Tell Me Where We’re Headed
A concept that comes up very often, especially in product meetings, is the product roadmap. This specific artifact is like the holy grail of the product department. It contains high-level visuals for where a product currently is and where it needs to be, based on some pre-defined timeline.
Now, a roadmap isn’t the exclusive property of the product department. A roadmap is like an itinerary for what you wish to accomplish and when. Suffice to say, every department could have its own roadmap. What is important, however, is that all roadmaps are eventually linked to the overall business strategy.
Two things to consider with roadmaps are – building them and prioritizing them. Building them is easier. You can build one with a pencil and paper, a PowerPoint slide, or even an Excel spreadsheet. Essentially you’re creating a pictorial view of your product release plan. Just be aware that the executive team may not see the humor in these anymore.
After all, roadmaps have become a lot more sophisticated with several teams working across multiple geographies on complex product builds. Applications like Productplan, Monday, Asana, Coda, Roadmonk, and a bunch of others combine information sources to help construct, illustrate and share your plan.
Now, if you are concerned with prioritizing a product roadmap, read on.
Prioritizing the Product Roadmap
Having worked with mainstream brands and OEMs in consumer electronics, I’ve been exposed to many roadmap presentations. Much of that information was eventually collated and repurposed to build our own.
In doing so I routinely discovered that the driving force behind those multiple roadmaps differed in that they represented what each business considered a larger priority at that point in time.
I believe that there are three diverging priorities that must somehow be cajoled into creating ‘ultimate value’. They are the customer, the business, and the vision. Every business attaches a weight to each competing priority, based on how they balance their short-term and long-term plans.
The customer is the central entity around which a product is built, updated, and maintained. Therefore, we must always pay attention to their needs.
We do this through feedback loops that allow customers to voice their opinions, needs, and ideas. By dipping into this opportunity pool, we derive a wealth of potential new features that could help improve the product offering.
Usually, the biggest opportunities come from those who either really hate your product or really love it. We must also consider the customer segment from where these opportunities come. Typically, the most valuable segments tend to receive the highest priority.
But, as valuable as customer feedback is in the development of the product, it must still be balanced with other priorities that help sustain the business.
Businesses, for the most part, exist to make a profit. That profit is generated by delivering a product that customers or third parties are willing to pay for. Monetization is usually the end result of successful delivery.
But, it’s also important to note that businesses operate within the 5-forces framework and the impact of those forces dictates priority too. In addition, constraints like financial and technological capabilities can also affect what receives more weightage.
Every business has a vision, a north star. For instance, a startup that has just released an MVP (minimum-viable-product), has a lot of work left to accomplish. After all, the MVP is only a lean representation of their final intent.
For others, the vision is a higher goal, an aspiration. In order to attain that vision, the business needs to constantly invent or reinvent itself. The impetus for both these cases comes from working on the right opportunities.
The right opportunities are a balance of what customers need and what is integral to sustain the business. These opportunities must also align with the company’s vision. Items that align with that vision receive a higher priority.
As more opportunities that support the overall vision get completed, the closer the business gets to achieving its goal.
I do want to mention that, occasionally, pivoting becomes a necessity for survival. For instance, an unexpected customer segment becomes influential enough to demand attention. This could lead development effort in a direction that deviates from the original vision.
There could also be times when revenue growth and sustainability are pulled by a set of features that are not consistent with the vision. Again, a pivot may be necessary.
Final Thoughts On Product Roadmaps
It is a Herculean task trying to balance these competing interests. This struggle is healthy, in that it compels the product team to focus on what’s important in the short run while mapping it to the long-term vision.
The product roadmap is not carved in stone. Pivots are necessary as circumstances change. When necessary, the weights attached to each of the three priorities changes, altering the future course of action.