How to Align Teams Behind a Product Roadmap

Built In Staff
June 30, 2020
Updated: July 20, 2020
Built In Staff
June 30, 2020
Updated: July 20, 2020

It’s a mantra for product development as well as a dictum for life: The only constant is change.

That’s why product roadmaps must be flexible, even treated as “living, breathing things,” said Narguess Noshirvani, a group director of product management at Work & Co.

While changes in a product roadmap are an inevitable part of the production process, the consequences of swapping priorities mid-development can be significant in terms of lost time and workflow interruption. With that in mind, aligning teams from the start — especially with distributed remote stakeholders — matters.  

The following 26 tech professionals and teams strive to ensure their teams are on the same page when it comes to business objectives and measurable group goals long before major shifts are necessary. That way, if and when priorities change, PMs can easily communicate to all stakeholders how and why their team will be course correcting.  

“Roadmaps can — and should — change,” Noshirvani said. “But the vision itself must remain consistent.”

 

squarespace
SQUARESPACE

Jellyfish

Phil Braden

CO-FOUNDER

Phil Braden

When developing a product roadmap, what steps do you take to ensure there’s alignment across teams from the get-go?

Given that Jellyfish is a relatively new addition to the stack of products that engineering leaders use to manage their organizations, we have a lot of green-field opportunity when it comes to building product. So the most important first step for us is to identify which things will really move the needle for our customers and prospects, and that we all know what we want to build and why. The other critical step is making sure our engineering team has a shared understanding of how their work will manifest, so that what we build is relevant for the executives who buy Jellyfish as well as the rest of their teams who will spend more time in the product.

We know this will require more communication and planning as we grow, and we see that now in how our customers manage their own processes. But regardless of size, it’s essential to organize what you’re doing into a simple enough framework so that stakeholders across the business understand the “what” and the “why,” and are then able to put enough depth behind that to facilitate the “how.”

“At this stage we explicitly expect that a portion of our work will be off-roadmap...”

 

How do you maintain that alignment throughout the development cycle?

Using the above framework to actually track our product work — and all the other stuff that gets in the way — is key. The fact that we can use our own product for this makes it a lot easier.

This visibility is critical for managing uncertainty. In addition to “stuff that gets in the way,” two common problems that can be hard to avoid without transparency and good communication are: that we thought we understood an issue but actually do not, and that we thought something would be easier to build in theory than it turned out in reality. The latter often occurs because the story is misunderstood and gets out of control.

Being able to notice these issues before we’re in too deep is key to staying on track — or at least managing expectations accordingly.

 

As project needs change, how do you re-prioritize the product roadmap and keep teams aligned?

At this stage we explicitly expect that a portion of our work will be off-roadmap, and that we’ll have to revisit our goals and re-prioritize accordingly on a regular basis. Thinking back to how we’ve managed this in the past with large teams — or looking at how our larger customers handle this today today — it pays to stabilize a bit because of the overhead required to get everyone on the same page. But now more than ever it’s important to be agile, and having a framework to track and measure your work and that is understood across the business is key to staying aligned.

 

Work & Co

Narguess Noshirvani

GROUP DIRECTOR, PRODUCT MANAGEMENT

Narguess Noshirvani

When developing a product roadmap, what steps do you take to ensure there’s alignment across teams from the get-go? 

At the start of each project, stakeholders need to be fundamentally aligned around the vision for a product. Without clarity from the beginning, it’s impossible to create alignment around a roadmap. While Work & Co partners with our clients to both evolve and iterate existing products, we’re also often creating net new digital products from scratch. Start by articulating the vision for the product and the value it brings to users. Share this information with key stakeholders and get buy-in from different parts of the business. Roadmaps can (and should!) change. But the vision itself must remain consistent. 

Being transparent and explicit about the strategic foundations for a roadmap makes alignment easier. Most importantly, be realistic about how detailed a roadmap can and should get. The further out we’re looking, the less feature-level definition there will be. Our ultimate goal is to ensure a product is both high quality and actually launches. A roadmap that everyone can rally around helps us stay focused on achieving that goal. 

"Without clarity from the beginning, it’s impossible to create alignment around a roadmap.’’  

 

How do you maintain that alignment throughout the development cycle? 

Our teams work cross-functionally across design, product, engineering and QA. Each discipline is actively involved throughout the development cycle. This involvement allows for greater alignment across key components of our product delivery process. It also makes our end result smarter. We involve our clients in daily meetings and demos, which provides visibility into how we’re tracking against short-term sprint and release goals.  

As unknowns come up during the development cycle, which could mean a feature is taking more effort to implement than originally estimated or feedback from users requires a change in the interface, we’re able to iterate on the roadmap in real time. Of course, once a decision is made to adjust the roadmap, it’s vital to clearly communicate those changes to stakeholders. Even a small adjustment can have an impact across sales, marketing or other parts of the business. 

 

As project needs change, how do you re-prioritize the product roadmap and keep teams aligned? 

Transparent, clear and cross-functional communication is key here. Over the past several weeks, in light of the pandemic and resulting changes in consumer behavior, we’re working with a lot of our clients to pivot and adjust roadmaps. Especially when things are moving so fast, it’s easy to get bogged down in specific feature-level details and discussions. But it’s even more critical to carve out time to take a holistic view across the product and organization so that you can align your teams around the larger strategy, the dependencies and how priorities are changing. 

Roadmaps should be treated as living and breathing things. You should be able to tweak them to reflect evolving customer needs, behaviors and the general market conditions. Regularly incorporate input from analytics, testing and customer feedback into feature-level adjustments. As product managers, it’s easy to assume that the rest of your team understands the decisions behind certain changes as well as you do. But building alignment around a roadmap in flux means taking the time to explain why priorities have changed. Make sure your teams, from the executives to the designers and developers, understand what you’re all working toward both in the short and long term. 

