The Secret to Clearer Vision and Tighter Alignment as a Product Leader

“We are, as a species, addicted to story. Even when the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all night, telling itself stories.”

Jonathan Gottschall

In reality, this post applies to leaders outside the realm of product. Those who tend to be most successful are the ones who energetically share a vision that their teams understand and feel motivated to pursue. The details of how they share that vision enable better and more aligned decision making along the way.

It’s not just about how the story is structured though. Delivery can make or break the experience an audience has with even the best stories. As a product leader, it’s important to think of storytelling as a potent tool that can align your team, foster a deeper understanding of your customers, and clarify your product’s position in the market.

Aligning Teams Around Business Goals

When used correctly, storytelling provides a narrative that everyone can rally behind, creating a shared understanding of what the team is working towards and why.

Great goals are fueled with a sense of “why”. Your teams should never see a goal and wonder why that is more important than anything else you could be doing as a business. It’s not just about more revenue, it’s about growth. It’s not just about increasing margins, it’s about ensuring the company is around in ten years time. It’s not just about happier customers, it’s about changing lives (or the world) for the better.

For example, consider a an ed tech company that wants to become a staple of homeschooling and unschooling across the country. It’s not just about getting them to purchase the product, it’s about empowering families to provide their children with a nurturing educational experience that aligns with their values and sets them up to be the next generation of great leaders.

Not only is the story more motivating for those building the product, it’s more empowering for the teams marketing and selling it, and it resonates much stronger with the customers.

Developing a Better Understanding of How Customers Think and Feel

A story is nothing without its characters. Character development helps you understand how a character got to where you see them now, why they do and say the things they do, their struggles, and what matters most. All of those same insights help product teams gain a deeper empathy for the customer and a better understanding of their needs.

For instance, instead of telling your team that a high percentage of users are unhappy with the onboarding experience you can let them know that many of our users have an immediate need for a specific feature within the product. Let’s say they are standing in line at a grocery store and ready to pay the cashier. They don’t have the time or patience to hold up the line while they download an app, fill in their information, and take a tour of the entire suite of features.

Understanding the Product’s Market Fit

By telling a story about the market landscape, the competition, and the unique value that their product brings, teams can gain a clearer understanding of their product’s market fit.

Take, for example, a startup developing a new fitness app. The team could tell a story about the rise of health consciousness, the proliferation of fitness apps, and the struggle that users face in starting their fitness journey. They can identify the other apps as opposing tribes e.g. gym rats, professional athletes, triathletes, etc. and their own app as a tribe of people building a strong foundation for lifelong fitness through fun learning experiences and fitness regimens catered to functional strength and comprehensive health.

The team building this app knows that features like setting and beating personal records or aggressive goal setting won’t make sense in this context. They can focus on delightful and fun ways to discover new types of workouts and celebrate their users journey, no matter how small of steps they are taking.

By crafting compelling narratives, teams can rally behind shared goals, empathize with their customers, and see the bigger picture of their product’s role in the market. So, harness the power of storytelling in your team, and watch as it transforms your product development process.

For some incredible insights on how to deliver an incredible story, check out Nancy Duarte’s storytelling and presentation techniques.

Userpilot has some great tips to make a SaaS product story more compelling.

If you want to nerd out a bit, check out the science of story building.

I’ll probably write more things and you might just want to read those too.

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