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Watch Alex Cowan talk about creating a roadmap.
What product management course would be complete without a discussion about road maps? We’ve talked about these scale friendly methods and how they’re extremely plan driven. Everybody loves a plan because it creates at least the appearance of certainty and emotionally we crave that certainty. In innovation friendly methods, and certainly in Agile. We work in small increments with lots of observations about what’s really working and we iterate from there. Now that said there is a need for strategic direction and focus and certain intermediate visibilities as we go along. And the key things I would say are to have a view of a happy place, how do we do really great on this dimension of desirability building wonderful product, what does that mean?
For example, with enable quiz, it might mean a leadership position in technical skills assessments in this general area of skills management. And then how do we do really great on these feasibility dimensions building a nice durable yet flexible technology infrastructure. And this dimension of viability, making a lot of money.
It’s important to have a view of that and that everybody understands, where are we headed? What’s the destination? Because emotionally we need that, it answers a lot of practical questions about where we should focus and how we should develop our capabilities and our talent as a company. And so you will probably need to help with that. In the short term, we’re doing this agile iterations, we’re watching what’s happening, we have a very tactical view how we iterate. And then what about the middle here? Say maybe 6 months out. Well, it maybe helpful first your internal and external stakeholders or customers to understand what problems are we going to generally solve?
So for example, with an quiz, maybe they say that if we’re registering a lot of discontent among our customers with having to create so many logins to the system, so we are going to focus on enterprise single sign on. We don’t know yet if it’s going to be around the Microsoft Active Directory stuff or the Google apps or some HR learning management system. But that’s where we’re headed in the next six months. And that may help your internal dev teams, your external customers have an idea about what’s coming and that may be useful.
To go to much more detail, I think it’s really important to look at the individual stakeholders we’re trying to serve with this and what problems we’re trying to solve for them. Customers may have a certain need for visibility about where you’re headed. They have their own plans they need to make, and they may overblow that a little bit sometimes but that may very well exist for your particular product. Stay focused with them on the specific decision they need to make, and how they need to make it, and do your best to service that. What won’t benefit either of you is, if you just lock everything in.
Because even if they say, the customer says, they think they want that, they’re not going to like it. When in six months there are some hugely critical thing that you both think would be a great addition to the product, but you can’t do it because you’ve already locked yourself in.
Your sales and marketing team will sort of presumably kind of a mirror of that, and they work with them to communicate this idea and this focus and make it work. And get feedback from them about how it is working. And focus them on the problems we need to solve for the market, and the underlying what underlying need really exists there for the customer. So that you do the best you can to give them the visibility that they need. If we look at finance and management they have pretty similar needs around externally setting expectations about what kind of revenue the company going to create, what kind of costs they’re going to have, what the earnings picture is.
And also managing internally how people are doing and what’s going on. They would love to know every dollar of revenue you’re going to create over the next two years and how much money you need to invest to get there. Obviously they probably understand that you don’t know that either. Create the best forecast and model you can for them based on your visibility, and if you all need to do this to the third decimal place, that visibility you don’t have. Just don’t waste a lot of time on that. Create estimators or heuristics, tools to just create those estimates rather than spending a lot of time aid creating a false sense of visibility that you don’t really have.
And be wasting valuable time you could be investing in making more money, making better product.
For the internal purposes, you have your metrics that you’re focus on. It is important to relate those to management objectives. Okay, our objectives and key results is a popular framework for doing this. Just make sure that you’re managing upwards to bridge the distance between the metrics you’re focused on with the development of your product. And the objectives of the company has as a whole. Make sure you’re able to bridge that distance. Your delivery teams of we’ll say data science and development and working with project managers, they would love to know every feature you’re going to need to build over time, so that they could make choices about their technology infrastructure.
They also know that you don’t have that visibility yet and it’s not in everyone’s best interest to specify those things. But if you give them a good idea of what problems you’re trying to solve for the customer over time and where you’re headed, the best case scenario is that you have a rich interchange with them. Where they’re bringing you ideas about what they’re seeing in terms of the tool sets and the technologies that you all are using that may create opportunities you weren’t even aware of. So that’s what I would look for there. Help them make the decisions they need to make, give them the best visibility you can. Project management will presumably be your partner in this.
I they’re doing they’re just trying to make this more iterative view of things work, but visibility will help them as well. There isn’t a simple solution to this but there is a process that will work which is to look at your stakeholders individually, make sure you’re focused on solving the right problems for them rather than making a lot of work. And creating a false visibility for everyone about things you don’t really know about. That’s where I would focus your work on the roadmap. Good luck.

In this video, Alex discusses how a roadmap of a product plan creates the appearance of certainty, but that there is a real need for strategic direction, focus, and for certain intermediate visibilities as you move along. What are some advantages to stakeholders when you have a roadmap?

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