 

Kin + Carta

Jennifer Fragale

SENIOR PRODUCT CONSULTANT

Jennifer Fragale

When developing a product roadmap, what steps do you take to ensure there’s alignment across teams from the get-go?

Take time to go through a discovery phase. Explore customer needs, market fit, business goals and the competition. Begin to think about metrics by which the product’s success will be measured. Too many times, this phase is minimized or skipped altogether, which will inevitably create conflict down the road. 

At Kin + Carta, we distill, synthesize and package this information for all the stakeholders across teams so that we can foster alignment through collaborative discussions. The resulting output is a succinct, focused, product north star statement. Only then do we create a product plan and roadmap to get us there. 

"Take time to go through a discovery phase.’’ 

 

How do you maintain that alignment throughout the development cycle? 

Our process consists of development cycles that are quick iteration loops continuously being deployed. During each phase of the roadmap, the iteration cycles provide a renewed sense of heading in the right direction. Discover, design, develop, test, repeat, repeat, repeat. This iterative approach also allows for incremental pivots as we respond to changing business needs. 

Occasionally, a major route alteration needs to be made to accommodate a changing market landscape or macroeconomic trends. Take COVID-19 as an example. A healthcare product we are currently developing was scheduled to launch in July. However, in response to the current pandemic, my team pivoted and launched a slimmed-down version of the application within three weeks, a full three months ahead of schedule. Our backlog and roadmap shifted immediately as features were introduced to accommodate the new business requirements. But all the teams stayed in sync because the underlying foundation was designed for agility. 

 

As project needs change, how do you re-prioritize the product roadmap and keep teams aligned?

Evaluating the new priorities against those originally plotted is essential to fully understand and measure the implications of the change. In the example above, priorities shifted in ways no one could have predicted three of four months ago. But, because we had outlined a north star early on, we could confidently make this change and keep teams on board. 

We quickly created a new roadmap to make side-by-side comparisons with the original to understand the implications in depth. The new scope, updated timeline and impacts on the budget were made clear. The redirection, while dramatic, was made smoother because it stayed true to the overarching business goals, values and vision we aligned on at the beginning of the project.

 

Resy

Shireen Truetzel

DIRECTOR, PRODUCT MANAGEMENT AT RESYOS

Shireen Truetzel

When developing a product roadmap, what steps do you take to ensure there’s alignment across teams from the get-go? 

When developing a roadmap, getting input and feedback from teams across the organization is necessary to ensure it reflects the overall business priorities. The roadmapping process begins months before a roadmap is delivered. Our product managers ask business units across the company to submit their top priorities or asks. Then, the teams meet to go into detail on each one and ensure that the PMs understand the problems each team is trying to solve and why. Product then meets with engineering to discuss possible solutions and the complexity involved with implementing them. 

The next step is sort of like putting a puzzle together: the PMs assess the backlog of requests against the size and effort required to put together a picture of what is actually possible. This draft is then circulated back to the business leads, who have an opportunity to share additional feedback and ask questions before the roadmap is finalized. Because stakeholders across the business are involved in the roadmapping process from the start, they are able to better understand the final product. 

 

How do you maintain that alignment throughout the development cycle? 

Communication is key. Once a project kicks off, the team should hold regular, cross-functional stand-ups to proactively raise any questions or blockers that could jeopardize a project’s success. Slack channels for each project team or squad also help foster continued communication. 

We applied these processes when building Resy’s live waitlist feature, which allows guests to add themselves to a restaurant’s waitlist remotely. The stand-ups and Slack chats were helpful in identifying when parts of the functionality were ready for testing and when assumptions needed to be clarified to ensure features were implemented properly. 

"The only constant in product management at a fast-paced company is change.’’ 

 

As project needs change, how do you re-prioritize the product roadmap and keep teams aligned?

The only constant in product management at a fast-paced company is change. You can try your best to protect the team from shifting priorities, but unforeseen circumstances will inevitably require plans to be altered. 

Make sure you have a well-groomed backlog of items to pull from. Elongated timelines or widened scope will most likely jeopardize another upcoming, pre-planned initiative. Pulling a different project from the top of the backlog ensures that you will still be able to deliver high-impact work without creating too many downstream effects on the overall roadmap. Developers and designers should have a good sense of items at the top of the backlog so they can get up to speed quickly and help deliver on the new plan.

 

Neustar

Matt Zambelli 

DIRECTOR OF PRODUCT

Matt Zambelli 

When developing a product roadmap, what steps do you take to ensure there’s alignment across teams from the get-go?

Roadmap alignment is the most critical and high-leverage step in the product development lifecycle. 

At Neustar, we think of our product roadmap not as a list of features, but as a collection of initiatives that align with the business’ strategic priorities. A great deal of pre-work goes into roadmap creation leading up to an alignment meeting with the wider cross-functional team. Forming a coherent story based on the initiatives, gathering research and writing user stories to justify client value can make the alignment session go smoothly. We also get one-on-one buy-in from key stakeholders before the meeting even happens. 

 

How do you maintain that alignment throughout the development cycle?

As product leaders, we can’t take that initial alignment phase for granted, especially in our new remote workplace reality. It is far too easy for team members to find a new, off-roadmap problem to solve as a result of a seemingly innocuous Zoom call or Slack message.

