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Express your Product Vision with the Idea Stack

Written by 
Jim Kalbach
May 3, 2015

How do you get to the essence of a new product idea? Teams need to be on the same page from the very beginning. Otherwise, differences in expectations get magnified later on, jeopardizing the entire effort.

To help us answer this question, we invited Josh Wexler (@josh_wexler on Twitter) to present at our recent webinar.  Josh has a ton of experience consulting clients on product visioning as Solutions Director of his company, Originate. In the webinar, he guided us through his technique call the Idea Stack.

If you missed the webinar, here's the recording:

The Idea Stack: Expressing Your Product Vision.

The book the Josh referenced is Lean Analytics by Alistair Croll and Benjamin Yoskovitz.

The Idea Stack

Many people expressed an interest in the template mural Josh showed.

MURAL will be making this template and others like available in the product soon. Please check our product announcements and our blog regularly, or follow us on twitter (@mural).


Josh was able to take some of your questions during the webinar, but couldn't get to all of them. Here are some follow-up answers to open questions:

Tim asked: I like the Idea Stack. When and where do you address the competitive environment?

Josh: We address it when we look for inspiration. We ask about who is already solving this problem, from whom can we borrow design, user experience, and features.

Kelsey asked: Thank you so much. Just curious, you talked about fidelity of a prototype, our co. is trying to figure out whether to do a low fidelity test or a higher fidelity, more costly and time intensive test. Are low fidelity tests informing?

Josh: It depends on where you are with your product development cycle. Low fi prototype testing can be amazingly informative. However, we always recommend doing low-fi tests as one-on-one interviews so you can have more of a conversation. We also use the tool Validately as a way to test prototypes.

Kate asked: How do you validate user personas?

Josh: As soon as you have something to show potential users (usually a paper prototype) we recommend scheduling 15-20 minute interviews with potential customers. In those interviews, ask about your personas as a way to validate them. It is typically easy to do so, for example, if the persona you are designing for is a city dweller, you can easily ask what kind of environment they live in.

Mateus asked: Is that applicable when creating a new product for a well-established client, (not a new startup or the core product of a new company)?

Josh: Yes it is. We often do these workshops with larger companies and they actually work better. Established companies have a lot more constraints and it is really important to capture them. This is a great way to do so. Also, established companies typically need help building a common vision for the team.

Hoyt asked: Do you find any limitations on the number of participants on the mural board? That is, does it get cumbersome as the number of participants increase? How many users have you had at one time?

Josh: We typically do not use the real time collaboration features during the workshop because it can be distracting. Typically we have only the facilitator using the mural. But we always give access to everyone on the team after we are done with the workshop.

Pre-Registration Question

Finally, before the webinar, we asked registrants one simple question: What is the biggest challenge you face finding a product vision in your organization?Here are some of the top themes that emerged from your answers:

  • Product-Market Alignment: It's tough to find the right problem to solve, the one that is going to have real impact on customer and on your bottom line. People expressed a difficulty in selecting and deciding on a direction to follow initially. One person answered our question with a question: "How do you know its the right vision for your target audience?" Another commented: "Too many different viable directions for a product." We also got this this simple answer: "Indecision."
  • Clarity: There were a cluster of answers around difficulty in defining and communicating a product vision, represented in this answer: "[It's challenging] assimilating all the aspects into a cohesive statement that is short and easily understandable." Or consider this comment: "[It's challenging to] succinctly documenting the vision and the roadmap so that priorities are clear and agreed"
  • Coordination: But even if you can get product-market alignment and clarity, you're not out of the woods. You still need broad agreement and buy in. People seem to struggle to "reconcile interests and expectations" or to get "agreement between stakeholders involved."
  • Priority: And even with all three of the above in place, you still might face challenges around priority. How do you create cool new products when you have technical debt to address or when you have no time or resources to deliver? One person wrote: "[It's challenging where there are] wild Fires all around that distract business stakeholders from why they are building product." You need commitment and the organizational will to stay on track.

If you have experienced and of these difficulties, you are not alone.

About the author

About the authors

Jim Kalbach

Chief Evangelist
Jim Kalbach is a noted author, speaker, and instructor in customer experience, experience design, digital transformation, and strategy.