#39 Building Outcome Centric Product Roadmaps
Framework for roadmap building in a B2B SaaS
We came out of our annual planning process a few months back, to build out our Product roadmap. It wasn’t perfect - but we did things from first principles, followed some core product management principles and collaborated across our R&D and GTM teams.
We got some early indicators of success from our internal teams as well as our customers. One customer quoted that “We were intently listening to them and playing an infinite game.”
Laying out our thought process here. Some of these ideas we were able to implement, some we couldn’t due to different constraints, but the idea will be to keep building up on this playbook so as to evolve a robust product roadmap - year after year.
Product roadmaps encapsulate how the product strategy becomes a reality. They take many competing priorities and boil them down to what’s most important.They’re also a source of inspiration, motivation, and shared ownership of the product and its successes.
Product roadmaps are one of the few things almost everyone in the organisation will be exposed to, as sales pitches, marketing plans, and financials are usually held closer to the vest.
We began with the product development hierarchy, which is a very simple framework for product strategy, which follows basically four questions
And the first one is the question of why the vision? Why do we exist? Or what do we want to be in the future? This is something that will stay true for a 5 year horizon.
The second question that you would then ask yourself is to figure out the strategy - how do we get there, given where we are today and what the market realities are?
A strategy at the company level could be to penetrate further in the mid market business , or to build a stronger partner enablement strategy. How that could manifest into the product is , let’s say if the company goal is to penetrate further in the mid market , the product goal could then be to shorten the sales cycle in a meaningful way, or to ease out the pilot runs, or to crush the competition mid market by bringing in right amount innovation + parity + ease of use.
Then come the goals (which could also be derived from your OKRs) , which could be to Increase your Win rates across competition by X%, Target X% increase in engagement of a certain persona on your product
And then lastly, you have the initiatives, that answer the opportunities ahead of us to meet the goals.
Sometimes when teams tend to start not from the product vision, but from the feature levels - based one that they heard in a customer meeting, or what they heard as the HiPPO (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion), they enter the Build Trap. Features, are outputs and not outcomes. A vast majority of software teams ship features and then declare success! However, what modern product teams care about is whether the thing we just shipped had the desired Outcome.
An outcome is a measurable change in customer behavior. The goal of any feature you ship to a customer should be to change the customer’s behavior in a measurable and positive way. If you ship a feature, and it doesn’t have the desired outcome, did you succeed? We would argue: nope
If we want to achieve our Product Vision and have an Impact on the market, we need to have a strategy and have to know what Goals are going to get us there.
So laying out the process we followed.
Step #1 - Start with a Product Vision
Start with a clear and compelling Product Vision. Make it clear why your product should exist. Where do you want to be in 5 year’s time? Your product vision should be timeless. In order to get somewhere, you need to know where you’re headed. The product vision provides a north star to your engineering teams, so they are all moving in the same direction.
Step #2: Build a strong Product Strategy
Once you align on your Vision you can focus on your Strategy — which then informs the Goals and the initiatives , essentially the Roadmap.
A strategy is your plan to win.You need a strategy to to create alignment , to generate clarity , to build focus .
A strong strategy can be built by :
Understanding your market (including your competition)
Understanding your customers and their needs
Understanding your key differentiation and core
I will do a separate post on what it takes under the hood to define a strong product strategy.
Step #3: Create 3 to 4 Goals for your company
Based on the strategy you define, choose your goals that are specific and measurable that give you a sense of how your strategy is performing. If displacement of a particular competitor was a core part of your product strategy, improving win rates by 80% against that competitor can be a great measurement to see if you’ll be able to get where you need to be in the next 1 year.
If you were starting to penetrate into the mid- market commercial business from a heavy enterprise focus, ease of use and speed at which a certain persona can do things within your product is critical. In that case having a goal like - Enable admins create a new program on the same day of signing up , could be valuable.
Step #4: Identify Opportunities for changing customer behaviour.
Customer unmet needs
Jobs To Be Done
which, if solved, would lead to the desired outcomes
Identify these opportunities from multiple dimensions. We looked at our Win Reasons to see what is really resonating with our recently converted customers. We looked at our closed lost deals and did an in-depth competitive analysis to understand key reasons we were losing deals. We looked what customers were telling us in their NPS and other feedback. We looked at why some of our existing customers churned.
We mapped back all of these to see which goals we can impact by taking action on these.
We then handed these over to our cross functional product streams to build out a roadmap that was outcome focussed.
Our cross functional streams then did the following
Generating ideas based on the opportunities identified
Validated which ideas actually solve the customer’s problem, using data and customer feedback
Created features based on validated Solutions to customer’s problems.
Iterated on features until success is achieved.
Once we had the roadmap, we cross validated it with the key vectors - across Customers, Market and Internal factors to ensure we had it all covered.
Heal the existing customer’s pain - Fix Bugs!
Focus on those two top asks from a big ARR customer!
Deepen existing capabilities - Building those V2 and V3 of features.
Fast follow Competition for table stake features
Optimize for new customer revenue - plant new seeds. Typically invest in adjacent spaces
Identify Disruptive Differentiators - This came out strongly from our product strategy and goals.
Engage with analysts (Gartner, Forrester) to understand and shape the trends for Enterprise customers.
CEO asks - Every roadmap will have this, the top thing on CEO’s mind :)
Optimize for engineering efficiency (pjatformization, modularisation of code, elimination of tech debt)
Ideas from Customer solution meetings ,customer escalation meetings, churn alerts. Typically what PMs dream up from their insights.
We recently came out of our Q1 with 83% adherence to the planned roadmap, which was a small victory that we cheered for. As we get through the rest of the quarters, we will be dealing with urgent asks of renewing customers, new market movements and a possible risk of recession in the US economy that may shake up our roadmap. Will keep posting the learnings :)