DOES YOUR PRODUCT ROADMAP CONTAIN WHAT WILL HAPPEN OR WHAT MAY HAPPEN? // Are you a new product leader? Are you struggling with how to create and communicate your product roadmap? In this episode get actionable advice on how 5 product leaders approach creating and sharing the product roadmap with their organizations in B2B, B2C, startup, growth and mature companies.
Lucinda Newcomb, VP Discovery & Personalization, Walmart.com (https://youtu.be/O-B25S0wbJk)
Stefan Radulian, Head of Product Management, Brainloop, a Diligent company (https://youtu.be/2jBrqHloI54)
Lauren Antonelli, Chief of Staff and former Head of Product, Evite (https://youtu.be/E_RghpTUGwM)
Brandon Anderson, VP of Product, SportsEngine (https://youtu.be/x_-iGfhC35U)
Margaret Jastrebski, former SVP Enterprise Product, ShopRunner and current Product & Strategy Advisor (https://youtu.be/ki-rJ35jtmk)
and yours truly, Hope Gurion, Fearless Product
Hope Gurion, Fearless Product: Roadmaps are a hot and enduring topic amongst product leaders why because everyone wants to see how everybody else perhaps that magical document that helps their organizations deal with short-term and long-term planning needs I often find that there are two problems that cause confusion in organizations with new product leaders first it's often unclear who decided what was going to be in the roadmap and how those decisions were made and second there's often not a distinction made between what will happen and what may or may not happen so in today's episode we're going to hear from five product leaders about how they've solved the roadmap puzzle in their organizations.
Lucinda Newcomb, VP Discovery & Personalization, Walmart.com: I believe that our role in terms of owning the roadmap is really as a steward we need to be a good steward of the roadmap which is to say you know I don't ascribe to the notion that product managers are the CEO of their product partially because I tend to do product at retail companies where we sell lipstick or we sell pants or we sell you know we sell toilet paper like we sell all these things what we sell is not the actual product that I manage so for me and I maybe it's different on the other side but for me I've always looked at this as my product or the customer experiences that help you make decisions and purchase items so with that in mind that we are the steward so much of what we do is we need to be good buddies and it's the buddy system working with our business stakeholders to help understand what are they trying to accomplish what business problems are they trying to solve so that we can then create a clear well-balanced roadmap that accomplishes what we need to so when I have always owned roadmaps in the past it has very much been it's not about me going off in a corner and cooking something up nor is it about me just taking you know lasting you know first out sort of situation of just taking the orders it is about how do we bring together all of the different ideas and align together around here are the top ones that we're actually going to invest in and here's what it's going to take to invest in them and drawing our line and then moving forward with that list now the trick is a roadmap is always has to be a living breathing document I'm a huge believer in trying to have a 12 to 18 month roadmap however whereas I may have 95% confidence in the current quarter and I have 80% confidence in the corridor after that I'm at 50% confidence in the third corridor and I'm at 20% confidence in the fourth quarter because I guarantee what's in that fourth quarter is going to end up in the following year and so I always look at it as first you come up with your priorities and then you figure out what's the order in which you're going to attack them in terms of your roadmap and that roadmap always needs to be structured around where do you have the most bang for the buck and the most business benefit solving the most urgent needs recognizing that what does in q4 is very likely to not make it out because if there's one thing that is true you can adapt to the roadmap to reality you cannot adapt reality to the roadmap I've tried it does never work so we need to think about that one have that roadmap it's always about how do you have frequent check-ins to make sure that the roadmap continues to be appropriate for the reality the you are finding because every day things change so what I like to do is have a monthly meeting with all of the key stakeholders and talk about here's what we've just launched here's what's in progress and here's what's coming in the next quarter now are there other things that we believe have either become more important or less important that we should push out not stop in the middle of try to avoid that but anything that's in the next quarter are there things we should push out to make room for other higher priority initiatives and what I found is even when I'm in a situation where I have an apples to oranges to pineapples to zebras where all the different business stakeholders have different initiatives having them in the room together where we already have built out our business cases it's very important you have a business case for here's what the initiative is and why it is on the list in the first place but as so if somebody says hey I think we should do X instead of Y you say okay what is it that you think we're going to get out of X and is it more than Y and or is there a strategic kicker I like to call them that actually