Roadmap Poison: What’s Getting in Your Way?

Your product roadmap is one of the most important artifacts for keeping your team aligned with regard to deadlines and priorities. Unfortunately, a number of problems can plague even the most well-organized and maintained roadmap. And these issues tend to sneak up on you and your team, meaning you need to be diligent in keeping an eye out for these potential pitfalls.

So, what forms do these “roadmap poisons” typically take, and are there any antidotes? Below, I’ll describe three common roadmap problems, then share my tips for achieving roadmap zen.

Did Someone Say “Feature Request?”

Feature requests come from a variety of sources, including customers, execs, product team members, and even competitors. However, they all have one thing in common: they hide the “why.”

What do I mean by that? I mean that a feature request is masking a deeper issue, and that’s the problem to be solved. For example, let’s say you receive a feature request to include a chat button that would let customers speak directly to the support team. I’d recommend that you investigate the context behind this request to get at the specific issue this user is trying to address. Is it lack of contact from support? Are they getting support too slowly?

There’s a reason why customer success teams consider feature requests a starting point rather than an endpoint. When a feature request comes in, that’s a sign to begin a more in-depth conversation. Take the time to discover the context surrounding the request and you’ll end up with a better idea of the problem facing your customer.

Your Roadmap Isn’t a Popularity Contest

It’s tempting to organize your roadmap priorities based on votes. Democracy is great for many things, but unfortunately, your product roadmap isn’t one of them. And that’s because votes don’t tell you:

  • Who: For whom is this feature or specific roadmap item a major priority? Is it enterprise customers? SaaS customers? Brand-new users?
  • When: Our priorities change all of the time. A user’s No. 1 feature request might change the second after she casts her vote. Votes separated from a timeline are nearly useless without additional context.
  • Why: As I mentioned above, the reasoning behind a feature request is more important than the request itself.

Also, keep in mind that folks often set their own agenda to have their opinion heard. And the person with the loudest voice might not actually have the most pressing need.

Beware the Prospect(s)

“I haven’t used your product yet, but just need this, and that …”

This statement should give any product manager pause. And if your sales team comes to you and says, “You need to build this feature, or I can’t close this deal,” even more red flags should be going up.

Building features specifically for prospects can lead your roadmap in the wrong direction. One-off, obscure demands that don’t fit with your overall strategy waste your time and resources. In fact, they can even be detrimental to your existing customer base and current user experience.

Now, that’s not to say that feedback or requests from prospects should be ignored — they just need to be handled with additional finesse.

Top Tips for Achieving Roadmap Zen

Luckily, there are some antidotes to the roadmap “poisons” described above. Here are three that I’ve found invaluable for managing feature requests, keeping track of customer feedback, and promoting user satisfaction.

Build a Feedback Library

As feature requests come in, you want to be sure you’re gathering, organizing, and storing them in a centralized location. A feedback library ensures that requests don’t exist in a vacuum and that sales, customer success, product, and potentially execs can access them.

You might even consider converting your backlog to a library. When we think of the backlog, we think of a to-do list. When we think of a library, we think of all the available resources we have.

Set Expectations

If you’re receiving a lot of feedback and/or feature requests, I recommend uploading a feedback policy to your website that explains how to submit requests and when requests will get reviewed. For example, if it generally takes five business days for your team to address a request, let users know that. That way, they (probably) won’t be emailing you after two days to ask why they haven’t heard back yet. And overall, your customers will be more satisfied with their feedback experience. 

Be Transparent

When you can share something with your customers, prospects, or sales team, you should consider doing so. Transparency is a valuable trait and one that can foster long-term trust. If you feel comfortable doing so, communicate releases and the status of your roadmap. You might also create a customer- or prospect-facing roadmap that your sales team can share.

Don’t let your roadmap fall victim to unforeseen dangers. Instead, proactively take steps to protect your team’s most valuable asset from moving in the wrong direction.