– By Garima Painuly– One of the constant challenges a product manager faces is creating a focused product roadmap that is aligned with expectations of all stakeholders, and defending that roadmap against distractions. Over 60 product professionals from more than 20 different companies gathered for a lively discussion at BWP’s Product Roundtable hosted by Wayfair on March 28th. The discussion topics were inspired by a blog post from Fresh Tilled Soil on Building a Product Roadmap. Here are some insights from the discussion.
Creating a Focused Product Roadmap
According to Richard Banfield of Fresh Tilled Soil, a successful product roadmap is a strategic document that focuses on the product vision and conveys the path to achieve it. It is not a laundry list of features, nor a release plan. Here were some specific recommendations from our group on creating a focused roadmap:
- Focus on goals rather than features: Your roadmap should show goals and the user problems you are trying to solve, rather than the exact solution you are going to pursue. Utilize user personas and journeys to understand your users’ problems and needs.
- Know your audience: Whereas a granular roadmap is needed for development planning, a higher-level roadmap that presents the big picture is more appropriate for other stakeholders. Customer-facing roadmaps should avoid feature commitments, and focus on themes instead.
- Hierarchy of needs: Understand your company’s needs and goals to help you prioritize your roadmap. What are your corporate objectives? To grow users, revenue, or beat competition? Evaluate what features are most important to support those goals.
Getting Buy-in for Your Roadmap
Socializing your roadmap is just as important. Getting perspective and buy-in from other stakeholders is key to getting organizational alignment. Our group had some interesting insights on communicating the roadmap and managing stakeholder feedback:
- Although product managers must have their own point of view in crafting the roadmap, the company drives the roadmap, not just product managers. Emphasize to your stakeholders that this is ‘our roadmap’ based on organizational goals and priorities, not ‘my roadmap’.
- Explicitly communicate what you are NOT doing. If there is a much requested feature that is not on your roadmap, be transparent. Show where it lands in the priority list and why.
- Validate your roadmap with customers or sales teams. Understand and communicate the customer benefit to determine return on investment.
Pushing Back Against Shiny Object Syndrome
We’ve all been there in one form or another. You have created a product roadmap, achieved consensus and buy-in from all stakeholders, and communicated it internally and externally. Suddenly your CEO drops a shiny new idea in your lap that will double revenue. Or your business development team signs that deal that just isn’t possible without this feature. What do you do?
Before jumping into putting together estimates and scope, first take a step back and think critically about the new idea. Test their assumptions and evaluate if the idea is worth pursuing. Play five whys to dig deep to determine the real value of the idea, or the root problem. Ask to see the data behind their assumptions. Many B2B product managers reported working in sales-driven organizations, where the sales team may request a feature on a critical customer or prospect’s behalf. In that case, ask to speak with the customer directly to validate what they really need and how important it is to them.
After evaluating the idea, it may be appropriate to put together a solution, estimate effort, prioritize, and communicate where it falls in the product backlog or roadmap. Here were some recommendations from the group on this topic:
- Explain where the idea falls on your backlog and why. Walk stakeholders through the business criteria and metrics for evaluating feature requests.
- Clearly articulate tradeoffs. Explain what is the cost of accommodating the new idea in terms of other items on your roadmap. What would you have to sacrifice to prioritize the new idea?
- If this is a frequent occurrence, ask your stakeholder to prioritize their requests and present a business case for their most important ones.
- Conduct post-mortems: provide feedback to disrupting stakeholders. How can the process be improved? Is there a need for better communication, visibility, or understanding of priorities?
The overall takeaway from the roundtable discussion was that it’s important to maintain focus, think critically, push back, and over-communicate your product roadmap. The Product Roundtable was an informational group discussion with product professionals of various experience levels across tech, e-commerce, healthcare, and other industries.
Special thanks to Wayfair for sponsoring the event and to our facilitators for helping drive a lively discussion:
Garima Painuly is a B2B SaaS Product Manager at PowerAdvocate in downtown Boston. She wears many hats at PowerAdvocate, including serving as a product owner for a software development scrum team, a subject matter expert on the energy industry, helping the sales team as a product expert, and helping drive customer adoption. She is also involved with user experience design and product marketing. Originally from India and Denmark, she moved to Boston to start a career in engineering. Prior to product management, she worked as an engineer and then an analyst. Garima has an M.S. in Management Science & Engineering from Stanford University. Her sweet spot is product, design, and data analytics. In her free time, she enjoys travel, food, and being involved with the Boston product community.
Boston Women in Product (BWP) is a community that empowers women to be influencers in their role inspiring them to make a difference and grow in their career. Our mission is to inspire, equip and help advance women in product by encouraging career leadership, development, support, mentoring, and building relationships with like-minded women. The BWP comes together throughout the year in local Boston area events. We gather women together to learn and affect one another in an open, casual setting. We aim to bring expertise from the product community and connect that with women striving to grow in their product career. Open to anyone interested in helping advance women in their product careers. We hope to see you at our next event.
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