To maintain alignment, I do my best to be the product roadmap’s biggest evangelist. During status check-ins, I make sure to reinforce the assumptions and real user stories that led to the initiative’s place on the roadmap. There’s a good chance that current customers are still feeling the pain from a yet-to-be-released feature or fix. Bringing these real, recent stories to the rest of the team keeps everyone motivated and focused on the overall goal.

"To maintain alignment, I do my best to be the product roadmap’s biggest evangelist.’’ 

 

As project needs change, how do you re-prioritize the product roadmap and keep teams aligned?

Wouldn’t it be great if priorities never changed? We all know this is not reality. Internal and external forces can drastically change the direction of a product development cycle overnight. High-performing development teams stay focused on the goal but must understand that sudden, agile changes are simply part of the territory. In a rapidly evolving industry like ours, the ability to adapt quickly is often more valuable than designing the perfect roadmap.

Product leaders all have the same tools in our tool belts. But changing course too often and without care can affect a team’s morale and make the team feel like their time and resources have been wasted.

Resilience is a core value at Neustar. We plan for the unplanned. Product and engineering leaders frequently meet one-on-one to discuss forthcoming changes that may disrupt the roadmap to better prepare for broader team communication. The cross-functional team has a standing monthly meeting to review the roadmap, discuss priority changes and shift resources and timelines to react to the new normal.

 

Neverware

Forrest Smith

DIRECTOR OF PRODUCT MANAGEMENT

Forrest Smith

When developing a product roadmap, what steps do you take to ensure there’s alignment across teams from the get-go?

Everything at Neverware starts with transparency. Roadmaps can become something of a sacred cow if teams aren’t transparent. At Neverware, we humble the product roadmap by sharing the thinking behind the plan. This includes noting where assumptions, hunches and other subjective interpretations exist. 

It’s scary to ask colleagues to commit to something while admitting that it may be flawed. But doing so has been the key to alignment for us. It lets our team feel confident in contributing to the roadmap with questions, suggestions or concerns.

“Roadmaps can become something of a sacred cow if teams aren’t transparent.’’ 

 

How do you maintain that alignment throughout the development cycle? 

Transparency also means admitting that we’re all learning as we go along. No matter what you’re building, the right minimal viable product is imperfect. So as we build, we maintain alignment by playing our own devil’s advocate. Missing functionality and newly recognized risks are shared as they’re recognized.

Very early on, when we first decided to build CloudReady’s free home edition, software that helps users transform old PCs or Macs into high-performing Chrome devices, we knew that expanding outside of schools and workplaces might put our license sales at risk. Instead of sticking our head in the sand, we acknowledged the hesitation. This honesty spurred action for a new product: our first major effort into metrics, so we could keep an eye on that problem. Transparency kept us aligned.

 

As project needs change, how do you re-prioritize the product roadmap and keep teams aligned?

In the end, nobody can see the future. Plans will change. When they do, you learn one of the most important lessons about transparency: your customers need it too.

No company wants to look disorganized or sloppy in a way that will undermine their customer relationships. So it can often be tempting to promise releases, new features or fixes on absolute timelines. However, if the reality inside the company isn’t as concrete, over-promising and under-delivering can be much worse. 

When the earth shifts under us at Neverware, we take it head-on and go beyond internal updates. Product works with our sales, support, and marketing departments to craft direct customer communication plans that set honest expectations about how things are changing and why. In the era of COVID-19, we’ve made some major changes to our update cycle, and the guiding principle of transparency made it obvious –– though not easy –– to see what needed to be done.    

 

Clear

Navni Garg

SENIOR DIRECTOR OF PRODUCT MANAGEMENT

Navni Garg

When developing a product roadmap, what steps do you take to ensure there’s alignment across teams from the get-go?

Before we start building, we get alignment on why the product matters to each team and broad goals. Usually, if we can get early buy-in on the “why,” we can focus the rest of the process on the product itself. We then determine and clearly articulate what is needed from each team to make the project successful. Finally, we work with stakeholders to determine if that investment is justified given their priorities. When we get clarity on these issues, we know early on whether there is a high likelihood of a product reaching its finish line.

"A lot can change between a concept and a functional product.’’ 

 

How do you maintain that alignment throughout the development cycle? 

Keep channels of communication open and consistent throughout the project. A lot can change between a concept and a functional product. Make sure all team members are consistently aligned and work with the latest information. For example, on our physical products team, we do a daily check-in with industrial design to evaluate progress and iterate on the product design. After each check-in, the PM will list out key decisions and next steps for the group in our Slack channel. We also do bi-weekly check-ins with key stakeholders to review new decisions and make sure we have end-to-end alignment. Finally, it’s critical to have empathy toward other team members and respect priorities. Create a collaborative work environment where everyone is striving to find the best solution possible.

 

As project needs change, how do you re-prioritize the product roadmap and keep teams aligned?

At CLEAR, we break this problem down into two steps. First, we identify the next best step and work with our teams to get alignment on what needs to change. We rely on first principles here: what we know and what we can reasonably assume. As we propose a solution, we communicate why we made the change and what we believe will be different and why. From there, we assess the impact of each team and member and decide if we want to proceed.  

 

Squarespace

Vinny Pizzimenti

SENIOR PRODUCT MANAGER 

Vinny Pizzimenti

When developing a product roadmap, what steps do you take to ensure there’s alignment across teams from the get-go? 

Understand the holistic vision before any planning begins. If you set the landscape for the problem you’re trying to solve and get buy-in for where you want to go, aligning on the specific roadmaps becomes significantly easier. As a team, we all need to fully understand the importance of working together to bring the vision to life. The way I see it, at Squarespace, we are a single unit attempting to achieve something significant. 

