How to Gain Alignment From Your Team on the Product Roadmap

BY C. TODD LOMBARDO ON NOVEMBER 22, 2017

When No-one Agrees With Your Roadmap

When I arrived at Workbar, a growing co-working space headquartered in Boston, I had to wrap my arms around what the product was, how they did releases, and who decided what was going to be in the next sprint. Turns out that it was a bit of a mess, not because of any malintent, but the team was traveling at 110 mph while trying to make sure they were staying on the right road. Such is life at a typical early-stage company, right?

A big part of getting the lay of the land is not only understanding what’s happening, but also building relationships. I spent time listening in meetings, asking questions like: “If we had that (feature, data, etc), what does it get our business? How will it help us hit our stated annual objectives?” After a few weeks I’d earned a reputation for asking lots of questions. In some meetings I didn’t attend, my boss (our COO) would ask: “OK, let’s do the CTodd thing, here: What problem are we trying to solve?”

Achievement Level 1 unlocked! Soon, I had opinions from across the organization about what we needed to do. I fully expected this, some grounded in data, many grounded in opinion. Because of this diversity of opinion, I had to get the team to behind what we were going to do. I needed to get their alignment.

Collaboration, Consensus, and Alignment

When we talk about alignment, we often think collaboration, buy-in, and consensus. They are similar yet different terms.

Collaboration is when individuals cooperate to accomplish a common goal or outcome. While individuals work together for a shared purpose, they may not agree on everything each step of the way but they do agree on the final outcome.

Consensus is when a group of people reach a decision. It often means hours of discussion leading to decisions that everyone supposedly agrees on, but that no one can be held accountable for (“I didn’t vote for that”). Once the decision is made, someone who doesn’t like the outcome can often be a barrier to its implementation.

Alignment is a concerted effort to help people understand the issues and their respective roles. It means asking questions and listening to feedback both from the internal team as well as other stakeholders. People with differing opinions can still align on their intentions. Alignment is not consensus.

What do you need as a product person looking to get a roadmap updated or in place? Alignment and collaboration. You don’t need consensus to get your roadmap in place. Not everyone has to agree with everything, but they all need to have input. Let’s clarify (and repeat) that: You do not need consensus to get your roadmap in place, nor do you need it to edit your roadmap.

Shuttle Diplomacy: Your one-on-one Secret Weapon

In the 1970s the Arab-Israeli conflict was escalating towards war. So the US Secretary of State at the time, Henry Kissinger, embarked on a series of individual meetings with the different sides in the conflict, since getting them in the same room was near-impossible, and when they did meet, nothing was decided. (Does this sound familiar to you?)

Have you ever been in an executive meeting where attendees were trying to prove they are smarter than the others? Or to belittle the ideas of someone they were competing with? These political machinations can ruin your attempts at alignment. We’ve found the politics are much more manageable in one-on-one settings. Like Kissinger, you can focus the conversation on common goals if it’s just you and them with nobody else in the room to impress. At each meeting, identifying the individual’s goals, priorities and other considerations are the key to managing by shuttle diplomacy.

During our research for the book, we heard many suggest that they schedule the meeting with a phrase that sounds like: “I have a draft of our next roadmap iteration, can you help me..?”

These individual meetings offer a feedback loop about not only the stakeholder’s priorities, but also their goals and whether they are in line with the organization’s goals. You build trust and rapport with each of these stakeholders, because you’re listening to them and you’re asking them why things are important and how they’d think about it. If they keep pushing for something that doesn’t make sense in terms of the goals, that’s a hint that there’s an unspoken goal that needs to be discussed.

For me, just beginning at Workbar, this was my key to understanding the lay of the land. These meetings helped expose and hidden agendas and the political landscape. Further, it allowed me to build a rapport with all my stakeholders individually. Once the office politics were removed, we could get to discussing what’s best for their position, and for the company, rather than them trying to sound smart in front of others, or be biased because of different personalities in the room.

Then it’s our Roadmap

Finally, with this shuttle diplomacy process, each stakeholder had the opportunity to give input into the roadmap process – when it’s a work in progress – so that they have authorship of the roadmap too. It’s not just my roadmap anymore. It’s our roadmap, our plan. Why do people love their Ikea furniture? Because they put it together themselves. The co-creative nature of the roadmap process cannot be understated, so that you (and I) can unlock that next Achievement Level in the game of product roadmapping.

For my role at Workbar, we have established the prioritization and put a roadmap in place for our digital product. The team now has monthly product updates so they are all aware of what’s coming and if there are any changes. As a result, we’re now more focused than ever before on creating an amazing experience for our members, all thanks to a little roadmap love.


Want to learn more about product roadmapping? Check out productroadmapping.com and pickup a copy of Product Roadmaps Relaunched, or sign up for one of the Mind the Product Product Roadmapping workshops in 2018.

C. Todd Lombardo

About C. TODD LOMBARDO

C. Todd Lombardo has been tinkering and doodling since he was four years old. Originally trained as a scientist, he’s had job titles ranging from scientist, to engineer, to product manager, to designer, and even professor.  He is currently the Head of Product & Experience at Workbar, a leading co-working space in Boston. He also serves on the adjunct faculty at IE Business School in Madrid, as well as Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA). He is a published O’Reilly Media author with two titles: Design Sprint (2015) and Product Roadmaps Relaunched (2017).

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