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How to run a remote workshop to nail a Product Purpose Statement
Corporate vision and mission statements are usually all fluff and no substance. A Product Purpose Statement perfectly summarizes why your product exists, who it's for, and how it's experienced.
What is a product purpose statement?
Forget about those corporate, blue-sky-thinking, fluffy, nonsensical mission and vision statements that nobody really understands. And try to ignore that your company probably spent an obscene amount of money to get a brand agency to help craft them.
Listen, I of course think a company needs an aspirational vision – a clear reason to exist. But they are usually far detached from the products your company creates to the point that it’s difficult to have any practical use for them.
A product purpose statement however is more clearly centered around the customer and the product – and it helps you make product decisions. An actual tool for the leadership and the team that is hands-on with the product.
Yeah ok, but what is it?
A product purpose statement is linked to the company's purpose but is more concretely formulated around a company’s product.
A good product purpose should be realistic yet aspirational and should be unlikely to change in the next few years.
Let’s use LinkedIn as an example. The company has a high-level vision and mission statement that looks like this:
But if we look at one of LinkedIn’s products – Sales Navigator – that product could have a product statement that looks like this:
A product statement is broken up into three parts, the why, who, and how. By doing it this way you ensure that the statement is centered around the customer. Also, the “template” format makes it a lot easier to write it.
Ok, you now understand what it is. Let me tell you a story about what problems it can solve.
A story about 4 Product Owners who unknowingly disagreed
Once upon a time, I had a mission to help a team of Product Owners create a product strategy for the company website. These Product Owners were responsible for different sections and features serving consumers, all accessible through that website.
The problem was, they rarely worked together.
I had a sneaking suspicion they had 4 different ideas of what would be the best experience and what mattered most to their customers.
One very important exercise when nailing a product strategy is to craft a solid product purpose statement.
When we started doing this exercise it became very clear that my suspicions were correct…
One Product Owner thought that the core reason why the company website existed was to serve his particular feature which he felt was the most important.
Another Product Owner wanted to include everything in the product purpose, rendering nothing important. Their Product Purpose statement was the equivalent of running a highlight marker across every single sentence on a page.
This was a good thing though.
Because – the product purpose exercise uncovered the different positions and opinions they all had. And thanks to the tactics this exercise entails, the product owners managed to come together, align, and decide on a single product purpose for the company website.
This product purpose was the foundation for all the following exercises and workshops that we then ran as part of a Strategy Sprint (more about that in the future on the blog, have you subscribed yet?).
But even if you’re not doing a full-blown strategy – just having a clear product purpose will help guide decisions for your product. When everyone in your company knows why your product exists – that influences everything downstream. When you consider what features to build, how you build them, where you put resources, and what to skip for later – a product purpose will help you decide.
Let’s dive in and learn how to do it.
The quick basics about this workshop:
Time: 30-45 minutes workshop time. About 15 minutes of prep time.
Recommended amount of participants: 3–10 people. Any more than that and you will struggle with time management.
Who should partake: It depends on the size of your company, what type of product etc. However, in general, this is a product leadership question. But stakeholders from the product team that is hands-on with your product should also be invited. Here’s an example list of people commonly taking part:
Head of Strategy
Head of Marketing/Communication
Step 0 – Workshop board prep
Disclaimer: I’m going to be assuming you already are somewhat familiar with how to use the digital whiteboard tool Miro. It’s very easy to use and there are lots of how-to guides out there if you are unfamiliar. If you rather use Mural, Butter or FigJam, feel free to steal this structure and do your own thing.
Running a remote workshop requires very little preparation when you use templates. You basically just have to fill out the workshop participants’ names in each workshop section so they can find their way around.
First, download the Miro template:
Next – I have highlighted everything you need to update with the help of my most trusted Workshop Assistant and Mood Manager™, Björn the Norwich Terrier. Everywhere you see Björn, update according to his instruction, then remove Björn.
There are 4 things you need to prepare:
Update and add product purpose examples to better fit your context (optional, but recommended)
Add participant’s names on the Purpose crafting board
Add participant’s names on the Purpose voting dots
Add the Decider’s name next to their voting stars
Preparing a “Decider”
You will conduct a vote during the workshop on which product purpose statement to go for. Voting might end up being a tie. That is why it is helpful to have a Decider role that makes a final call.