 

How do you maintain that alignment throughout the development cycle?

Alignment can be tricky at times, especially when it comes to the details. A product owner should spend a good portion of their time continuously assessing all of the details  to maintain that alignment throughout the development cycle. If a requirement is missed or a design task or development story gets booted to a later sprint, the roadmap can easily go awry. To mitigate this risk, a product owner should over-communicate progress and needs. Hold regular meetings with stakeholders. It’s important to focus your energy on prioritizing these conversations to ensure the team is aligned and set up to successfully execute against the roadmap.

"Alignment can be tricky at times, especially when it comes to the details.’’

 

As project needs change, how do you re-prioritize the product roadmap and keep teams aligned?

Project needs may change. Be transparent about why things are changing and get your ducks in a row as quickly as possible. Do the research, understand the gap between where you are and where you need to be and revisit the planning and scoping process. You may have prioritized the wrong tasks or have underestimated what success looks like. If that’s the case, share these learnings to restart the alignment process and approach the new or modified vision with these priorities in mind. 

 

TransferWise

Josh Aziz

HEAD OF PRODUCT, AMERICAS

Josh Aziz

When developing a product roadmap, what steps do you take to ensure there’s alignment across teams from the get-go?

I ensure alignment across the team by making the ultimate goal and vision of the project abundantly clear to everyone. I then outline how we’ll measure achieving that vision.

It’s important to set a clear vision from the get-go so that people not only know the desired outcome but also how it aligns with the company’s overall mission. It’s equally important to make sure you have measurable and specific goals to guide your progress. 

Goals should be relevant and attainable within a realistic timeframe. For example, at TransferWise, our vision is to make cross-border payments instant, easy and eventually free for customers. So we set time-bound goals tied to lowering prices and increasing instant transactions.

"Goals should be relevant and attainable within a realistic timeframe.’’  

 

How do you maintain that alignment throughout the development cycle? 

It’s all about communication and transparency. Once you’ve aligned on your vision and measurable goals, communicate them clearly, concisely and often. As product managers, effective and transparent communication better empowers our teams to problem-solve and make product decisions independently. 

At the start of every development sprint, we collectively review a dashboard of the team’s vision and goals. We discuss and reflect on what’s changed, what’s stayed the same and whether we should pivot our priorities. This meeting provides the type of clarity the team needs to see the forest through the trees. Following this meeting, I then share shortened updates in Slack and craft blog posts on our wiki to keep the wider department in the loop.

We also have a daily open Zoom call so teams can join at their convenience, collaborate with our community and remain closely aligned.

 

As project needs change, how do you re-prioritize the product roadmap and keep teams aligned?

Communication and documentation of re-prioritization are key, especially in today’s remote work environment. We’ve adopted new tactics to ramp up documentation so that plans are as transparent and accessible as possible. Rather than posting in Slack, we encourage our team to write a blog post when we have a change in direction. This method helps our entire team better understand the reasoning behind a product change or update and serves as an archive for us to refer back to in the future.

In light of COVID-19, we’ve also created automatic data dashboards that allow us to recognize when it’s time to pivot. Rather than manual lookups, we’ve made it easy for teams to have visibility into product usage data to better spot emerging trends (or problems) and act on them. 

For example, in Italy, a few months back, we started seeing an increase in customer complaints regarding how long it took to receive their physical debit cards. We now know this was directly related to COVID-19. But because we saw the data early and knew our goals, we were able to notify our customers with an update on their order more efficiently.

 

Optimizely (Austin)

Kris McKee

SENIOR PRODUCT MANAGER

Kris McKee

Customer-facing team members share insights and feedback based on customer interactions in Optimizely’s quarterly road mapping session. Unrestricted and comment-friendly Google Docs serve as a vehicle for team alignment and transparency, according to McKee.

 

When developing a product roadmap, what steps do you take to ensure there’s alignment across teams from the get-go?

I am lucky that I work on a technical product that requires a strong understanding of the technical use cases our customers implement daily. To obtain alignment early in the process, we ensure an open and transparent dialog in everything we do. Every time a product manager has a customer meeting, we share the meeting notes with the entire firm via a dedicated Slack channel. 

On a weekly or monthly basis, each PM sends a company-wide email outlining key usage data and developments for their product area. Finally, representatives from every customer-facing team in the firm are involved in our quarterly roadmap process. With this foundation of constant communication, there are few surprises when a new product feature is proposed. 

 

How do you maintain that alignment throughout the development cycle? 

Our motto is get feedback early, so we can pivot early. There is no single genius here.

When a PM first starts work on a customer problem, they will create a simple use-case document that outlines the problems to be solved. PMs, designers, engineers and solutions engineers weigh in on this document. Next, the PM will expand the document to a more formal product requirement document (PRD), including revenue and usage estimations, line-by-line requirements and the final design. 

Once the PRD is complete, our PM team holds a formal PRD review meeting. By the time this meeting happens, most people relevant to the project have already read the document two or three times and added comments. 

Our engineers have a similar process. Our technical design document outlines technical design considerations from start to finish, including an outline of necessary Jira tasks and the expected order of completion.

After all this writing, commenting, sharing and collaborating, our hope is that we have gained complete alignment among the key stakeholders. Once the engineers have started development, any further changes will be implemented in a future iteration of that feature.

"We find balance by breaking the projects down into small pieces.’’ 

 

As project needs change, how do you re-prioritize the product roadmap and keep teams aligned?

The ability to be nimble and re-prioritize as necessary is key to staying relevant and ensuring our features meet our customers’ needs. However, our most precious resource is our developers’ time. Therefore, once a project has started development, we limit changes. 

