When you think of a product roadmap, what comes to mind?
Maybe you see a colorful Gantt-style chart. Or a Kanban board framework. Or perhaps something even simpler still in the form of an Excel spreadsheet.
Now think about the substance behind those visuals.
What inputs led to those features appearing on your roadmap? Are the initiatives you’re working on data-informed or driven by gut feel? What story does your roadmap tell?
These types of questions are critical for product teams to ask themselves throughout the roadmapping process. Gone are the days of using roadmaps as stand-ins for feature wishlists. Now, roadmaps are an essential element of every product manager (PM)’s strategic planning arsenal. And as companies look to PMs to play an increasingly involved role in guiding their product’s story, messaging, and go-to-market strategy, PMs need to reimagine the roadmap to achieve its highest potential.
There’s never been a better time to rethink the roadmap
New products and features are hitting the market at a faster clip than ever before. Plus, the software landscape is growing increasingly crowded. Under these circumstances, it can be tempting for companies to turn reactive and succumb to the pressure to respond to every market shift or movement their competitors make. But this approach only results in undifferentiated products, unprioritized features, and a muddied brand image.
It’s the companies that stay the course, guided by a shared vision and belief in their product, that succeed. That’s where a good product roadmap comes in.
In the past, roadmaps have often been used as a proxy for project plans, for the sole benefit of the teams building the product. They’ve often included very tactical approaches for getting features to market—but not always the overarching “why” behind them. Today, PMs need their roadmaps to cast a vision for the future (while staying grounded in current customer challenges) and tell a compelling story to encourage buy-in from customers, investors, and even employees.
But where should PMs look for inspiration and inputs to build truly data-informed roadmaps?
A happy marriage between quant + qual
The best roadmaps are fueled by a healthy dose of both quantitative usage data and qualitative customer feedback. Quantitative data gives you an objective view into how users are engaging with your product (which could influence or inform any changes you make down the road), while qualitative feedback adds valuable context and color to user behaviors that numbers alone won’t tell you. Striking a balance between the two is critical for producing the most actionable and robust roadmap possible.
Here are a few data sources you should be leveraging:
Company strategy and goals
Your company’s overarching strategy should always be the glue that binds the elements of your product roadmap together. Aligning your product roadmap to key organizational initiatives not only ensures your team is working on the right (leadership-approved) things, it’s also the best way to validate and explain the reasoning behind any product decisions.
Fueling your roadmap with guesses and gut feel alone leaves your team building blind. Without a clear view into the ways users are really engaging with your product, your team can’t create a plan to meaningfully address customer challenges. By objectively understanding your users’ behaviors, you can better guide them through your product—and build initiatives or features into your roadmap to address any issues they’re experiencing.
Voice of the Customer (VoC)
Qualitative voice of the customer (VoC) data—gathered through surveys, polls, and feedback—helps you get to the “why” behind the usage data, so you can understand the full picture and address the root causes of the problems your users are facing. Combined with user analytics, the perspective of the people who use your products day-in and day-out is a powerful source of inspiration for your roadmap.
Since they’re usually new to your offering, prospective buyers bring fresh perspective to your product. Their input also gives you an opportunity to learn more about your competitors (if they’re considering other players), plus any wider market shifts you might need to consider. Pay particular attention to requests and suggestions you hear from prospects that keep surfacing again and again.
While it’s never a good idea to abandon your strategy just because of goings-on in the market around you, understanding the competitive landscape can add context to your users’ behaviors or the kind of engagement you’re seeing with your product. Leverage market research to understand where your industry is heading and where you might need to focus your efforts to stay differentiated.
Want to learn more about the data sources that should fuel your roadmapping process, explore frameworks for bringing your roadmap to life, and see strategies for making your roadmap work best for your team? Download our full roadmapping e-book here.
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