Take the High Road When Creating Product Roadmaps
The biggest mistake you can make when crafting a product roadmap is not talking to customers and prospects about what to put in the roadmap. The second biggest mistake you can make is building a roadmap that schedules all the features and functions you plan to build. That’s taking the low (level) road.
You want your plan, your roadmap, and your conversations to be focused on the problems people solve with your product—not the gee-wiz features of your product.
Jonathan Berkowitz of Thinktiv, a company that helps startups create great products, tells us how a feature-based roadmap can derail your product before it even gets off the ground. “In the earliest days of an enterprise roadmap, a product vision should be grand enough that ‘features’ become an appendix,” writes Jonathan. He points out three key problems with having conversations around features.
The first problem is that you have added a middleman to the conversation. When you’re talking to prospective customers, what they really need is a solution to their problem. When you’re talking to them about features, they are forced to imagine, “Will this feature help me?”
When you’re creating a new product, it is more important to know you’re solving the right problem than it is to know if a particular feature or function can be used by a customer—who may or may not be using it to solve the problem you were secretly trying to solve.
Talk to your customers about the problems they need to solve. That’s what roadmaps help you with. Designs help you identify the right features—the right functionality to apply to effectively solve those identified problems.
The second problem is that, by immediately taking the conversation to the feature level, you miss out on the opportunity to discover better ways to solve the same problem. Basheera Khan has a fascinating article about how Tom Chi and his team at Google used rapid prototyping to iterate through design ideas for Google Glass.
Tom’s team’s fantastic approach to creating—in one day—a working prototype of a gestural interface should not be confused with roadmapping. It is awesome. But it is about finding the best interaction features/functions for an already identified problem.
The third problem with talking about features in your roadmap is that you run the risk of keeping the conversation focused on problem manifestations—not on the actual underlying problems. You don’t want to create a shoelace that stays tied; you want shoes that stay snug. You don’t want better noise cancellation features in the microphone of your phone; you want a clearer conversation.