but ultimately, these metrics don’t help your customers succeed.

A goal like reducing customer churn, on the other hand, forces you to ask why your customers churn, and to look for a solution that will have the most impact. By honing in on user-centric metrics like product adoption rate or churn, you’re aligning your goals with the success of your customers. There’s a big difference there.

4. Be Realistic

Gather your team and, together, answer this one question: What’s the minimum we need to do to achieve one huge success? Then focus on doing exactly that.

When crafting your product vision, bear in mind these three parameters—your target, your time, and your resources. If you give a team more aggressive goals than they can reasonably achieve, what you’ll get is either mediocre and half-finished work, or a burnt-out team—or both. Be realistic about the resources that you have today and never under prioritize the last mile of planning.

5. Don’t Go Backward

Let’s say you ask your team to lower data center costs by 20%. The team goes away and completes the task, and the data center costs will indeed be 20% lower next month. But suddenly, someone bursts into the room and exclaims, “Everyone’s queries are timing out! is so slow! It takes 30 seconds to load!” You turn to your team and they say, “But you said to lower the data center costs.”

The lesson to be learned here? Don’t let your one goal blind you to system complexities and necessary constraints (I call it the Universal Non Regression Principle, or UNRP). Your goal should be conceived and communicated with the assumption that nothing else will regress as a result of your work—unless such a trade-off is explicitly agreed upon. In fact, to be sure that the whole team is on the same page, make that an explicit directive

6. Build in the Reward

So you’ve established your product vision, you understand your key indicators of success, and your team is on board. It’s time to build in the reward. This should look something like: “When we achieve X, we’ll celebrate with Y.” In too many cases, people hear messages like, “You’d better hit that goal or there’s going to be trouble.” Not exactly the best way to motivate a team to put in the hard work you need them to do.

At Mixpanel, we have a fund called “Dollars and Sense,” which is topped off with money we’ve saved through data-informed cost reductions. If we reduce a monthly recurring cost, one month’s worth of those savings goes into the account. Then, we spend it on ourselves—we have fun, we hand out bonuses, we buy people presents, and we reinvest in the things that our team wants. From my experience, it’s a powerful way to focus our collective energy on achieving the things that matter most.

About the Author

Neil Rahilly is the VP of Engineering at Mixpanel where he oversees Mixpanel’s Software Engineering, Machine Learning, Information Security, and Site Reliability teams. Most recently he served as Mixpanel’s Director of Engineering. During Neil’s six-year tenure with the company, he has also held roles as a software engineer and engineering manager. Neil holds a JD/MBA from the University of Toronto.

  • Originally published January 21, 2020, updated May 5, 2023