The Product Roadmap Roadshow
A guide for product folks to ensure that their product plans are well communicated and understood.
Product roadmaps are the marmite of product folks. They either like it or dislike it.
On the other hand, product roadmaps bring excitement, anticipation, and hope to other business units within an organization, and in some cases, to customers as well. It’s the promise of what is the come.
When you attempt to unpick why roadmaps are so desirable by a group of people, it all boils down to one thing; knowing there is a plan. A plan that enables their goals and meets their needs, and gives them confidence that you are going in the right direction of travel.
“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail” — Benjamin Franklin.
This article is not about if you should or should not have a roadmap. There are valid points to both sides of the debate. A plethora of content exists to support each side. Neither is this about how to create a roadmap and how it should look.
This article assumes that you have or will have a roadmap or plan of sorts that clearly outlines your product direction and priorities. It explores an approach to ensuring that everyone knows and understands these.
The product roadmap roadshow is about how you can communicate your plan across your organization beyond broad channels such as a town hall or an all-hands meeting.
More often than not, people talk about the need to ‘evangelize’ your roadmap. The intent is great, but words matter and mostly influence our approach to doing things.
The non-religious definition of the word evangelize “to advocate a cause with the objective of making converts” — Collins dictionary.
This definition implies that when you are evangelizing your roadmap/plan, the sole purpose is to drive buy-in. Buy-in is not a bad thing for product folks. However, evangelizing the roadmap/plan does not particularly invite people to the conversation, evangelizing tells.
If we understand why people get excited about roadmaps and plans, we could adopt an engaging approach to communicating our roadmap/plan.
Hence the idea of the product roadmap roadshow.
The Product Roadmap Roadshow
The aim is to have a series of planned cross-departmental roadmap communication sessions in small groups. Creating a safe space where people can ask questions, share ideas and concerns, and clarify things they don’t understand about the roadmap/plan.
Here are some tips for how to go about a product roadmap roadshow
- Plan: Don’t just wing it. Design and tailor each session thoughtfully. Determine the right size of people per session to drive some good conversations. Determine the best time to have each session and the right length of time that ensures people stay engaged. Establish who needs to be in each session and who doesn’t (tip: if someone has seen the plan already, have them as an optional attendee, so they know it is happening but are not obliged to attend).
- Share: Let people know your product vision, strategy, and plan. It is vital to help them understand how you created your roadmap/plan, the logic behind areas to focus on, and how you plan to deliver. Be brave enough to share where there are unknowns and where you are still in the process of discovery/investigation. Be explicit in outlining what you won’t be doing or supporting in the immediate to mid/long term because of your plan. Also, give a sense of how you and your team will be allocating your time and effort. All of these allow for transparency and helps to set and manage expectations.
- Listen: When you run each session, invite and encourage people to ask questions. Pay attention to the questions asked and try to understand the reasons for these questions. Pay attention to what people get excited about and what bits people seem uneasy about as you share; try to understand why. By paying attention, you will get a sense of the interests of the different groups you are speaking to and why.
- Discuss: Remember, this is just not about evangelizing your roadmap. Encourage a discussion within the group about the product roadmap/plan you shared. Some discussion enablers are questions like what they like about the roadmap, what they do not particularly like, what they think might be missing. It is worth asking if they have ideas they think might be worth exploring based on their understanding of the plan, etc. I have found the discussions during sessions tend to surface some great insights.
By planning a product roadmap roadshow, you are taking your plan to the people and inviting them to the conversation. You are also helping them understand that not only do you want to share your roadmap/plan with them, but you are also an ally who values and respects their opinions and perspective.
As product folks, we know and understand the importance of alignment, managing expectations, and communication. If you adopt a yearly, quarterly (or whatever frequency suits you) roadmap roadshow to share your plans, I hope it serves you and all involved well.