Building product roadmaps to convey product direction is for teams as well as customers, but there are no universal rules on how to jump-start or get there. In this #mtpcon Digital Americas session, Cloudflare’s Chief Product Officer, Jen Taylor, shares battle stories and lessons learned from creating B2B products and platforms over the years.
Watch the session in full or read on for the highlights.
- To create a roadmap you must understand your customers, know your competitors and have clearly defined goals
- Good roadmaps need certain ingredients including trust you with customers, feedback, and innovation
- Common mistakes can unbalance your roadmap and lead to problems such as churn and disruption
- Even though the product manager drives the roadmap, the roadmap is the opportunity to get everyone involved – communication is ke
What are roadmaps and why build them
A roadmap is a living blueprint of where we’re going and is for both teams and customers. Delivering a product is a journey, and the goal is to convey a vision and get people on the bus along for that journey.
How do you come up with a roadmap?
If it’s your first day on the job, there are three things you can do:
1. Know your customers
“Approach the process of building roadmaps from the perspective of the customer. I try to find ways to walk a mile in the customer’s shoes,” explains Jen. You can use various sources to do this, including looking at support tickets, feature requests, surveys, talk to the team, and talk to customers.
2. Know yourself and the competition
Identify the strengths and weaknesses of your organization and how it relates to the rest of the industry. Define your successes and failures and use them to define your goals.
3. Clearly define your product goals
Identify what is winning, what is adoption, retention, or revenue, and whether you’re a standalone product or solution that will be integrated.
As Jen points out, there are three buckets of ingredients when building a roadmap:
- Building the trust you maintain with your customers through quality and reliability.
- Feedback – where you get information from your customers via customer requests, support tickets, and competitive analysis.
- Innovation or groundbreaking ideas that help to differentiate the product.
Building the roadmap
A roadmap is a balanced portfolio between trust, feedback, and innovation. The balance varies based on the stage of product, feedback and landscape. “If you get the balance wrong, it has implications for the product, for the customers, and for the company,” Jen explains.
Some of the roadmap mistakes that organizations make that impact this balance include:
- Lack of investment in trust leads to customer churn
- Too much customer requests lead to not enough innovation to differentiate
- Not enough innovation leads to competition that eats your lunch
- Limited integration leads to disruption by intermediaries
Elephants and eggs
With ambitious roadmaps with audacious goals, product managers may focus on shipping one large thing. Jen suggests splitting larger projects into smaller, more modular pieces that you can deliver, test and learn. But don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. Instead, manage the risk of the product at that point in time.
Product managers have to make guesses with imperfect information and need a clear point of view. Jen suggests ranking everything, ensuring that trade-offs are clear as time runs out, and remembering that priority order is not the same as execution order. For example, something may be your number one priority but require you to do number five first.
Tailor details based on audience
Internal audiences require a lot of clarity and certainty. For customers, on the other hand, you need to facilitate sharing of information and ideas to have a conversation. With internal teams, they need to understand resource allocation, trade-offs, and investments. Customers, however, are comparing you to your competitors and need to see the bigger picture of where you’re going.
Communication to teams
When communicating to teams, the goal is alignment. You build as a team and win as a team. Even though the product manager drives the roadmap, delivery is a team sport, and the roadmap is the opportunity to get everyone involved. When speaking to engineering and product design, conversation, and feedback center around use cases and requirements. With fellow product managers, it could focus on dependencies and integrations. Marketing, sales, and support may focus on the problems you will be able to solve for them and by when. With leadership, you will focus on why you’re building the product and distilling customer feedback for them.
Communication to customers
The goal when speaking to customers is to have a conversation starter that encourages them to join the journey. Share what you’re thinking and ask for input, use requests to align and refine what you’re already building. Use strategic themes and problems to solve instead of specific deliverables. For example: ‘Give customers back control of their traffic’ could be a theme for a multitude of improvements that you cover in the talk track. But always remember to ‘speak customer’ and use terms like load your app faster rather than ‘optimize Nginx for eyeball performance’ as you might use internally.
Plans can change
When building roadmaps, it’s essential to remember that it’s not uncommon for the roadmap to change frequently as priorities shift as you learn more about what customers want.
Tips and tricks for maintenance
Jen provides some tips and tricks to keep your roadmap maintained:
- Keep it up to date and set a monthly reminder to refresh
- Track items including project ideas, customer conversations, and feature requests
- Your not do’s are as important as the do’s as this can change over time
Tools: You do you
As Jen points out, use whatever works for you and customize them to meet your needs and workflows when it comes to tools. The key takeaways from this talk are the purpose of building roadmaps is to get people on the bus. When building your roadmaps, know your customer and goals, strive for a balanced portfolio, eat the elephant, save the eggs, ruthlessly prioritize, start good conversations and embrace change.
Explore more roadmapping content
For more insights and advice on product roadmaps visit our Product Roadmap page.