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Intro: Roadmap Stakeholder Aligment - The Impossible Dream?

One of the biggest challenges of Product Management is to get all stakeholders to agree on a roadmap that is best for the company. What often happens in B2B is that Sales forces features onto the roadmap to close the sale with a big new customer, or that the CEO has a pet project for which actually there is very little customer demand. Even Support can unintentially derail a product if force too much time allocation for bugs and minor improvements. Also various stakeholders (i.e. CEO, investors) can blow up the roadmap by demanding that 'version 2.0' of a certains way to many feature before launch. Finally disagreements between stakeholders can also lead to feature bloat, by trying to address too many persona's or too many user needs.

Many PM's see stakeholders setting the roadmap as inevatable and accept this or give every stakeholder a set of points to spend on features which is just as bad. Doing this is signing the death warrant of Product as only products with the highest business and customer value will survive.

Taking charge of the Roadmap process is one of the core duties of a PM, and it's totally learnable and doable and does not require stellar negotiation or presentation skills and certainly does not require a company off site (those are great for team building and brainstorming, not for roadmapping).

Foundations of Roadmapping Success

First of all you need to accept that you cannot force a Roadmap on your stakeholders, even if it's the best roadmap in the world. Stakeholders like a CEO or CPO have end responsibility for the Product and to need to buy in to your ideas. However with the right process you will be able to get your stakeholders to accept 90% of your roadmap proposals within 2 hour Product Council meeting. The Product Council makes all Roadmap decisions and typically consits of the Product Manager, Head of Product and most of the C-suite. 

The Product Council decides on what Roadmap Theme's go next. A roadmap theme based on a single high level user need i.e. "B2B Fruit Basket subscription MVP", and typically one to three months of development work. The Product Council does not go into detailled requirements and does not provide design feedback, but instead trusts the underlying processes and experts for that.

Every roadmap theme is an MVP, meaning that only that only the bare minimum features are developed that are needed to address the user need and provide the proof if the user will actually buy or use the solution as designed. For the fruit basket example this means that customer can only change his subscriptions by calling customer support and that the customer cannot (yet) change the contents of the actual basket. Every theme will have a short financial business case (i.e. 10% of users will order it) which can be tested against.

However not all software development is managed through the Roadmap, as this would blow up the process with bugs and minor improvements which are of less strategic importance. Only theme's are managed through the Roadmap. For these strategic theme's a time bucket is allocated, i.e. 60% of the development time. For bugfixing there is a seperate bucket (i.e. 15%) and for Minor Improvements (a.k.a. Business Blockers) there is another bucket (i.e. 25%). These percentages are set by the Product Council for a longer term. The PM has full authority to manage the priorities of bugs/stories in those buckets without consulting the Product Council, however he/she might have to report on those retrospectively. Prioritizing Bugs and Minor imporvements is outside the scope of this article, but typically improvements are ranked by financial business value and bugs by the number of people impacted and the severity (i.e. is there a workaround or not).  


  



Process

Product Council = PC = PM, CEO's, HoP
All Milestone decision making below is by the PC. 

Phase 1: Collect Customer Need Hypothesis (aka Collect Ideas)

  • I.e. brainstorms, customer feedback analysis, market research, etc. Let's start with what we have plus ideas by Thomas/Arco/Davide. 
  • Do a quick sort of needs we want to validate and select some (PC) 
  • Who: Anyone can deliver input. First grouping/deduplication/sorting by PM's. 
  • Output: Needs hypothesis to validate and / or collect data on 

Milestone 1 Decision making: Which Needs will we investigate & test? (this period, i.e. 4 weeks). 

Phase 2: Test Need Hypothesis 

  • I.e. brainstorms, customer feedback analysis, market research, etc. Let's start with what we have plus ideas by Thomas/Arco/Davide. 
  • Do a quick sort of needs we want to validate and select some (PC) 
  • Who: Either GHT or PM&IT as desired per need.
  • Output: Needs hypothesis to validate and / or collect data on 

Milestone 2 Decision making: For which Validated needs we want to design and estimate a high level solution

Phase 3: Test Solution Hypothesis & data collection

  • Discussion of Solution ideas with team & estimation
  • Gathering data, doing experiments.  
  • Creating short business case
  • Sorting Needs based on gathered data and tests (using combination of data and input by PC). Ideally as objective as possible using PC predefined prioritization formula.
  • Who: Either GHT and/or PM&IT as desired per need. (depending if a 2d solution (test) is possible). 
  • Output: (In)validated Needs incl supporting data sorted by priority

Milestone 3 Decision making: Theme Prioritization: Which Theme's (solutions) we'll put on the roadmap? (next 3) 


Roadmap priorization

See sub page


Long term solution / process



Roadmap 6 week blocks with 2 week "break"


https://medium.com/intercom-inside/6-weeks-why-its-the-goldilocks-of-product-timeframes-c7b14c493993?_hsenc=p2ANqtz-9kCI_7bhsnE8eM_3RQurUPYxr1gxjI0rcdjC3O-ogW3Faolu2ZuO7Up6muV-NUAuU5TR16Xn3G5-IGdr_QNYrwVc5b1Q&_hsmi=52577947


Product Council & Decision making milestones

  • The purpose of the product council is to set the strategic product direction, allocate product resources and investments, and provide a level of oversight of the company’s product efforts. This group is not trying to set the company’s business strategy, but rather—given the business strategy—come up with a product strategy that will meet the needs of the business. Typical members:
    • CEO, COO or Division GM VP/Director of Product Management (leader of the product council)VP/Director of User Experience Design VP/Director of Marketing VP/Director of Engineering VP/Director of Site Operations VP/Director of Customer Service


For each product effort (except minor updates or fixes) there are five major milestones ("gates") for product council review and decision making:

  1. Milestone 1: Review proposed product strategies and product roadmaps, and initiate opportunity assessments for specific product releases. That is, select the product opportunities to be investigated.
  2. Milestone 2: Review opportunity assessments and recommendations, and issue go/no-go decisions to begin discovering a solution (=design prototype, do estimate).
  3. Milestone 3: Review product prototypes, user testing results and detailed cost estimates, and issue go/no-go decision to begin engineering.
  4. Milestone 4: Review final product, QA status, launch plans, and community impact assessments, and issue go/no-go decision to launch.
  5. Post launch assessment: It can be useful for the product council to review the business performance of the products that have launched. The product council may request a presentation on the business results of the product launch, typically 3-6 months post-launch. This sort of accountability will help the council better understand which investments and decisions they made were good ones, and why.


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