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Keeping your product roadmap on track can be a challenge for any Product Manager. Priorities and objectives can change at a drop of a hat, especially for start-up and scale-up companies. Customer needs, security measures, legal asks, and many other factors can toss your roadmap out the window to focus on other needs. It is the eternal struggle of the Product Manager to keep planned work in the queue and your roadmap synced with business needs.
But how can you help your product roadmap stay on track and lower the risk of unplanned work pushing back deadlines? Here are a few things you can do to keep some structure to your roadmap.
When it comes to collaborating with other teams in your company, another way you can protect your roadmap while benefiting others is enabling teams with the tools they need to be independent.
As one arm of the technical infrastructure of the organization, Product teams are not only process experts, but they also generally help with software purchases. Setting up other business departments with robust and useful tools to help collect information on needs and objectives can be valuable both to that department, your organization, and to protecting your roadmap.
These tools can be set up to collect the key information to inform your prioritization matrix. So when a department like Customer Success comes to Product for a feature request, all the details are stored in one source of truth to give color into the problem and how it can best be solved. At PactSafe, we use a combination of Zendesk and Clubhouse for our ticketing system to keep everyone on our side of the business informed on issues, work, and timelines to solve problems.
Collecting data from the market and your customers is a big part of keeping your roadmap on track. Understanding how the product change can impact your presence in the market to attract new customers can be used to understand and socialize the importance to your business.
On top of that, getting feedback on the new idea from current customers and understanding the value from their perspective can also help you understand the impact of the new feature. Synthesizing the feedback and findings can be used in a prioritization exercise to quantify the importance of building the new feature. Features with high value to the market and to customers are heavier on the roadmap, making them more difficult to shift to a further timeline.
Prioritization exercises can also help make the need for the new feature clear to your own product team, as well as other teams in your business.
There are many ways to prioritize your roadmap depending on your product space. In general, deciding as a business what your product objectives are, mixed with customer and use case impact and the work size, can help put a prioritization score on each feature.
Using a prioritization measurement score custom to your business will help, but a non-biased perspective on what features are important and which can wait is even better. This score can also help you socialize the need or lack thereof to your internal business units, helping lower the risk of emotion pulling features to the top of the roadmap.
Also, getting consensus from other business units on the importance of features and work on the roadmap is key to keeping unplanned work from pushing roadmap objectives back.
Keeping a small team that consists of the key stakeholders from each department to discuss needs and priorities on the roadmap can help reduce the risk of new features popping up last minute. If everyone is always on the same page on what is important, why, and the expected timing, the business is less likely to request new features in the short-term timeline because they understand the greater need for the planned work on the roadmap.
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to keeping unplanned work off your roadmap, but maintaining good practices on deciding what work is on the roadmap and keeping internal consensus in check can help lower the likelihood of unplanned work.
In any business, there are changes that are out of the control of your internal team and unfortunately, your roadmap will shift to accommodate these changes. Being flexible to the changes and being able to understand the direction pivot with the ability to communicate the change to the business is key to keeping a well kept roadmap.