What features are you purposefully leaving out of your latest product roadmap and why?
It’s a question that all product professionals should know the answer to. But before PMs can narrow down certain functionalities based on demand and target audience, they must be able to align all teams behind the core mission.
Alignment depends on communication, said Beth Toeniskoetter, director of product marketing at Four Winds Interactive, a Colorado-based software provider for digital signage networks.
Since multiple teams invest energy into product development, a change from one department can affect all the others. Maybe it’s a market shift, technological development or a new customer ask, but some kind of roadmap change is often unavoidable. That’s why Toeniskoetter said it’s necessary to identify all of a project’s stakeholders during the planning phase. When all internal and external parties have insight into the “why” behind a roadmap change, there are fewer instances of miscommunication and frustration down the road.
What steps do you take when developing a product roadmap to ensure there’s early alignment across teams?
Communication seems like an obvious answer, but it’s never as easy as it seems. First, know who the stakeholders are and how each of them, and their respective teams, are impacted by the product roadmap. Primary stakeholders are usually leadership and customer-facing teams like sales, customer success and marketing. But don’t forget about internal-facing teams as well, like legal or finance. For example, there may be implications to contracts or forecasts you’re not aware of.
Second, consider using additional inputs to drive the prioritization and timing of a roadmap. External factors are key such as competitive landscape, innovation in current and adjacent industries and customer-driven initiatives. Internal factors, such as cost efficiencies through automation, are also key to consider.
Finally, communicate the process early and often while seeking buy-in from all stakeholders along the way.
Discuss changes early, often and across the company.”
How do you maintain that alignment throughout the development cycle?
The most important aspect is to help the engineering team understand the problems that are being solved with the functionality they are developing. Provide context on the main use cases, the struggles of the user and their current workarounds.
We created user personas based on the roles we see most often with our customers. We conduct ethnographic research through our user experience team to observe customers in their own environment, using our platform. The insight informs our product roadmap and provides contextual examples that our development teams can use to ensure we’re building the best solution.
As project needs change, how do you re-prioritize the product roadmap and keep teams aligned?
Priorities change based on customer needs, market dynamics, advancements in technology and other factors. As a result, roadmaps change.
During the initial creation of a product roadmap, identify the top functionality that needs to be developed and released over the next six to 12 months. Rank those priorities to create a baseline for re-prioritization, while ensuring alignment across key stakeholders from the start. When shifting the roadmap and communicating new priorities, have a shortlist of items to consider and understand the impact internally and externally. Discuss changes early, often and across the company if possible. Provide context to the changes, like the reasons why and who’s impacted, and reiterate the priorities going forward. Ideally, these practices will create minimal disruption.