A Product Roadmap presents the Why, When, and What of a Product’s future state. Typically the information is organized along a timeline which will inform the reader or audience of when a key feature or functionality is going to be released and ready for use. These feature sets and pieces of functionality reinforce the Product Vision and advance the Strategy of the product.
A Product Manager is typically required to present product roadmaps to varied audiences. After a business buys a product, they want to know where the product is headed and if it will continue to address their present and future needs, known and unknown.
There are typically four groups of people interested in your product roadmap:
Categories 1 and 2 are easier to disseminate information to: Present high value to your leadership and an expected ROI. Ensure you’re only sharing what needs to be shared and be sure to put your corporate catch-all “Confidential Only—Not for External Distribution” Tagline and you’re covered. Value speak to internal stakeholders can be covered in another post. Today let’s focus on Presenting a Road Map to the Other Side.
But presenting or providing information for key clients or even the market in general without giving away the secret sauce to the Competition can be tricky.
Here are 3 Excellent Ways to Formulate Your Next External Roadmaps
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Clients are most concerned about the issues they are encountering on a frequent basis. If you can’t present a plausible solution to their problems in a time frame they are happy with you’re basically seeing yourself out the door.
If you want to increase stickiness with a particular client your roadmap discussions must be tailored to them. Your product may have 40 excellent future features but if your client is only positively affected by 4, then you’re highlighting 4 features and a bullet pointing a few more that might interest them.
Tailoring a roadmap without it being informed by your client is folly. Even the biggest companies need to foster positive relationships via their products. If you know where your client’s needs are headed from previous discussions or a look at your client's market and you have a feature that speaks to that future need—tell them about it.
I actually use this even for interviews when I’m looking for a job. I represent the issues they’ve told me their experiencing and maybe even some market concerns for one of their products and what action steps I would take to remedy that pain point within a specified time frame. A tailored valuable roadmap is simply speaking to someone else’s need.
It’s not a “Roadmap"
Roadmaps are at times granular and internally focused. The vernacular and terminology used in a roadmap, the specific methods of product delivery—all internal. An excellent way to provide a roadmap to the Market that the competition could potential intercept is to ensure it’s not a roadmap. It’s a Product Ethos or Vision. Your roadmap should align to the product Vision and Strategy anyway, or you’re running renegade. Highlight the value of the product features to the Strategy itself.
Your customers are buying a brand. Your Competition is already aware of your brand. High-level reviews of features which speak, not directly to specific client needs, but more to what the teams are doing to reinforce the Product inherent value is a good starting point. This “not a roadmap” technique works very well for legacy or flagship products. Greenfield and disruptive products need to take a different approach that we’ll cover below.
Disturbance in the Force
In Star Wars vernacular disturbances in the force were caused by all types of significant events. From planetary destruction to shifts in alignment between warriors, all would cause those force-sensitive to feel and react. Consider your product's Market the Force. Disturbances can be all types of new, simple or complex, answers to problems. Typically startups fall into the category of disturbance leaders. But long term Multi-National Corporations also are sources of disturbance in the market place, typically with either Greenfield projects or Corporate Shifts; Corporate Shift being exiting one market to enter another—Xerox and Marriott for example.
Road mapping a disturbance in the market place is nearly impossible to do secretly. Here are two approaches:
Snapchat didn’t focus on branding at first. They were solely focused on providing the best experience on their version of social media as possible. This is a good start up approach to road mapping to the market and exposure to the competition. Keep it simple, focus on what your niche is and do it as well as possible. Roadmapping in this case is a simple as improving along the way as you listen to user problems and create requirements and enhancements to answer those needs.
Tell it vaguely.
For larger companies you have to tell your story vaguely. For no other reason at time than to keep investors in-tow. If a large company is about to sale all its hotels, for instance, to avoid bankruptcy, but plans to take what they know about running successful hotels to the market and sell that knowledge as a service, then the Market needs to understand explicitly what bus they are jumping on. Investors need a delineated plan, but the Market and competition need to know only what you plan to do vaguely and the hope is you can leverage your current brand to communicate the quality and high-value you’re bring to a new line of transactions.
Roadmapping is a crucially important endeavor. It can be a huge time-sink and very nerve wrecking. Take some of the load off by leveraging a Roadmapping tool. There are various in the Market right now; Aha!, Roadmunk, ProductPlan. ProductPlan even offers a free book on roadmapping. I haven't read it yet, but I did download it and I'll be happy to put up a summary or recommendation afterwards. What are some formulas and methods you use to build your roadmaps?
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