5 Tips to Get Stakeholders to Like—Even Love—Your Product Roadmap

| December 10, 2015
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Today’s guest post comes from Jim Semick, founder of ProductPlan. Enjoy!

Would you ever walk into a stakeholder meeting to present your roadmap without first gathering customer data to support your strategy and vision?

As product and UX professionals, you’re in a unique position to bring customer evidence to the table.

I recently talked about the importance of real-world data at a UserTesting webinar, Your Product Strategy: How to Get Alignment and Buy-in From All Your Stakeholders.

Here are five tips I’ve found that help ensure that stakeholders are aligned with your roadmap.

1. Support your roadmap with customer evidence

Evidence is far more compelling than your opinion. Your stakeholders are less interested to hear about what you think than about what you’ve proven.

So one of the first steps in making sure all of your teams, including executives, are in agreement with your product strategy is to bring them evidence of why the strategy makes sense. That could be a video of your customers discussing or using your product, user analytics, direct customer quotes or requests, etc.—but it needs to be evidence, not speculation. It also needs to align with your product vision and goals.

What if you’re wrong?

There’s another reason to gather real-world customer evidence first, before building and sharing your roadmap strategy: What if your opinion turns out to be inaccurate? This is where a platform like UserTesting can prove to be valuable. Anecdotal evidence collected from customers and testers is invaluable for supporting your product vision. Evidence beats opinion.

2. Explain your vision in terms of customer value

Imagine presenting your UX strategy to your stakeholder or product team, and one member of the team asks you this pointed question about a new feature or upgrade you’re proposing: “How exactly will that benefit our customers?”

Remember, your stakeholders are considering the big picture. They will be thinking about —and expecting to hear—how your product solves specific problems for customers because that’s what will translate into revenue or another strategic goal. Simply telling them that your initiative will be new or cool won’t cut it.

Customer benefits—even those harder-to-quantify “lifestyle benefits”—create a compelling story for your stakeholders

Besides, in most cases, there’s probably a simple, compelling answer to this question— usually in terms of gains the product can help your customer make, or pain it can help them avoid. But often, product managers don’t have at-the-ready answers to these questions that they can explain in terms of customer value.

You can quantify many of the ways your product helps your customers—more money your customers can make, time it can save them each day or month or year, etc. So it’s worth adding these points into your roadmap.

Then there are the not-so-quantifiable benefits—which I’ll call “lifestyle benefits”—that are also compelling, even though it’s harder to quantify them.

For example, when I was working on the remote-screen-sharing product that ultimately became Citrix GoToMyPC, we validated both quantifiable benefits and lifestyle benefits. For example, there was a quantifiable benefit of being able to access your office computer’s files from your home computer so that you could save time commuting. But we also found an associated lifestyle benefit: because it saved you a trip to the office on the weekend, you’d be able to go to your son’s soccer game.

Your stakeholders want to hear your vision for how the product will translate into customer value—gains made, pain avoided, lifestyle enhanced. Be ready with those stories.

3. Align your roadmap to goals and KPIs

Your stakeholders, particularly executives and other senior-level people in your company, are always examining your roadmaps in the context of the business’s big picture.

That’s why it’s important to make sure your roadmaps align with your organization’s goals and key performance indicators. When you can show your executives or other stakeholders exactly how an item in your roadmap ties into the company’s overall objectives, or how it addresses the company’s KPIs, you can go a long way toward securing stakeholder buy-in.

Be ready to explain your roadmap in terms of company goals.Click To Tweet

In other words, you’re far less likely to earn stakeholder agreement on your roadmap strategy if your reason for overhauling your product’s interface is simply, “It’s getting stale,” or “Well, the existing interface isn’t user-friendly enough.”

Your roadmap strategy needs to tie into specific company goals, goals that are larger than improving the product for its own sake.

A few examples of organizational strategic goals, which you can tie to your roadmap strategy:

  • Improved customer satisfaction
  • Revenue expansion
  • Entering a new market
  • Adapting to mobile

Given that your stakeholders need big-picture reasons to green-light your roadmap strategy, you want to align the roadmap’s goals with those of your company.

4. Present a visual roadmap

At ProductPlan, we provide web-based software that helps product teams visually communicate their roadmap strategies. Visually is the key here.

A lot of people come to us after using spreadsheets to build and present their roadmaps. Spreadsheets are great at capturing and organizing a tremendous amount of data. But many of the product professionals who come to us tell some variation of this story: “I went in to discuss the roadmap, opened my spreadsheet, and I could see our executives’ eyes glazing over.”

These anecdotes we often hear from frustrated product managers are also supported by data. Our 2015 Product Roadmap Survey found that the second most common format that product managers use today to build and share their roadmaps is spreadsheet software.

Not surprisingly, presentation software was number one in our survey. We’re hard-wired to process our world visually. So you’ll have a stronger impact with your product roadmap when you can present it visually, at a high level, in a way that’s easy to quickly digest and understand.

Whether you use product roadmap software or a presentation application like PowerPoint, you’ll have a far easier time creating a compelling roadmap for your stakeholders with a visual tool than with a spreadsheet.

5. Provide access to your roadmap

My final piece of advice: Don’t be a silo. Give the relevant teams and stakeholders access to your roadmaps. This can go a long way to getting stakeholders on your side.

Don’t make your executives stop you in the hall and ask, “What’s the latest item we’re working on?” Maintain your roadmaps in the cloud, update them regularly, and let everyone who has a reason to view them, view them.

Finally, one related piece of advice: Create multiple versions of your roadmaps for different audiences — such as executives, engineering, and sales. Each group has different reasons for viewing and keeping current with your roadmaps, and your product will have the most success if you can communicate effectively the most important information to each group. Here is a brief overview of what I mean.

The roadmap for your executives and stakeholders: Focus on high-level strategic concepts, such as market size, data demonstrating customer interest, and research on how the product can enhance your market position.  

The roadmap for your engineers: Focus on development requirements, deadlines, sprints and other engineering details. While your engineers might well be interested in the product’s strategic vision, they are likely to be more concerned with their specific tasks throughout the development cycle.

The roadmap for your sales teams: Focus on how the product will benefit your reps directly, as well as the user benefits that they can communicate to their customers and prospects. Also, because it is not uncommon for sales reps to share internal roadmaps with customers to help generate interest or close a deal, I recommend not including any release dates in your sales product roadmaps. You wouldn’t want a rep to prematurely commit to a product availability date with a customer or prospect.

To your product’s success!