The Decider is usually the Product Owner, I mean they own the product right? But in a smaller startup, the Decider might as well be the CEO/founder. It doesn’t matter too much who it is, just make sure someone gets the role of Decider.
If the decider is not yourself, make sure to inform whoever will have that role ahead of the workshop so that they’re prepared.
You’re now ready to workshop, let’s begin!
Step 1 – Introduce the exercise
⏱️ Time: 5 minutes
Walk the participants through the basic structure of the workshop. Emphasize showing the example purpose statements. Having multiple examples will help the participants feel more confident about how to write them and you will get fewer questions.
Step 2 – Write Product Purpose Statements
⏱️ Time: 10 minutes
The meat of this workshop. Crafting a solid Product Purpose Statement is not the easiest. But the mindset when doing workshops should be Progress over Perfectionism.
You don’t have to create something perfect, but there are a few guidelines to help the participants:
A good Product Purpose is realistic yet aspirational
A Product Purpose Statement should be unlikely to change dramatically in the next few years.
It’s OK that it ends up consisting of longer sentences and many words. As long as it captures what you are trying to say.
This exercise is done together, but alone. Meaning everyone will work individually and there will be no discussion at this stage. The sticky notes will do the talking.
Bonus tip: everyone is allowed to write as many product purpose statements as they wish. However, they should only put forward their best 3 stickies to be voted on.
Ask your team if they have any questions, then set a timer for 10 minutes and get going!
Step 3 – Vote
⏱️ Time: 5 minutes
Now you hopefully have a plethora of purpose statements to choose from. But you can’t go for them all. It’s time to vote.
Before voting begins – make sure that you remove people’s names and feel free to move the different statements around. This helps avoid bias when voting.
The voting is also done by working together-alone. And you will be using dot voting.
After everyone has voted, it’s time for the decider to make their final call about which purpose statement to ultimately choose. The decider may go with the popular vote or override as they see fit.
Everyone gets one voting dot each
You may vote on your own Purpose Statement
In order to get the best purpose statement forward and make voting easier – it can be helpful to remind the participants and give guidance:
Tell the team to ask themselves this:
Which purpose best reflects what you want your products to be for your customers? And will this hold true for the next several years?
Ask if anyone has any questions, then give them 5 minutes on the timer and tell them to vote in silence – no discussion.
Step 4 – Decide
⏱️ Time: 5 minutes
The decider gets 3 “star votes” to make a final decision with.
The decider is asked to consider the team’s voting but it is also made clear that the decider has the final say and can choose a Purpose Statement with few, or no votes if they wish.
This is also a unique part of the workshop where discussion is encouraged. The decider is instructed to ask for input from participants about the different objectives before making their decision.
It’s common for deciders to find something they like in different sections of the different purpose statements. This is why they get three stars so that they can mix and match one statement’s why with a different one’s who etc. The decider just has to make sure to pick one of each (why, who, how).
Give the decider 5 min on the clock to make their decision.
Congrats, you just nailed a product purpose statement!
When I run a Strategy Sprint with clients, this is just the first foundational step. The next exercise is to define Guiding Policies – concrete guidelines of how to realize the product purpose. I will write about the Guiding Policies exercise in a coming post so make sure to subscribe if you haven’t already.
But the sheer impact of crafting a clear product purpose together will save you a lot of headaches in the future. You and your team will be a lot more aligned on what you are building and why.
A final important step is to share your new product purpose with anyone that wasn’t involved in the workshop. Everyone at your company should have access to read and understand your newly articulated product purpose.
Consider posting about it in your internal slack/teams channels. Present it at a company gathering. Share, share, share.
Keen on more?
Follow me on LinkedIn where I post a lot of tips on innovation, facilitation, and product design
Check out some of my other posts on my Substack-blog for more in-depth guides and reflections.
I help companies facilitate problem-solving workshops, Design Sprints, and nail product strategy. Schedule a call with me and we’ll discuss how I might help you.
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