makes it like even though it's less money it actually is more important from strategic perspective or it gives us better PR there's some other intangible or qualitative reason why I should go higher and make that probe that proposal but it always comes out to and then tell me which of the things that are already committed should come out brick and brick out you can't throw bricks in there without helping identify what bricks you think should come out and then it becomes a conversation where everybody in the room has to put on their broad or company hat not on their my initiative hat and this is the pain that I personally need to solve but getting everybody to think about the fact that we all need to put on our big company hat and our big girl pants and talk about what is it is this new thing actually that much more important than the thing that we're proposing or the alternatives we have of what we could push out and so I've found that with that transparency and with the trust of the people in the room that it's never about playing favorites or politics it's always about let's hat let's all together discuss how are we going to get it right for the customer at the end of the day and as long as you're always focused on the customer is at the end of the day going to be the most important thing I'm delighting that customer it helped squash a lot of the different conversations in the room and helps lead people to make better decisions but ultimately you need to be making a road map that is well informed by all of your stakeholders that they get aligned around and then they get bought into you and then when new things come up it's a lot easier to have the conversation around why would we move something up or move something out because you have the transparency and because everybody is part of the conversation and even if they choose not to come to that meeting they need to know that that is the meeting where they get to ask for new things or complain about other things like it can't be I used to call them the gremlins the emails that they would send a week after the meeting and be like oh but could you just can you just look at this it's super quick no once you align as they here's the roadmap that is what is the roadmap and you have a monthly conversation Rimi maybe in a smaller company that's more frequent but you have that window where you reopen the discussion but it is not reopened by somebody's desk in somebody's email in other forums it has to be here is where everybody gets to come in and have an equal voice and equal participation doesn't mean they get an we'll say cuz ultimately there has to be somebody who makes a decision but it does mean that everybody gets a chance to be heard and to weigh in on the conversation and then you can come out with yet again a roadmap that everybody is well they may not agree with it they need to be aligned with these are the right things to do for the company.
Stefan Radullian, Head of Product Management, Brainloop: The roadmap that we create does not contain what may happen we try to be as as realistic and as a certain as possible so what I what I like to compare it with a flight schedule a monitor at the airport so we we are doing these calculations and try to find the most realistic most probable scenario that can happen in the future and but we know that that the system is complex and there are some things that you just cannot predict like for example weather or machine breakdowns hopefully where when they're still on earth and then how long it takes to service them and all these kind of things that this is a very complex system and schedule can change anytime and a roadmap is a snapshot of that schedule it's the best thing that we so that the most probable scenario that we we think is realistic today and it can change so in a sense it the roadmap is what may happen because you can't predict the future but it's still a plan it's the old plan and I think so if if we are committed to do to deliver that kind of roadmap businesses so in a mostly the best b2b business I'm talking about b2b roadmaps here they will be grateful for that because they themselves want to have certainty in their plans so it's all about certainty here people just want it's a psychological thing it's people want certainty and we try to deliver that certainty with the roadmap or at least reduce uncertainty a little bit yeah by telling them look this is the most probable plan.
Hope Gurion, Fearless Product: What is the accompanying message disclaimer state of mind that you think has to go with it for it to be a helpful planning tool and not you - the weapon against its creators?
Stefan Radullian, Head of Product Management, Brainloop: So there's one there's one little improvement that was actually significant for that we did in our roadmap slides or the way we put it it was when we when we changed from feature description to problem description so what we what we commit now is we will solve that problem by that date and I not very precise on the date but that's in that quarter we are going to address that particular problem and we will find a solution we will not tell you how previously we were putting features and uh and and writing it we will build that checkbox into that product and if you do that you will get that and if you do that you will get and we remove the day away from that that let us the flexibility and then the freedom to find short-term solutions the problems that we are trying to solve.
