Being a product manager for an SaaS company is a challenge. Everyone you talk to has a different opinion on where to go next. It’s on you to make trade-offs and create a roadmap that makes sense. Sometimes, you have to say no to great ideas.
“Product Managers need to be adept at determining which business problems are worth solving,” says Rich Palmer, co-founder of Gravyty, a startup that connects nonprofits with likely donors. “This takes considerable energy because you will be balancing customer needs, internal stakeholders, and visionary ideas. You have to ask yourself which ideas will create the biggest impact at the right time given the resources you have.”
It takes discipline to stay focused, but product managers all over the world are shaping roadmaps that win. Here are 5 ways skilled product managers shape winning roadmaps:
Putting Vision First
Without a vision, what do you have? You can’t build a roadmap if you don’t have an idea of where you want to go. When it comes to building a vision, prioritization is key.
“If you don’t have your product vision, don’t bother with roadmapping,” said Janna Bastow of ProdPad in an interview with UserVoice. “Stop right there, go back to the beginning and make sure that you understand what you guys are building towards, and why you’re in this.”
Your brand probably has a vision– it might be your a mission statement. But if you’re unsure what your vision is, spend some time thinking about what your stakeholders will want to see, and how your product roadmap can support that vision.
“There a ton of different prioritization models out there,” says Jim Semick, Co-Founder of ProductPlan, a company that makes product roadmap software. “No matter the model you use, your priorities should tie back to the company’s goals and the product’s goals. You need to make sure your goals are tied back to the KPIs.”
If you’re struggling to identify your priorities, Jim Semick recommends using a number of different strategies to get your priorities straight.
Using In-App NPS as a Direct Line to Customer Feedback
It can be difficult to know what to focus on without understanding what your customers think.
When your company is small, the best way to do this is to pick up the phone and talk to your customers directly. As you grow, however, it’s a good idea to use Net Promoter Score (NPS) to determine how customers feel about your offerings.
“When we were smaller, it was easy for us to keep track of how we were doing because we were talking to people every day,” John Waldmann, Founder of Homebase, told us in an interview. “The original intent with Net Promoter Score was to give us a more quantitative view of how are we doing on the product, but it’s actually become become a new channel of communication and product feedback from users that we wouldn’t have received otherwise.”
The magic thing about NPS is that it provides quantitative AND qualitative feedback. Its first question– how likely are you to recommend this to a friend or colleague? — leads to quantitative feedback, while the open-ended follow-up question– what is the main reason for your score?— gives you qualitative feedback.
Get the ebook, The Modern Guide to Winning Customers with Net Promoter Score. Learn eight ways to optimize product and drive growth with a real-time approach to NPS.
“When you’re creating a product roadmap, you need to bring customer evidence to the table to justify why you’ve made certain choices,” says Semick. “It might be metrics you’ve established, or customer interviews you’ve done, but you can’t make a roadmap out of made up ideas or intuition. NPS is a great piece of evidence you can bring to the table.”
Moving Quickly and Testing
If you commit all your resources to one idea, spend a year on it, and it doesn’t work out the way you’d hoped, you’ll be faced with a massive disappointment. That’s why many product managers recommend moving quickly and testing along the way.
The team at StudySoup recently rolled out a flashcard tool that allows students to create digital notecards to study for exams. Their design and development team created a basic version of the tool in a day, allowing them to test the feature to see if it was something students would use, and quickly iterate on it to improve it.
“After creating a quick version of the flashcard tool, we pushed it out to a select group of users to get feedback,” says Charlie Cohn, Head of Marketing at StudySoup. “That allowed us to revise product before pushing it out to our entire community.”
Cohn recommends adding opportunities for testing directly into the product roadmap. A successful A/B test could be defined by a behavior or by an event. Or, if you’re already tracking NPS, you can A/B test for customer happiness. Testing throughout the process will allow you to continually adjust to make sure you’re on the right track.
Prioritizing Visibility in the Process
When you’re building a roadmap, you need to ensure that you prioritize visibility. Does everyone on your team know what they’re supposed to do? Can they clearly see what your roadmap looks like?
You need to make sure that stakeholders understand why you’ve made certain choices, but you also need to make sure your team understands what work they’re responsible for, and how that work fits into the bigger picture.
“The best success I have had with executing on a roadmap is when the initiatives are visible in stages so everyone can see their own projects,” said Rich Palmer, Co-Founder of Gravyty. “Ideas can then flow from backlog to design to development to testing to release.”
You might need a tool to help you make your projects more visible. ProductPlan is a tool that can help you share your roadmap and present a compelling story to executives and other stakeholders. It doesn’t matter what tool you use as long as you’re able to easily share initiatives with your stakeholders and your team.
Letting the Roadmap Be Flexible
When it comes to building a winning roadmap, you don’t want to be too rigid. You should break the roadmap into manageable sections, and leave room for new opportunities if something comes your way. Flexibility will help you in the long run.
“A product roadmap should define where you’re headed, but not be so laser-focused you miss opportunities for high value, low cost improvements,” says Ciara Peter, Head of Product at BetterWorks, a goal-setting software company. “In our roadmap document, we present a high level slide with a few key KPIs that frame our strategy at the year level, a detailed list of the features in flight, and a few concept slides of the next one or two quarters.”
Semick has produced countless product roadmaps, and thinks the roadmap should remain open at all times. “The roadmap is not a static document– it’s not a thing you produce once a year,” he says. “The roadmap is living, and it should be revisited, and reprioritized.”
Shaping Your Roadmap
Building a winning roadmap is a challenge, but as a product manager, you have the power to shape one that takes your company to new, amazing places. By putting your vision first, testing out your ideas, communicating with your customers, prioritizing visibility, and breaking your roadmap into manageable pieces, you’ll be able to create a roadmap that pleases your team and your stakeholders.