The product vision box and elevator test statement galvanize members of the product team into focusing their often disparate views of the product into a concise , visual, and short textual form. These two project artifacts provide a "high concept" of the product for marketers, developers, and managers.
Innovation, or creating emergent results that we cannot predict, requires an evolutionary process that can accommodate exploration and mistakes. A good product vision remains relatively constant, while the path to implement the vision needs room to wander. Emergent results often come from purposeful accidents, so managers must create an environment in which these accidents can happen. Mountain climbing is a good analogy for this process. The goal remains getting to the top of the mountain, a fixed point. The goal may also have constraints, such as only having food for nine days. Every climbing team has a route plan for gaining the summit. Every climbing team also alters its route plan on the way to the topsometimes in minor ways, sometimes in major onesdepending on conditions.
Similarly, every product needs a marketing theme, a crisp visual image and feature description whose intent is to draw potential customers into further investigation. In this design-the-box exercise (developed originally by colleague Bill Shackelford), the project and customer teams , with other participants , create a visual image of the product. (Vision does imply "visual," after all.) For software and other small products, the image should be the product package. For larger productsautomobiles or medical electronics equipment, for examplethe vision could be a one- to two-page product brochure or one to two Web pages.
In the design-the-box activity, the entire team, including customers, breaks into groups of four to six people. Their task is to design the product boxfront and back. This involves coming up with a product name , a graphic, three to four key bullet points on the front to "sell" the product, a detailed feature description on the back, and operating requirements. Figure 5.3 shows a sample vision box developed during a workshop session.
Figure 5.3. Product Vision Box Example
Coming up with fifteen or twenty product features proves to be easy. It's figuring out which three or four would cause someone to buy the product that is difficult. Usually this involves an active discussion about identifying the real customer. Even with a simple product example, the product vision boxes can vary quite a bit among three to five teams. Presentations by each of the groups are then followed by a discussion of how the different focal points can be reduced to a few that everyone agrees upon. A lot of good information gets generated by this exerciseplus, it's fun.
In addition to the vision box, the team concurrently develops a short statement of the product's positioning using an "elevator test statement"a couple of sentences that indicate target customer, key benefit, and competitive advantage:
For midsized companies' distribution warehouses who need advanced carton movement functionality, the Supply-Robot is a robotically controlled lifting and transferring system that provides dynamic warehouse reallocation and truck loading of multisized cartons that reduces distribution costs and loading time. Unlike competitive products, our product is highly automated and aggressively priced.
The elevator test statementan explanation of the project to someone within two minutestakes the following format:
Every product and project needs a core concept from which details can flow. Without a core concept, team members can spend time investigating blind alleys and racking up costs without contributing to the project's success. Particularly with new products for which the risk and uncertainties are high, having a core concept, a vision, is critical to keeping down the cost of exploration.
The product vision box and elevator test statement vividly depict a product vision. They emphasize that projects produce products. Some projects (e.g., internal IT projects) may not create products for the external market, but viewing them as products for an internal market keeps the team grounded in a customer-product mindset. Whether the project results involve enhancements to an internal accounting system or a new digital camera, product-oriented thinking reaps benefits.
Finally, with several hours of active product vision discussion recorded on flipchart paper, the team can construct a good outline for a complete one- to five-page product vision document. This might include the mission statement, pictures of the "boxes," target customers and each of their needs, the elevator test statement, customer satisfaction measures, key technology and operational requirements, critical product constraints (performance, ease of use, volumes ), a competitive analysis, and key financial indicators.
For a four- to six-month project, this visioning exercise might take half a day, but it will pay big dividends . Recently, a client reported that spending three to fours hours for a visioning session brought a group with widely different ideas about product direction into alignment. The more critical the delivery schedule and the more volatile the project, the more important it is that the team have a good vision of the final desired outcome. Without this vision, iterative development projects are likely to become oscillating projects, because everyone is looking at the minutiae rather than the big picture. 
 Ken Delcol comments, "This statement is true regardless of the development approach. The big picture is key for both, and the joy of the iterative approach is that if you are lacking one, it should become obvious sooner than in the case of the traditional approach. The traditional approach creates the illusion that a vision exists for a number of months before someone figures out what is going on."
Companies doing NPD have a range of other "visioning" tools available to them, some of which significantly reduce the cost of experimentation and cycle time. One example is Studio Tools, a graphics software product from Alias Systems, which industrial design firms use to "sketch" new product ideas. The use of Studio Tools precedes (and feeds) CAD/CAM tools, providing the ability to explore product possibilities visually, as shown in Figure 5.4.
Figure 5.4. A Product Vision (Courtesy of Alias Systems, Inc.)
The next step, a prototype or working model, is the realm of companies such as Stratasys. Its fused deposition modeling (FDM) system creates plastic models simply by downloading a 3D drawing (analogous to a 3D copy machine that creates plastic parts). Figure 5.5 shows an example of the parts produced. In operation, a liquefier melts and extrudes the plastic in ultrafine layers . The model is built layer by layer from the bottom up. These parts can be used to construct working models quickly and cost effectively. Bell & Howell used FDM to create a new top-of-the-line scanner, building working prototypes from parts created by FDM. Both the design cycle and product part count were reduced by 50%. Using early lifecycle visioning tools such as Studio Tools that can feed data to automated prototyping tools such as FDM (which might be employed in either the Envision or early in the Explore phase) can greatly reduce cycle time and experimentation costs.
Figure 5.5. A Plastic Prototype of a New Scanner Design (Courtesy of Stratasys, Inc.)
While these practices provide a high-concept vision of the product, for complicated projects the vision may need to be supplemented with additional concept documents and financial analyses. However, without a high-concept vision, these other supporting practices tend to grow large and unfocused. A 25-page vision document subverts the whole meaning of a concise vision. For larger products and projects, an overall product vision can also be supplemented with vision statements for the major components . Each component team should participate in this visioning process for its own area.
The Agile Revolution
Guiding Principles: Customers and Products
Guiding Principles: Leadership-Collaboration Management
An Agile Project Management Model
The Envision Phase
The Speculate Phase
The Explore Phase
The Adapt and Close Phases
Building Large Adaptive Teams