We find balance by breaking the projects down into small pieces, ideally containing two or three weeks of work each. A large project may be broken up into two, three or five chunks, each two-to-three weeks in length. This gives us space to iterate without disrupting the development process. 

 

Volusion

Shehaam Houkal

PRINCIPAL PRODUCT MANAGER

Shehaam Houkal

According to Volusion Principal Product Manager Shehaam Houkal, explaining the reasoning behind a product change just once isn’t enough: Data should be at the root of every decision made. Houkal said her team regularly digs into metrics like support costs and avoided account cancelations.  

 

When developing a product roadmap, what steps do you take to ensure there’s alignment across teams from the get-go?

It starts with being clear about what business goals and customer pain points we need to solve. Having key stakeholders involved in the discovery is crucial. They will not only bring the diversity of perspectives you need to sculpt the roadmap, but they will also clue you into support costs and risks you may not have otherwise identified.

Make sure teams understand that, ultimately, a feature on the roadmap is there to solve a problem. Remain flexible on the solution as new information comes to light. Nobody likes to be tied to a feature.

 

How do you maintain that alignment throughout the development cycle?

Sharing data regarding how well you are solving the problem is key. Make sure everyone knows why you did or did not stay the original course. For example, we share data relating to the number of new clients we signed and how many cancellations we were able to save because of a new feature.

Then, turn that data into actionable steps. Did you see clients use the feature? If not, add an onboarding flow to point it out and explain its benefits. Did you see new business as a result of a specific implementation? Double down on enhancing that feature set to see if you have hit diminishing marginal returns.

"Make sure everyone knows why you did or did not stay the original course.’’

 

As project needs change, how do you re-prioritize the product roadmap and keep teams aligned?

It really depends on how drastically new needs have changed. If you have to do a complete 180-degree pivot, explain the data that illuminated the need for a change. You’ll need buy-in from senior leadership, as the pivot may have staffing and training implications. Don’t be afraid to start the process from scratch to challenge your previous assumptions.

If it’s not a complete 180-degree pivot, start with why the need changed. That information should be at the heart of how you re-prioritize the roadmap. The nature of the need will also affect how you reprioritize your existing features and introduce new ones. It takes time to re-adjust and build a new habit. Ensure alignment with additional check-ins and sync meetings. 

 

RealSelf

Josh Siegel

VP OF PRODUCT

Josh Siegel

Before creating a product roadmap, Siegel and his team at RealSelf ask a set of questions to specify how the product will impact and support the customer. Their ultimate goal is to launch features daily. To work toward that mission, designers, product managers and engineers talk daily to stakeholders — including customers — to refine ideas during development. 

 

When developing a product roadmap, what steps do you take to ensure there’s alignment across teams from the get-go?

Everyone at RealSelf is passionate about the mission and our customers, and nearly every employee is either a heavy user of our product or spends their day talking to our three-sided marketplace of customers (consumers, providers and brands). As a result, our product team is blessed with a ton of experience and customer data in-house, but we also face complexity in driving alignment across the company. To navigate, we first align every product decision around a standard set of questions including, “What customer problem are we solving?” and, “What is the impact of solving that problem?” We also ask, “Which OKR (objective and key results) does this feature target?” and, “Is this decision a one-way door?”

From there, we follow a standard product discovery and development process that flexes up (multiple rounds of doc and mock reviews) for complex, heavy investments and flexes down for quick experiments. We aspire to launch features daily but don’t yet live up to the aspiration.

 

How do you maintain that alignment throughout the development cycle? 

We bake in alignment to the natural cadence of sprint ceremonies, so as to not create extra work for the team. Product, design and development stay in sync through ceremonies such as daily stand-ups and sprint planning and we host bi-weekly demos to which the entire company is invited to attend. 

Additionally, our designers, product managers and engineerings talk daily to their key stakeholders and customers to refine their ideas during development. On our most strategic projects, we also report out during weekly business reviews and will do one-off product deep dives. 

"We bake in alignment to the natural cadence of sprint ceremonies, so as to not create extra work for the team.

 

As project needs change, how do you re-prioritize the product roadmap and keep teams aligned?

I think it’s critical that sprint teams have autonomy over prioritization. Conceptually, that means setting north star OKRs and then trusting the team to deliver against those goals. If an engineer has an impactful idea in the shower, I want that person to be able to make a prioritization decision by breakfast. That’s the freedom we have as a smaller company, and we need to protect it. 

That being said, nobody predicted COVID-19 and sometimes you need to pivot company priorities as well. For example, we shifted our entire sprint team focused on bookings to one focused on virtual consultations, and were able to transform the site in under two weeks to a place where our users easily could find and schedule virtual consultations with providers, which had a massive positive impact on our customers and the business.

 

98point6

Siddharth Bhatia

DIRECTOR OF PRODUCT

Siddharth BhatiaBhatia said his team visits their product roadmap quarterly at 98point6. They use that time to measure the outcomes of launched deliverables and use quantitative and qualitative data to list out the next quarter’s investments, which are then presented to stakeholders. After receiving feedback, they present their plan to the entire company for transparency. 

 

When developing a product roadmap, what steps do you take to ensure there’s alignment across teams from the get-go?

When developing our roadmap for the year, we look ahead a few years and envision what we’d like our product experience to look like. From there, we work with a cross-functional group of product managers, designers, engineers and physicians to gather feedback and make sure our goals are aligned. 

In addition, we work with leadership to understand the key performance indicators we want to hit for the year and create a set of high-level investments that can help impact those KPIs. Overall, the process of collaboratively developing a vision, having clear goals and enabling teams to develop their backlogs from the ground up helps us stay aligned from the start.

