How Documoto’s Senior PM Keeps Teams Aligned on the Product Roadmap
There’s no “right” way of ensuring your team stays on track during a product roadmap. But some might argue there are better ways than others.
Take, for example, the concept of feedback. When should you give feedback during the product development cycle? What kind of feedback is most beneficial? Or should you even be giving feedback, knowing that it has the potential to steer the team away from its intended end goal?
For Dan Brooks, a senior product manager at Documoto, a digital publishing platform and interactive content management system for equipment manufacturers, staying aligned takes the form of regular check-ins and demos. But he sets the groundwork for feedback during these sessions before showing other teams: only provide feedback that’s beneficial to what’s currently being built, with the understanding that there’s still much more work to be done.
“Feedback is valuable, but make sure to discern between wants and needs,” Brooks advises. “Always validate adjustments or changes in the direction against benefit and impact metrics established during planning.”
And that’s just one facet of the entire product development process. In a conversation with Built In Colorado, Brooks explained Documoto’s process for ensuring there’s alignment before a project kicks off, the strategies he uses to keep teams aligned, and the process he employs to ensure his team stays on track even when things change course.
When developing a product roadmap, what steps do you take to ensure there’s alignment across teams from the get-go?
A wise mentor told me years ago that, as a product manager, your job is to figure out the “what” and “why” of a business need and educate your team about it. As soon as you slip into answering “how” questions (think detailed technical specs), you have stepped over the line into the developers’ realm. And it becomes a slippery slope because unless the PM actively keeps themselves in the what and why realm, you can quickly end up with a solution for which no one understands the problem.
Staying loyal to understanding and communicating the business need helps ensure your team can visualize the future state, how it will positively impact your users, and remain aligned to delivering the right solution.
One thing I always do is dig and ask questions until I feel I’ve learned what the underlying drivers, benefits, risks and impacts are for any burgeoning initiative. Taking this step upfront helps ensure you can communicate the value prop for every item on your roadmap. For example, I’ve recently taken to writing one-page project briefs describing the vision, deliverable description, key stakeholders and links to other supporting information.
How do you maintain that alignment throughout the development cycle?
I like to use frequent check-ins and demos with internal and external stakeholders, but it is crucial to have the “right” stakeholders involved. Ensure you include those who will be personally using the functionality delivered, thus increasing the odds of success. Setting the stage for demos can be a bit tricky, as your audience may be expecting a fully functional system, but that may be many weeks away. Help them understand what they will see and specific areas of feedback you’d like to hear about.
At Documoto, our developers conduct reviews of their work with members of our services team, who are on the front lines working with our users every day. They bring invaluable insight to decision-making into how our solutions improve our customers’ daily work. Coupling these internal reviews with hands-on knowledge transfer to early adopters helps ensure successful launches and timely feedback to incorporate in subsequent iterations. Feedback is valuable, but make sure to discern between wants and needs. Always validate adjustments or changes in the direction against benefit and impact metrics established during planning.
At a minimum, reassess and reprioritize your roadmap and backlog monthly — make sure you’re focusing on the highest impact deliverables and speak to why they’re impactful.”
As project needs change, how do you re-prioritize the product roadmap and keep teams aligned?
Trying to juggle an extensive list of impactful deliverables can become unwieldy. Much like the time value of money principle, it’s more valuable to provide continual incremental improvement for your users than to hold back and big-bang the perfect complete solution. Remember, “there is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time.”
Always focus on the most impactful 3-5 things you can deliver and know the difference they will make for your users. Always strive to keep your MVPs/MMFs small so they can be shown in short periods while providing measurable benefits and feedback sooner. Expect that priorities will change, but there should always be a good reason for it. At a minimum, reassess and reprioritize your roadmap and backlog monthly — make sure you’re focusing on the highest impact deliverables and speak to why they’re impactful. Sometimes that could be bug fixes and sometimes it may be something transformational. But so long as you always focus on the “what” and “why,” you’ll always understand the benefit of the change for your users, and you will never go wrong.