Lauren Antonelli, Chief of Staff, Evite: I get why roadmaps are necessary I totally understand where we started was product building roadmaps and then it felt like in a word you know a hundred people or so it felt like well product is making all the decisions where the business is dying and there are five people like why should they decide even though it was very influenced by a CEO and everything else and you know we were working on what I think was the right things but in the end I just realized like that idea of product being a black box was contributing like well I don't know why they made these decisions what does impact does this have on the business in five years in ten years then I started thinking did we even design the roadmap that it encouraged that kind of stuff when you start to be real about capacity you start to really realize like you were only gonna get so much done in a year I think that's where you get the benefit of having really honest conversations about what you should be working on and what should make it into that road the evolution of the product roadmap at evite has ended up in a much different place and part of that is by really defining what the business needs from where it is now to where it needs to go the strategic avenues to get there and it's sort of like placing bets we really have nailed it down to the projects that will drive those priorities and we did that as a communal company you know why not you know we're lucky enough to have a product that everyone in the company uses you know online invitations are for everyone I mean we throw parties at evite people are moms and dads people have kids birthdays they have happy hours and bridal showers and why not get the most benefit of people understanding how to make getting together easier from the people who actually experience it all the time so of course product understands the the customers experience inside and out and all of the dependencies in the product our product is 20 years old but it still doesn't mean that great ideas can't come from it everywhere so instead of treating the product team sort of as this holier-than-thou who knows everything and is the only ones who can make the decision bringing everybody else into the fold in an organized fashion as contributors not drivers and approvers has really stepped changed the way that we even think about a roadmap and also making the roadmap for product managers is super stressful and no one no one I know like loves doing it so it always just feels like a promise that you can't keep and who wants to work against that every day so if we make smaller promises that everyone's on board with well have a better chance of keeping them and learning from them faster and then adjusting our strategy to say that you know everything that's gonna happen in a year for your business doesn't even make sense if you really step back and think about it so many outside factors change what your app could happen in your business remember after the election a couple years ago that you know the eBay business went a little weird and we could have never predicted that but when families weren't talking to each other and we're getting together that had a very unexpected results on our party business you know and I'm glad that America is coming out of it a little bit it seems like at least from the businessman well it's like what if we all kept going in the way that we you know and didn't adjust so if you're going to be agile and product management and you're saying well we're going to learn in the way that we work all the time and say well we want to listen to customers all the time well adapt it's like then why are you going to set something permanent for a year.
Hope Gurion, Fearless Product: Do you think you could have that philosophy without your CEOs buy-in?
Lauren Antonelli, Chief of Staff, Evite: No no I don't I'm not sure how that would work at least when I talk to people at much bigger companies people from the counsel's it's really hard to uplevel prioritization unless that top level is on board with it.
Brandon Anderson, VP of Product, SportsEngine: I don't illustrate like a confidence level in a document that I send out to folks right it's like by the time we've gone through the iterations of putting together a six-month road we started with a year roadmap then I got it down to nine months still not confident enough got it down for six months and so we just kind of basically say what's in the roadmap is subject to change we're very much on a journey to fully autonomous teams right so I push product managers to be the ones that are filling our queues up from the big strategic point of view right you're of course going to get top-down stuff changes in business we acquire a lot of companies in our area and so that happens to the like happens to us but what's inner control we're really trying to push and we're trying to get the teams to be autonomous so I'm actually over time trying to become less reliant on roadmaps right and more reliant on these kind of face-to-face communication being the being really the thought leaders in your space where where nobody really challenges what you're doing next you're in such a good space with your product knowledge that takes senior people that takes years of experience on the teams and they have to be able to hit some big meaningful things right so it's a hard journey but it's worthwhile.