"To maintain alignment, we revisit our product roadmap quarterly.

 

How do you maintain that alignment throughout the development cycle?  

To maintain alignment, we revisit our product roadmap quarterly. We look back at every deliverable launched and measure its impact to see if it achieved the desired outcomes. We look ahead to the detailed investments we want to make for the next quarter and use quantitative and qualitative data to not only answer the “why?” but also the “why now?” We present our findings with a group of stakeholders to gather feedback, and once we’re all aligned, share it out with the entire company. We believe it’s incredibly important for all of our employees to have insight into the trade-offs and priorities we are making so that we are all aligned and committed to the chosen direction. 

 

As project needs change, how do you re-prioritize the product roadmap and keep teams aligned? 

We like to say, “The one thing we know for sure about a plan is that it is going to change.” We’ve set up our organization so that teams are as autonomous and self-sufficient as possible. However, in light of COVID-19, we needed to shift our focus to continue to deliver the highest quality care to our patients. To make sure our teams were aligned during this re-prioritization, we set up a daily stand-up so that everyone remains informed and connected. While it’s difficult to make trade-offs, we always prioritize the patient experience and it’s fulfilling to know that we are making a positive difference in people’s lives during these unprecedented times. 

 

PitchBook

Skylar Marcum

VICE PRESIDENT, PRODUCTS - DATA AND ANALYTICS

Skylar Marcum

Marcum uses team stand-ups to create clear agendas and maintain a shared understanding of priorities at PitchBook. Enlisting the whole product team for huddles are opportunities for everyone to share progress, identify blockers and align on next steps. 

 

When developing a product roadmap, what steps do you take to ensure there’s alignment across teams from the get-go?

Bring the team and stakeholders close to the root customer problem and get them involved as early as possible. Strong alignment requires everyone to be able to clearly articulate the “why” behind a product initiative and feel ownership in the solution. Product managers must find a concise way to highlight the core customer need and ensure the resulting product strategy and roadmap is rooted in that user need. 

In practice, this means collaborating closely with design on user research and bringing in engineering leads and stakeholders early to proactively share insights on customer workflows, actual usage behavior, customer interview notes, and other product research. Once an opportunity or theme has been identified, it’s important to set up ongoing check-ins and report out updates to solicit feedback and share progress. The earlier you can consult and include others, the more likely they’ll understand what has been validated and take ownership of working toward the solution. 

"Nothing beats team stand-ups with clear agendas to keep and maintain a shared understanding of priorities.

 

How do you maintain that alignment throughout the development cycle?  

Nothing beats team stand-ups with clear agendas to keep and maintain a shared understanding of priorities. Formal project updates and reports are helpful but nothing works as well as having ongoing stand-ups with the product team (design, dev lead and product management) to share progress, identify blockers and align on next steps. Ensuring the right discovery and validation work was completed upfront will help tremendously but regardless, things are going to change as projects evolve. Having key collaboration points and check-ins with both stakeholders and the product team will ensure that new learnings are shared and priorities are adjusted as needed to meet business objectives.  

More holistically, we’ve found great success in putting an emphasis on a strong quarterly planning cycle combined with product team sprints every two weeks. Our quarterly planning process ensures we are able to start each quarter with a clear, global roadmap that each team has coordinated and resourced against. Decentralized product teams are able to make prioritization decisions and adjustments throughout the quarter to meet user needs, but centralized visibility to changes and starting each quarter with a dependency-checked plan has greatly improved outcomes. 

 

As project needs change, how do you re-prioritize the product roadmap and keep teams aligned?

Structure teams to reduce the friction of re-prioritization and align them to customer outcomes. Our product strategies each have a set of OKRs that are composed of both target business outcomes and the target usage outcomes that best represent user activation for a given customer use case. We’ve invested in enabling our teams with self-serve tools that allow them to easily measure and monitor outcomes within their given product areas. We have also worked to remove as many dependent teams as technically feasible. This enables product teams to proactively review results and adjust their roadmap, scope or solutioning to a given customer problem quickly. 

All teams complete sprint review every two weeks on Friday with key project updates consolidated and reported out, including any roadmap adjustments that are posted to a shared Slack channel with the entire team. This triggers resourcing review and updates our global roadmap with any resulting significant impacts. Teams are able to reprioritize while understanding dependency impacts and broader team changes. We’ve had a lot of fun making our processes better each day and are always on the lookout for other improvements.

 

Rapid7 team working a product roadmap
RAPID7

Rapid7

Each project should work toward a more significant business goal. Nick McKee, a technical project manager for Rapid7’s InsightVM team, said maintaining alignment requires keeping sight of the product vision and ensuring teams understand what’s needed from them for the project to be successful.

 

What steps do you take when developing a product roadmap to ensure there’s early alignment across teams?

The first phase is creating a product vision. That vision is meant to inspire internal teams, stakeholders and prospective customers for the foreseeable future. Our vision is built upon customer outcomes that support business objectives, which ultimately leads to our outcome-based roadmaps. The discovery of these outcomes require working cross-functionally with teams like UX researchers and designers, software engineers and product management. When including these teams early in the discovery, design and iteration phases, they buy into the outcome-driven vision of that problem and collaborate to provide a solution.

"There needs to be a constant feedback loop with stakeholders.”

 

How do you maintain that alignment throughout the development cycle? 

Alignment through the development lifecycle occurs naturally when including cross-functional teams early and often. When our customer researchers provide feedback to the team, their readouts include information for each working team, ensuring alignment throughout the organization. 

