The New Year always gets me thinking bigger picture. For some that means reviewing the company mission statement. For others, it means coming up with your annual or quarterly objectives. For me, I’m partial to the Manifesto.

A Manifesto is a public declaration of principles, beliefs and intentions. I like them because if they’re done well, they can serve as a concise form of a product strategy as well as fulfill much of the purpose of mission and vision statements.

For a long time the term “Manifesto” was a tough sell thanks to Karl Marx and the Unabomber. But starting with the GNU Manifesto (www.gnu.org/gnu/manifesto.html), and more recently the Agile Manifesto (www.agilemanifesto.org/principles.html), I think people have come to appreciate the clarity and power of a clear and compelling manifesto for product teams and companies. Many companies have the rough equivalent of a Manifesto but call it something different. Google calls it their “Corporate Philosophy” www.google.com/intl/en/corporate/tenthings.html. eBay calls it “Community Values” www.ebay.com/community/people/values.html.

I’ve been working with a sports entertainment consumer internet startup over the past months, and one of the very first things we did was come up with a Manifesto. You can see it at www.protrade.com/AboutManifesto.html. The document ended up with eight core principles, but it didn’t start out that way. Coming up with a Manifesto means deciding what is important to you, and what is incidental. What is strategic and fundamental, and what is simply tactical and temporary.

There were other benefits to coming up with this Manifesto. The process served as a way for me to get to the DNA of this company, and what the founders hoped to achieve. It also serves as a framework for evaluating the many alternatives in front of every product and company.

A Manifesto is not a list of features, and in fact not tied to any one product incarnation. In this sense, it is most aligned with a product strategy for an entire product line, or with a company mission statement for a startup. A good Manifesto serves as the basis or foundation for inspiring product features, as well as the end consumer.

Whether you choose to go public with your Manifesto depends on your purpose. Often the Manifesto is simply a tool for the product team, much like a product strategy document. But in other cases the Manifesto serves as a clear statement of what you believe, intended for your users, customers, partners, suppliers, investors and employees.

Another benefit I have found is that more than any other document, a Manifesto can bring together the product team – especially product management, product design, engineering, and marketing – and get the team on the same page.

So if you don’t yet have a clear statement of the beliefs and principles that guide your product team, consider getting the team together for a couple hours to discuss, identify and prioritize what you think is important. And if you’d like, send them to me as I’d love to see them.

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