Margaret Jastrebski, Product & Strategy Advisor: Of course kind of my answer always comes down to with anything the product that comes down to it depends oops you know is a really kind of indicative I think it's a product role but when I think about like what would I include in a roadmap and what what wouldn't I include it's really really important to share your level of conviction like I think of roadmap says this was our level of conviction because these are the things we want to do and so I think roadmaps are they're wide and they're deep and they kind of represent what you think is going to happen immediately you know 30 60 90 days I love that framework 30 60 90 what do you think is going to happen in the next 30 days 60 days 90 days you could even do three months six months a year but you get the format you get the structure if the near-term stuff is the thing that I have the things that I have immense amount of conviction on this is the stuff we know we can do this is a stuff we know we need to do this is the stuff we know is really going to move the business the stuff that's farther out is the stuff that we're researching right the stuff that we're going to go to market we're going to go talk to users we're going to go talk to the clients the partnership etcetera and figure out okay is this this this we have a strong sense of we think we want to do but how do we frame it out how do we think about it and then the stuff way far out is the stuff that I'm like this is kind of generally the dirt direction we're trying to go but there's a lot of information that has to be figured out between now and then and so you know I think about it as it's more of here's the conviction and then here's kind of the broader context in which your conviction says I think it's really important to provide all of that information a lot of what the product role is is yeah I but the way I describe it is the what no why so Deb shows up with the how but product shows up with the what why and so your roadmap is is the way of making that that what and the why really articulated and really detailed so people can understand follow what you're going to do but I think it also grounds itself into the broader context of what you're trying to accomplish for the organization for the business what are the business outcomes for some metrics that you want to drive what's the user experience you want to drive and so I think them may happen component of that is really critical to include because it gives the person that's absorbing that roadmap that's consuming that roadmap a little bit more information around the edges it gives you it gives that person more information as to okay these are the must-haves that I see kind of what out my product person is thinking about and it gives them more context I think a little bit more broader about the problem they're trying to solve so when I think about people that are using roadmaps that are the users of roadmap or the people that you're delivering to a lot of times it for most of time areas you can kind of broadly say it's your organization but really it's the dev organization you know a lot of times who are the people that are actually going to run with this and again I think it's really important to give them the why the context a lot of times it's your senior leadership so is this between your leadership team this is CEO sales at a marketing etc so they can see what you're thinking and they can see what you're laying out in terms of what executes and then finally I think it's really important to include that just because it heads off a lot of questions I find that as the product person you're the receptacle of everybody's ideas and so if you can actually articulate this is what we're doing and this is what we may do people oftentimes see their ideas you know kind of where they sit in terms of commitment and they can see that okay well you know Margaret she's a treatment product person she's thinking about this but obviously you know it's something that she's going to need to think about more or something at farther out um so I'm a big fan big proponent of having a broader context view of a roadmap and not trying to slim it down to only have that very narrow view I think you have to have the narrow view so the people that need that but I do think you have to have kind of all the components.
Hope Gurion, Fearless Product: Surprise! you thought you were gonna see five different roadmap examples so you could choose the perfect one for your company right? not so fast. there really is no perfect roadmap and in fact it's really unlikely there's going to be a single document to answer every single question context is everything as you heard from these products leaders you need to ask certain questions of yourself before you can figure out what is the right way to present to your company what the product team is working on you need to understand things like:
· who needs to know what to make which decisions that way you can tailor the right level of information to the people and think about exactly the right timeframe that makes sense given the needs of your audience
· you may be operating an environment where there is a high need for certainty perhaps because people haven't felt that there's been a lot of follow-through or delivery around that the product team or because there's certain very very critical short-term goals that are critical to meet the higher the need for certainty the more likely that your roadmap is really going to be focused in the very very short term
· I advise new products leaders to set the ground rules the rules for engagement with their leadership team and with their organization so they can decide whether it is a document that needs to be produced or whether it is a conversation that needs to be had with certain parts of the organism and to decide very consciously what is the right level of fidelity to balance the things that are highly certain in the short term and nearly impossible to predict in the long term
I hope that the advice of these products leaders has been helpful to you as you think through what your roadmap should contain, and more importantly, do you actually need a roadmap?