We started a project at the end of 2019 and before writing a single line of code, we interviewed customers to understand the problems they needed us to solve. We took the feedback and held a planning session that included designers, developers, product and program managers. The group created an outcome-driven solution that turned into a prototype, and put it in front of customers and stakeholders. Within days, we had feedback that was used to make changes. 

There needs to be a constant feedback loop with stakeholders to continue to iterate on the outcomes provided.

 

As project needs change, how do you re-prioritize the product roadmap and keep teams aligned?

Rapid7’s customer-centric mindset and outcome-based roadmaps are what enable the agility of hitting moving targets. When project changes are required, they’re communicated throughout each cross-functional team during sprint planning and continuous communication. These time requirements are reflected in the business objectives through roadmap refinements and timeline adjustments. What’s important here is that keeping the outcome at the center of focus and solving the core problem, not just delivering a feature.

 

Verifi team working a product roadmap
VERIFI

Verifi

A “scrum of scrums” helps keep teams at Verifi aligned as they work on a new implementation together. Senior Product Manager James Breen said he works to set clear objectives at the beginning of a project’s roadmap and uses frequent check-ins with each team to keep work moving forward.

 

What steps do you take when developing a product roadmap to ensure there’s early alignment across teams?

It is all about the outcome and clearly defining the problems we are looking to solve. If I’m ambiguous or not concise, it can lead to confusion across the teams from the start. OKRs have been a great way to achieve alignment. Going into roadmap planning, everybody is clear on our objectives and the outcome. We can then align on which key results, across all teams, will drive us to the objectives. 

In my experience, the times when I failed in my objectives were because I did not clearly articulate the problems we were trying to solve to the other teams whose help we needed to succeed.

"While making a change, clearly articulate why it’s happening.”

 

How do you maintain that alignment throughout the development cycle? 

Regular check-ins across teams are vital. It’s not ideal to be delivering on time, only to run into a conflict with another team. We have several applications that have multiple teams doing work on them in the same development cycles. So we implemented a “scrum of scrums” across the teams. In this weekly meeting, the teams align on areas of the applications they are touching and where they may be impacting other teams. This alignment has been essential in helping ensure all our teams are able to stay on target with our roadmap.

 

As project needs change, how do you re-prioritize the product roadmap and keep teams aligned?

Alignment starts with understanding that we are working toward achieving outcomes. To deliver those outcomes, needs can change or new needs can materialize. When a roadmap changes, understand the impact that can have on other teams. If alignment is reached at the start, it should be clear what the other teams may be dependent on. Hoping that the other teams will understand the impact of moving an item further down the roadmap creates a setup for failure. 

While making a change, clearly articulate why it’s happening and the impact it will have on other teams and their roadmaps. Having a defined change request process can help ensure that impacts have been fully evaluated and other teams are aware of the changes.

 

Tinder team working
TINDER

Tinder

Tinder Senior Product Manager Aaron Silvers follows a multi-step process in ensuring a team is aligned along a product roadmap with a quarterly timeline. That method always begins with defining the high-level business goal of the project and what success will eventually look like. 


What steps do you take when developing a product roadmap to ensure there’s early alignment across teams?

There’s a series of steps a PM can take to foster alignment. And the team must be aligned at each step before moving to the next. 

First, identify the business problem and goal of the team because they must have a clear alignment around and understanding of the problem they are working to solve. Then, agree on the roadmap timeline, which involves setting initiatives and priorities. Generate all possible solutions to the business problem and prioritize the initiatives the team finds most compelling. For some teams, this is a series of semi-unrelated tasks that attack the problem on multiple fronts. For others, it is one coherent feature set phased out.

Next, build out milestones and reflection points. A product roadmap is supposed to be an evolving tool. Milestones help orient the team toward action and give clear direction. Reflection points allow for sensible modifications and adaptations. 

"No matter how much planning goes into the roadmap, something will always change.”

 

How do you maintain that alignment throughout the development cycle? 

For each initiative, identify the specific business problem and what success looks like. Results should ladder directly up to a high-level business problem. By clearly articulating how a single initiative works toward solving the team’s mission, it becomes easier to maintain alignment. 

In a recent example, my team had to make a tough decision to delay the launch of a feature. While this was a tough call, we were all aligned because the delay meant we could launch with better-localized copy. 

 

As the project needs change, how do you re-prioritize the product roadmap and keep teams aligned?

No matter how much planning goes into the roadmap, something will always change. Setting this expectation early on will go a long way toward keeping the team aligned. By setting up milestones and reflection points throughout the quarter, a PM can create a feedback loop to allow for reprioritization without it becoming disruptive. 

Lastly, identifying the priority of each initiative during the product planning process makes reprioritizing based on new information or directives easy; teams will only have to build on top of existing work.

 

TigerConnect team
TIGERCONNECT

TigerConnect

The end of a product roadmap can’t be realized without communication. Teams at TigerConnect reach company-wide, unanimous agreements on how to best see a roadmap through. Getting buy-in from multiple departments is a practice VP of Product Phil Leung said helps generate insights that positively affect a project’s production. 

 

What steps do you take when developing a product roadmap to ensure there’s early alignment across teams?

The product team views each new idea through the lens of our company’s business objectives. That goal is the basis that determines if an idea is worthwhile to pursue. 

We maintain a strong alignment with the customer department, and a number of roadmap items originate from discussions with them. We are also engaged with the sales team to understand the ever-evolving buying climate. Their insights are also major inspirations for our roadmap. 

When seeking buy-in across departments, final roadmap decisions are made through unanimous agreement. Ideas are presented at our executive meetings with all departments represented, and each item is weighed against commercial and customer values, along with their effort to build.

