As Product Managers, we are responsible for executing on the overall strategy and roadmap for our products. We develop roadmaps that maximize business value, we recognize market trends, we identify opportunities, we create timelines and we communicate our goals to developers and testers.
Modern product delivery has embraced more iterative development processes; this was supposed to make our jobs easier by breaking work into smaller chunks that customers can validate sooner. Despite its numerous benefits, the pressure to get to market faster, without any impact on quality, has actually exacerbated several common frustrations:
- Balancing Conflicting Priorities Across the Business to Define a Roadmap
- Accelerating Product Innovation and Delivery
- Keeping Teams Aligned
1. Defining a roadmap that all stakeholders can get behind, and stay behind.
It’s always been stressful to aggregate all the input from sales, marketing, support, services, customers, the executive leadership team—not to mention competitive analysis and market trends—into a realistic product roadmap. We need to balance the conflicting priorities of these groups. Like they say about herding cats…..
Often these groups provide feedback in the form of feature requests. We need to translate this information into problems we are trying to solve. Our ultimate motive is to deliver business value, not features. How would this feature help our sales teams showcase your product’s value to customers? How does this enhancement help us out-innovate competitors?
At the same time we need to properly scope and estimate the project. Our requirements absolutely need to capture customer needs. Ultimately, our product roadmap needs to move us closer to executing on our company’s strategic vision.
Although everyone might conceptually support our mission to lay out a roadmap that directly supports corporate strategy, when a customer is on the line with a problem, or a salesperson is talking to a prospect about lacking functionality, our carefully crafted roadmap will get hammered with change requests. When sales is mid-deal and peppered with questions about functionality and rough timelines, they are going to throw those at us and expect answers… immediately.
2. Embracing change to speed product innovation and delivery
The move to an iterative development mindset results in products that customers need—at least in theory—because we can mock-up, develop, test and refine the product until we get it right. By moving through this cycle quickly, we bring out the features with the most value as soon as possible.
This shift is harder for the teams outside development; they’re used to detailed roadmaps and product briefs. Now that development is more problem / business focused, many business stakeholders are uncomfortable with the lack of detail concerning a specific feature and whether it will be included in the next release. As product managers, it’s our job to articulate the problem, the personas involved, why the problem exists and how we’re addressing the problems in the upcoming release.
When everyone across the business has visibility into the process, and understands what we are building and why, this is not such a big deal. When that visibility is absent, however, the product manager’s role is not so much strategic as it is putting out fires in the form of status requests.
Getting better products onto and out of the development cycle is only half the answer. The rest of the business needs to be ready to take it to market and be able to communicate the product’s business proposition to customers. As we release more frequently, we are going to continue to polish our products through customer and market reaction. Ultimately, the business will realize true value from this ongoing feedback loop. Until then, product managers grapple with ongoing frustrations inherent in change.
3. Aligning teams and objective
As product managers, we are constantly being hit up for information:
- Developers ping us with questions about detailed Stories so they can have confidence they understand the problem they are solving
- Business stakeholders need to sign off on requirements
- Testers confirm they know what is coming, or they clarify how they need to test against requirements
- Sales brings to light customer-specific escalations and critical bugs
- Executives ask for reassurance we will deliver on time
With all this incoming pressure on our time, we can often feel we spend our entire day communicating changes, rationalizing decisions and repeating the same conversations. What’s worse is when we find out team members are waiting on us for a decision before moving forward and we don’t even know it! How often are we called upon to make a hasty decision without knowing the full context?
This problem can be tackled with better communication. It’s absolutely critical that our UX, development and QA teams stay well aligned throughout the process because we are all working on the same project at different stages (definition, design and validation). As Product Managers, we access every change based on the associated value to the company as well as impact on development and release timelines. Everyone involved in the process needs to be in sync throughout to ensure we aren’t late in identifying and addressing issues; we all know what we are building and why; and we deliver fantastic products that deliver great value to our customers and our business.
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