3 strategies to ensure the Product Roadmap is not hijacked

Whether by Sales, Enterprise Customers, Management, or anyone else.

When your product is out in the wild for enough time, it’s inevitable that STRONG opinions on the Product Roadmap will emerge. Whether it’s from Sales, Enterprise Customers, or potential clients, there’s always someone out there trying to persuade you to adjust things to their needs.

The more you interactions you have with customers, the more requests or feedback they have.

As Sales meet with more potential clients, the more demands they’ll have for features that will “make their job so much easier.”

If you’re not careful, eventually you realize that the Product Roadmap has been hijacked.

This is all avoidable–and salvageable–if you follow these three simple strategies.

1. Get yourself and the CEO on the same page

Probably the fastest and most destructive means for losing control of the Roadmap is getting out of sync with the CEO. When the PM and CEO have different ideas of how things should be run or where things are to go, then it’s a recipe for disaster.

To make sure you’re on the same page as the CEO, you need to spend time together discuss where the product has been, where it is now, and where it’s going. These conversations need to be open and should happen with candor.

One-on-ones are a great way to make this happen. They are a time for vague ideas or slight opinions to solidify. It’s a time where things can start to get worked out. You should be discovering where each holds strong opinions and where each allows room to budge.

When you can write down each others strongly held belief in a single sentence, then you’re on the right path.

Once you’re in sync, then when push comes to shove you know that the CEO will not go around you or handoff strategies you were not prepared for.

2. Learn how to collect feedback without committing to anything that does not fit into the current vision of the product

Feedback comes from every direction. Sales. Customers. Support. Most of it is useful but you want to avoid situations where a select few are sidestepping the vision.

When this happens, the product no longer makes sense and is too far from what the core customer base needs or wants. An increase in churn and/or increase in support requests follows close behind.

So you want feedback, you want customers–and others–to feel heard. However, you’re the voice of your core customer base so you want to collect it with them in mind. How do you do that? Here are a few ways:

  • Have a strong opinion or worldview–and make it public. When you have a strong view of the world or take a stance for something, making decisions becomes easy. And when you make it public others see your company for what it is. This will greatly reduce the likelihood that people will be surprised by a decision. For example, Basecamp takes a clear stance against being an Enterprise Software company. Would a customer of theirs be surprised if their request to build a custom integration with their internally-developed ERP system? Nope!
  • Don’t listen to random noise. Just because feedback is coming from a customer does not mean they are your ideal customer. Ideal customers will be the ones at the higher end of the Life-Time Value curve. They mature alongside the product and will be a great guide for where things are going.
  • Get to the root of the problem. People have the tendency to think in terms of solutions. They see a problem or pain and jump right to the end. This is something we all do. We think we understand all the moving pieces but our view is too narrow and too vague to think of solutions first. How do you combat this? You ask what people are trying to do. You dig until you find the precise thing that someone wants to be accomplished. If management comes to you and says that you need to add “Notifications” to the Roadmap otherwise the company will keep losing deals, you need to get those leads on the phone and understand what it is they mean and what it is they’d like to do–completely ignoring the proposed solution.

3. Learn effective persuasion

Persuasion is a superpower. Regardless of ensuring the Roadmap doesn’t get hijacked, persuasion is a skill that most people should learn.

This does not mean you fool or trick people. The goal here is to protect the Roadmap and using persuasion to get people to see things from your point of view. When they see things from your point of view, they’ll be on board with the vision for the product.

At the bottom of the page are some phenomenal books on the subject–which you should read. For now, here are a few techniques that I turn to often and have served me well:

  • Facts don’t matter. What matters is emotion. Use emotional stories when making an argument. When you need to persuade a team member or stakeholders don’t use quantifiable facts. Surprisingly, they’re just not that compelling. They tend NOT to have much context. So, rather than, “65% of customers want us to build Feature A, not Feature B,” say something like, “the gravitational pull of our core customer base is leading us in a clear direction. If we don’t get to where they want us to go before they get there, they’ll leave us for a competitor. That’s why we must build Feature A.” See how much more compelling that is?!
  • Listen more than you speak. This one seems obvious but it’s amazing how little you see this one practiced. People want–and need–to be heard. When this happens, they’re much more likely to be open to your ideas when the time comes. What’s important is that you’re genuine in your listening. You ask good, probing questions and remember the key details.
  • Rally the troops. People are more likely to go along with the group than rely solely on their own judgment. Groups are a phenomenal tool for working out new and difficult ideas. Throw a difficult problem to the right sized group of hard-working people who get along with each other and you’ll be amazed at what is accomplished.

Books on persuasion:

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