As a product manager, one of your core responsibilities is putting together the roadmap and communicating the product strategy to your stakeholders. In order to present a roadmap that truly moves the needle for your company — and, by extension, impresses your stakeholders — you have to become a full-fledged expert in your product and your target persona.
Your mission is to thoroughly understand how customers use your product, and nothing beats real product usage data in helping you do so. Analytic tools help you to get insights quickly. For example, Indicative allows product managers to see what combination of features are being used by different customer segments and how that quantitatively impacts engagement and retention.
When building the product roadmap, make sure each initiative you include relates back to one or more of your organization’s strategic goals. For example, don’t just plan UI improvements because they make your app look prettier (although that’s a plus); be able to explain how the improvements will increase user satisfaction, feature adoption, customer lifetime value, etc. Whenever possible, cite metrics and examples from your analytics tools to support your decisions.
Making evidence-based product decisions will go a long way to ensuring successful roadmap meetings, but that’s just the first step. Once you have a strong, quantitative understanding of your product’s strengths and weaknesses, there are several other things you can do to really nail your roadmap presentation.
If your audience is comprised of executives, your goal will likely be to get them to buy in to your strategy or green-light your plans. If your audience is some other segment of your organization, your goal will likely be to communicate product direction and build consensus. In either case, you need to be clear and persuasive, so stakeholders walk away understanding your strategy and agreeing with your priorities. Here are some tips:
1. Provide Specific Examples
Specific examples are some of the most powerful tools in your persuasive arsenal; use them liberally. Be able to describe your initiatives in terms of how they will benefit customers or relieve pain. Will a feature you’re building save customers time and money? Cite data from your analytics tools as evidence — you need be track several KPIs to tell the story.
In order to tell a convincing story about why the initiatives on your roadmap deserve to be there, you will need to have a data-driven understanding of how your product is used and who uses it. When walking your stakeholders through your roadmap, tie your initiatives to specific metrics in order to craft a bulletproof argument. Here are few examples you may want to consider:
- Product Adoption: Dissect the data from your analytics tools to understand who is using your product. Be sure to answer the following questions: How often do your customers sign in to your product? How is your product spreading within different organizations? Who is a power user?
- Feature Usage: It is not unusual for products to have a long list of features. It’s your job to understand which features are commonly used and which features do not get any usage. This will inform the product decisions you make going forward and help you better allocate your limited resources.
- Customer Success Rate: Every product has a purpose. What is the success rate for your customers? Are your customers accomplishing their tasks efficiently? Where in a workflow do users commonly get stuck or altogether abandon the task they were trying to complete?
- Product Quality: Be sure to measure product quality. For example, you can conduct Net Promoter Score surveys in order to identify your detractors and promoters. Track the number of software bugs. You’ll need to balance building new features with upkeep and usability improvements.
2. Know Your Audience
Knowing your audience is a key principle for any type of communication, and roadmaps are no exception. Bottom-up communication, such as presenting strategic goals to executives, follows a very different protocol from top-down communication, such as presenting specific plans to developers.
- Tailor the amount of detail shown: In executive-facing roadmaps, focus on high-level themes and strategic goals. Your discussion should be around the market space, customer data, and potential return on investment for new projects. At lower levels of the organization, your roadmap needs to transition from theoretical to actionable. Engineering roadmaps, for example, need to communicate specific tasks, requirements and deadlines.
- Use appropriate language: The language you use on your roadmaps should be appropriate to those who will view it. If your audience is non-technical, use layman’s terms to describe features and title initiatives; avoid jargon or buzzwords. In roadmaps that will be widely distributed, do not use acronyms or abbreviations that are not commonly known outside your industry.
3. Communicate Status
Roadmaps should generally communicate your high-level strategy, but when meeting with your stakeholders there is no avoiding some discussion of specific details and deadlines. Your executives will want to know the status of your current projects, how you’re allocating your resources, and how the status of those projects could change if your resources were allocated differently. The reality is that your stakeholders want to see new features released and will be eager to know how close you are to getting there.
A lot of questions around resource allocation and how to track the progress of specific tasks fall under the umbrella of project management rather than product management. However, your roadmap has an important role to play in sparking scenario-planning discussions that will ultimately help you refine your strategy. A high-level roadmap also serves as an important springboard for defining stories and setting precise release dates within your project management platform.
- Include the progress for each initiative on your roadmap: Without diving too deep into the details, include the high-level completion status of each initiative on your roadmap. For example, perhaps the re-design of your billing page is 60% complete and the launch of your new account management system is 30% complete. By providing this information on the roadmap, you may spark important conversations around how the initiatives are dependent on each other and what can be done to move around resources or reprioritize projects in order to push them along. As necessary you will dig in deeper and walk your stakeholders through the specifics, but this should not be the starting point of your discussion.
- Filter your initiatives by status: Another common approach is to use a tagging or color-coding system to layer in information about the status of each initiative without cluttering your roadmap. For example, you may choose to distinguish planned, approved, in-development and completed initiatives from each other through color schemes or tags. You may also find it helpful to filter your roadmaps along these parameters, creating distinct views based on completion status so your stakeholders can clearly understand where everything stands.
- Keep an archive of roadmaps: Finally, be sure to save early versions of your roadmap as well as roadmaps from years past. By creating an archive of old roadmaps, you can easily track which initiatives have been completed, delayed, pushed back or canceled. You can also use this database to analyze how your strategy has changed over time, and if anything goes wrong, you will be better able to identify and correct for the decisions that led you off-course.
4. Utilize Visuals
Example of a Visual Product Roadmap Built With ProductPlan
It’s important to present a colorful, visual roadmap — stay away from messy or monotone spreadsheets. People remember only a small percentage of what they hear, so visual aids are crucial to keeping your audience’s attention and ensuring your key points stick in their memory. Your visuals should supplement and clarify what you say verbally, not present new information. Avoid putting up wordy or complicated slides — they compete for attention and detract from the speaker.
- Use words sparingly: Stick to short titles and descriptions for initiatives, and make sure they’re big and easily legible. Remember, the more text you add, the less likely things are to be read.
- Incorporate color schemes: Use color schemes to show how initiatives relate to one another and to larger strategic goals. Include a legend so people can easily see what colors represent, and be sure to choose colors that are different enough to stand out from one another.
- Show the hierarchy of initiatives visually: Do a certain cluster of updates fall within a particular theme? Are some initiatives part of one release and other initiatives part of another release? Plot these relationships visually by grouping initiatives into containers or swimlanes.
Want to learn more roadmapping best practices plus get sample roadmaps and prioritization frameworks you can use at your company? Check out ProductPlan’s new book (it’s free): Product Roadmaps: Your Guide to Planning and Selling Your Strategy. And best of luck at your next roadmap meeting!
About the author:
Andre Theus is the Director of Marketing at ProductPlan. He works closely with customers and prospects to build better product roadmap software. Andre has worked for disruptive technology companies for more than 10 years. Prior to ProductPlan, he was a member of marketing teams at RightScale, Sonos and Citrix. Andre received a master in computer science from the Cologne University of Applied Science in Germany.