Best Practices

Roadmap your way to success: The 3 essential ingredients for a product roadmap

Published Dec 9, 2020

While most of us are constantly planning and re-evaluating our product roadmaps, there’s nothing quite like the end of a year (especially this one) to reflect on how we can improve and build a successful product roadmap for the year ahead.

Roadmaps are a tool in every product manager’s belt that have been around for years, but many of the basic principles often go unsaid and unexplored. That’s why, throughout the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing our definitive guide to product roadmapping, including: the key inputs for decision making, how to collect and use feedback at scale, and how to successfully share roadmaps that make an impact.

In this first installment, we’ll look at the ingredients you need in order to create product roadmaps that will appeal to prospects, excite your customers, and help grow your business. 

Roadmaps are like cakes

Stick with me on this one. When baking a cake, if you get the wrong ingredients or accidentally leave something out entirely you’ll likely end up with a soggy mess. Get it right, and, well… we’ve all had a great cake. 

As product managers, we don’t always stop and think about all of the ingredients that go into our product roadmaps. All too often we’re bombarded with competing and conflicting demands, product feedback, asks from other teams, or pressure to add “just one more customer commit.”

However, when you actually stop and think about it, there are only a few key ingredients that we use to inform roadmap decisions. Thinking about roadmapping in this way is beneficial because it gives you a structured recipe for making sure you get the balance of your roadmap just right. The ingredients are a:

    1. Hefty swig of strategy
    2. Cup of customer usage and feedback
    3. Spoonful of prospect requests

Let’s explore each component in more detail: 

1. Start with your strategy

Step one of any successful roadmap is to ensure you know your company’s overall strategy, in this case as you head into 2021. What does the company want to achieve? What are your goals? Which markets matter? Who is your target customer persona? The reason is simple: there are a million different things you could build, but very few that you should

Most of us have ongoing product roadmaps, but it’s still important to stop and take the time to understand how the roadmap stacks up against the company strategy, and it is an exercise that can be undertaken at any time. If an item on the roadmap doesn’t support a business initiative, be confident in making adjustments, using the company strategy as the backdrop against which all of your product decisions are made.

Here at Pendo, the product team works closely with our CPO and CEO to discuss the company’s strategy and ensure our roadmaps are focused on the right things. Understanding your strategy is also crucial because it helps you adjust the other two ingredients we discuss later on: customer usage and feedback and prospect requests. The influence that each of these ingredients has over your roadmap will change as your business and products evolve. By using your strategy as the foundation, you can make adjustments and easily explain the reasoning behind each decision.

2. Customers are your sweetest ingredient

There’s a popular saying that “feedback is a gift” and, however clichéd, this couldn’t be more true for product managers. When you understand what users are doing in your product and have a solid feedback process in place, you have access to an invaluable source of data: the voice and actions of the people who use your products day in and day out. 

As much as we know and love every inch of our products, we aren’t “every user” and never will be. We don’t view our products in the same way as our customers do–in a lot of ways, we already know far too much. Customer feedback and analytics will help you improve your existing features by shedding light on users’ moments of frustration and delight. With this information, you can build a solid business case and show that your roadmap decisions are based on data, rather than opinion or gut feeling.  

When building or reviewing your roadmap, take the time to understand how users move through your product, what they do, and where feedback is coming from. These data points will act as sign-posts; they highlight which problems will be the most valuable to solve, allowing you to easily reference potential projects against your strategy.

While customers can help us improve our existing product, they also offer the opportunity to test and explore new ideas. Very often, we have strategic projects on our roadmaps that are driven by the company and may not be on the radar of your existing customer base. When you add a strategic project to your roadmap, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t validate the idea–in fact, this is the perfect opportunity to get early buy-in and feedback on your strategic direction.

3. Prospect requests are the secret sauce

Although you might be focused on your current customers, don’t forget to include your prospects’ perspectives in your roadmap priorities, too. If you don’t already, take the time to talk with prospects on sales calls. While this may not be as obvious of an input as customer usage and feedback, it’s an important part of the picture that helps inform what to build next (and why). 

Since they are usually new to your offering, prospective buyers come with a valuable fresh perspective. They are also likely exploring several solutions to their problems, which presents an opportunity to learn more about your competitors and gain cues to any wider market changes that you need to respond to. The only caveat being that prospect feedback can be tricky to handle, for example when product managers find features on their roadmap that were committed to during the sales process (a strategy for handling this situation is a blog post for another day). 

It’s also important to remember that most prospects have not used your product yet; feature objections during the sales cycles can evaporate when they actually start using your product. However, this is where the power of understanding your strategy and customers comes into play. If you receive a prospect request that aligns with your strategy and is requested by customers, a commit to close a deal can be a great way to get valuable projects onto your product roadmap. 

Finally, while you won’t have usage data from prospects, there are other data points you can leverage to demonstrate why a project should be on the roadmap. In addition to tracking prospect feedback, you could collect the potential contract value of all prospects interested in a request, or demonstrate that the prospects asking for certain features or improvements align with your target market, persona, and overall strategy.