A product road map generates some of the most contentious debates in the product life cycle.  While this is reality today, these debates can be remedied.  Following the four steps below can turn your product road map into a secret weapon.

A product road map generates some of the most contentious debates in the product life cycle.  While this is reality today, it can not only be avoided, but can be a strength.

 

You hear “I can’t share it because Sales will sell products that are not ready”.  Or maybe “they are selling features that are out of scope”.  Score and weight the effectiveness of these features with our Backlog Feature Scoring Tool.

 

Similar comments are also made about Marketing.  “The marketing team prematurely touts products that aren’t ready for prime time”.  “Marketing is not capturing the value”.

 

Of course, this is only the product team side of the argument.  Sales, sales enablement, marketing, and even customer success teams look at this through a different lens.  Sales enablement and marketing teams need to be able to convey the value proposition.  The sales teams need to understand the competitive differentiators.  Customer success needs to nurture and seed the market to expand within existing accounts.

 

A third debate surrounds what features are included in the product road map.  You hear “the competition has every feature and then some”.  Or “this is not what my customers are asking for”.  “Why aren’t these bugs fixed?”  And then there is the mother of all statements, “I will never be able to sell this product if it doesn’t have this particular feature!”

 

The reality is both sides are right…and wrong.  But there is good news as these debates can be remedied.  Following these four steps can turn your product road map into a secret weapon.

 

  1. Develop a Closed-Loop Feedback Process

     

     Having the right features in a product road map is a team effort.  All too often today teams talking to customers collect feedback and use it in silos.  Geographically diverse sales teams hear feature requests based on regions.  Marketing interprets feedback in messaging based on the way a survey question is asked.  Customer support interprets information based on the calls they hear.  Unfortunately, without a closed-loop feedback process, there is no inter-connectivity to this information.

     

    Feedback gathered by functional teams through customer interactions creates a robust backlog.  This backlog needs to be systematically collected and scored.  Creating an objective methodology for prioritizing features allows a product manager to make the right decisions.  It also provides the right level of transparency for functional teams to understand the decisions.  For more information about connecting buyer insights, click here.

     

  1. Set Expectations Around Feature Commitments

     

     “Perfection is the enemy of progress” is often the driver to product management not sharing road maps.  The fear of something going wrong in future release schedules leads to non-commitment.  Unfortunately, when certainty does exist, both sales and customers have lost confidence in the product vision.

     

    Product managers must be prepared to share product road maps with all functional teams.  Expectations must be set for what is coming in immediate releases, and what features are not committed.  Even more importantly, the product manager must empower customer facing teams with the product vision.  Sales, marketing, and customer success teams should be prepared to validate the vision.  For related content, click here.  These teams should be empowered to invite customers into the design process to help provide further focus.  Done right, this turns the product road map from a shroud of uncertainty into strong customer advocacy.

     

  2. Incorporate Detail into the Product Road Map

     

    A second symptom of the pursuit of perfection is to keep the road map at a high level.  Sometimes this is just a title, or at best, a brief description.  This allows the product manager to move the scope of a feature as the landscape shifts.  However, an even bigger problem lies with how the audience interprets the title or brief description.  This is what leads to selling features that aren’t on the truck or delivering incorrect messages.

     

    Best practices show that the most effective road maps are clearly defined and available to all teams.  While road maps are often presented as a Gantt Chart, detail is needed to support each feature.  See more about road map best practices here.  Committed features should include clear definition and requirements, value propositions and competitive landscape.  The backlog being vetted should also be included with detail that is known with estimated dates.  However, these features should be clearly tagged as not currently committed to or in scope.  Including this level of detail and what is in scope eliminates inaccurate assumptions.

     

  1. Include the Sales, Marketing, and Customer Success Teams in the Road Map Building Process

     

     Certain features and functionality are obvious inclusions in a release.  It is the next tier of the backlog that are often up for debate.  This is often done in a silo without collaboration from others or closed-loop feedback process.  Without the right level of collaboration, scope is subject to change and resistance causes delays.

     

    Collaboration on the road map development is a recommended best practice.  Product management is accountable for the road map, but it is not created in a silo.  This interlock provides the level of input and detail to the backlog to make informed decisions.  The output is a road map with decisions aligned to market feedback.  For additional resources around building product road maps, click here.

     

Executing these four steps provides the foundation to achieve two key objectives:

 

  1. Internal alignment of functional teams to enhance the product vision and create successful sales campaigns

     

  2. Market alignment to solve problems and create product differentiation and value for your customers

     

While the effort to bring these processes together can be significant, the reward is greater.

 

Leverage our Backlog Feature Scoring Tool for help assigning weight to various features to measure importance, assigning scoring to various features to measure effectiveness, and achieving an overall picture of the effectiveness of up to 10 features based on six different metrics such as “Aligns with Product Strategy” and “Solves Market Problem.”

If you would like to participate in a custom workshop focused on the digital customer experience, bring your team to engage in Dallas at The Studio, SBI’s executive briefing center. 

 

 

 

Additional Resource

 

This tool will help you identify areas of opportunities within your GTM function for you to focus on. Click to take SBI’s Revenue Growth Diagnostic.

 

Sales Revenue Growth

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Stuart Gill

Combines his expertise at increasing product revenue with a proactive approach to talent acquisition and development.

Stuart brings extensive experience to various product management and project management roles with an emphasis on the software industry. He helped grow top line revenue to a variety of software products that were either built from the ground up or were acquired and grew to be market leaders in the US and then introduced to the European and Asia Pacific markets. He has also worked in various sales enablement positions, implementing different methodologies for onboarding and talent development.

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