Your product roadmap tells a story. It shows where your product is today, where it’s headed, and how it’s going to get there. It illustrates when certain features will go live, when new platforms will be supported, and where your company can expect to pick up new customer segments or additional revenue streams as its appeal and utility grows.
But your company is telling its own story. This story is being authored by internal management, who is telling it to the board, and it’s being told to the industry, to current customers, to prospects, and to investors. This story might be told with a lot of arm waving and a killer PowerPoint deck, or in press releases touting growth, or in business plans being pitched to VCs, or financial statements and earnings calls to stockholders and analysts.
Two stories, one company. Are you heading to the same destination? Are you operating with the same assumptions and goals? You better be, or else your roadmap is destined for detours, speed bumps or a new navigator (which would be you, dear product manager). But there are some simple steps you can take to ensure your roadmap is complementary instead of contradictory when it comes to the overall corporate vision.
While it’s possible your company’s strategy is “We make and sell widgets and our strategy is to make and sell more widgets,” it’s far more likely that your organization has some loftier and more complex objectives it’s trying to achieve. Few of these can be accomplished in one giant leap, so your corporate strategy likely is broken down into smaller steps.
“If the executive team has not constructed, communicated, or deployed the broader company strategy, the product team will have nothing to tether their product development activities to and no way to determine which activities to pursue and – perhaps more importantly – not pursue,” says Greg Geracie of Actuation Consulting. “The product team is often forced to focus on tactical roadmap activities and deliverables…Product and development managers who lack knowledge of the corporate strategy have no grounding from which to effectively develop useful multi-year product and technology strategies, nor tools to motivate their teams.
”Now, if your leadership team is well organized and likes to share, it’s quite possible they have already drafted and communicated a strategic roadmap or some similar document. But more often than not this strategy is communicated less formally or certain aspects are held back to only those who “need to know,” which can leave product management trying to do their job without the necessary information.
“The product management team is a key executor of the strategy. They will translate corporate strategy into product strategy and will create roadmaps that drive the work of many of the company’s employees,” says consultant Bill Thomson. “For product managers to thoroughly understand the corporate strategy is to significantly improve the odds of its successful execution. Thus, I would highly recommend that the entire executive team present the strategy directly to the product management team. This will facilitate the necessary dialogue and allow for a joint understanding of the implications to the product strategy.”
Depending on your organization’s maturity or level of funding, there may be a couple of key numbers that your management team is focused on. These are often, but not always, tied to revenue, including profitability, average revenue per user, margins or unit cost. But they are sometimes more focused on growth and usage, such as total users, new users, increasing market share, frequency, session length, total sessions, uptime, transaction volume, net promoter score, customer service call volume, defect rate, or churn rateRegardless of which metrics your company is focused on, one way to always link your roadmap to corporate objectives is making sure each release and every feature is contributing to one of these corporate-wide KPIs. If you can connect your work to a positive change in these numbers, you’re now speaking their language and further justifying the investment in these initiatives.Not sure which stats matter at your company? Just ask your boss. Or your boss’s boss. These shouldn’t be secrets (even if the specific numbers are being closely guarded).
Once you understand the overall corporate strategy and how it’s being measured, the next step is figuring out exactly how your product is supposed to contribute to it. In a single-product organization that may be obvious, but when you’ve got more than one product you need to clearly understand what portion of growth you’re on the hook to deliver, or which key goal your product is intended to address.
You can also use this step to determine if resources are being allocated appropriately. If your product is intended to deliver 75% of the growth during this period but only has 25% of the resources, you can use this opportunity to lobby for more bodies or dollars to pack more value into your roadmap.
While to your engineering organization and project managers, each release is just a checklist of stuff you need, your roadmap shouldn’t appear that way to top management.
“You’ll see this in roadmaps that look like a laundry-list of low level features with no apparent rhyme or reason. The focus is too low level and missing alignment to major corporate objectives, market and technology trends, and major new value propositions to customers,” says Don Vendetti of Product Arts. “It could also indicate a shotgun approach to addressing individual customer feature requests without developing the big picture.
”Instead, your roadmap should have a narrative of its own, with each chapter tying back to the corporate goals you’ve identified. E.g., this feature addresses this KPI, that release enables a key functionality that helps us address another target market, etc.
Corporate objectives are set at a high level, often by individuals removed from the day-to-day truths of what your company can accomplish given market dynamics and your own resourcing levels. When your roadmapping is focused on meeting corporate goals and not just what’s “good” for an individual product, you have the opportunity to provide early feedback on which goals are likely to be achieved and which are at risk without significant changes.
“Creating a product roadmap without insightful examination of the market, customers and technology has no purpose. Creating an insightful product roadmap still has little purpose if it is not incorporated into and aligned with the overall strategies of your business,” says Martin Luendendonk of Cleverism. “You must ensure it aligns with the goals and objectives you have set for your company in the long run. Only by doing so, your product roadmap has a purpose.”No one likes to deliver bad news, but creating a roadmap 100% focused on how your product is contributing to the overall company strategy means you’re providing valuable information back to your management team on how realistic the chances are for your organization to achieve its goals and how your product is helping you all get there.
To recap, figure out what your company goals are, how they’re being measured, and what your product is expected to deliver towards meeting them. This way, you can make sure your roadmap is telling the story of how your product will meet those goals and what’s actually possible.