"Final roadmap decisions are made through unanimous agreement.”

 

How do you maintain that alignment throughout the development cycle? 

As soon as we have a project plan in place for a new feature, and we have ideas on how to iterate future phases, we’ll share the strategy across different departments to seek validation. Most recently, we shared plans for our telehealth product line with the enterprise sales team. It helped us immediately validate assumptions, update priorities and calibrate sequence, all on the fly. The feedback they gathered from recent demos and pitches turned out to be valuable insight for us. 

Throughout the dev cycle, we continue to have regular check-ins and updates with other departments. Having a high level of cross-functional transparency and fluidity has been an effective way to keep priorities and interests aligned.

 

As project needs change, how do you re-prioritize the product roadmap and keep teams aligned?

Changes like scope adjustments or new corporate priorities happen. And we’re fortunate to have the right instruments and processes in place to help guide our actions. I depend on our roadmapping and demand forecast tools that help with visualizing bandwidth and where we may be overloaded. These tools help us make trade-off and sequencing decisions in collaboration with other teams. 

We also have recurring cross-department sync-ups where the product team may join a customer department meeting or we may join a sales meeting. The product and engineering teams meet even more frequently to discuss updates or changes to the product roadmap.

 

Examity

Brian Collins

SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT OF PRODUCT AND ENGINEERING

Brian Collins

Before launching Examity’s most recent online proctoring product, Brian Collins, senior vice president of product and engineering, said employees had to make sure the team was fully ready to adopt it. That meant tailoring discussions about the product roadmap to appeal to all departments concurrently, including marketing, account management and engineering.

 

When developing a product roadmap, what steps do you take to ensure there’s alignment across teams from the get-go?

Roadmap alignment starts with listening. What is the market demanding? What are our customers asking for? What do teams want or need to be successful? What are untapped opportunities or challenges that are blocking our progress? If the product roadmap is focused on addressing the same opportunities and challenges that other teams in the company are focused on, there’s a foundation for strong alignment. 

Then, when establishing product targets, it’s still about listening and communicating. For example, clients who depend on the products we build need to understand what we are –– or are not –– planning to deliver and why. 

"Different teams within the company can have diverse demands for the products we create.’’  

 

How do you maintain that alignment throughout the development cycle? 

Different teams within the company can have diverse demands for the products we create. As a result, the kind of information we share and the nature of that collaboration differs. When Examity launched the Winter2020 version of our online proctoring product earlier this year, we focused on improved usability for test-takers. For marketing and sales, that meant sharing visual designs, doing feature walkthroughs and collaborating on demos as the experience evolved. 

On our operations and account management teams, validating feature trade-offs and delivering detailed training was critical. In the end, we delivered a product that not only met our objectives but ensured everyone at Examity was ready to adopt it.

 

As project needs change, how do you re-prioritize the product roadmap and keep teams aligned?

To some degree, needs will evolve as products are built. If requests are addressed in stages and there is visibility into the changes as they occur, the course corrections are often self-apparent. A major or sudden change, however, can be jarring –– not to mention disappointing for those who were either building something great or those who were waiting to take advantage of that great thing being built. 

In these situations, it is critical to incorporate the change and the rationale behind the change into the roadmap. The further you are from the decision, the less obvious the change usually is. Acknowledging a change, communicating the reasons behind it and accepting the impact of that change will go a long way in keeping teams on board and advocating for the new direction. Overall, it becomes much easier to maintain team and goal alignment if we can apply changes incrementally. 

 

Forward Financing

Lauren Beaudry

PRODUCT MANAGER

Lauren Beaudry

At Forward Financing, Beaudry has team-product alignment down to a science. She ranks each new idea by its business impact on a matrix that includes fields like customer and partner experience, cost savings, revenue growth and increased efficiency. This spring, as business needs shifted in response to COVID-19, Beaudry was able to pivot her organizational strategy to address the influx of feature requests coming in. 

 

When developing a product roadmap, what steps do you take to ensure there’s alignment across teams from the get-go?

Everyone at Forward Financing is aligned and focused on our mission to help small businesses thrive. Our five-person product management team executes on this mission by collaborating with each stakeholder group to understand the opportunities that will drive us toward our goals. When I meet with stakeholder groups, I leverage a matrix to rank ideas by impact on the business and level of engineering effort required. 

Next, I combine the top priorities of all stakeholder groups into one roadmap. Often, we need to make hard decisions and tradeoffs. Since all decisions are based on the objective ranking system, we can compare competing priorities and make sure we are maximizing our impact on the business. Once teams believe in the framework, it is easy to align around decisions that are made this way.

"Often, we need to make hard decisions and tradeoffs.’’ 

 

How do you maintain that alignment throughout the development cycle? 

By planning for feedback sessions at every step in the process, we can ensure the end result meets the expectations of all stakeholders across the company. Development is an iterative process. So the more we can show stakeholders our work along the way and get their feedback, the better the end result will be. User experience mock-ups are key here, since stakeholders can provide much clearer requirements when they can see what the end result will look like. 

For example, we recently worked on revamping our internal tools for our sales team. Using feedback, we changed the mock-ups at least three or four times before they were ready to go to development. 

 

As project needs change, how do you re-prioritize the product roadmap and keep teams aligned?

Our collaborative environment and transparent communication from our leadership team keep us aligned when our product roadmap inevitably needs to be re-prioritized. Before a quarter starts, I create an illustration of each sprint, showing which strategic projects are scheduled for completion. When priorities change, as they often do, I am able to then easily show team stakeholders the impact to the roadmap and scheduled projects. Remaining flexible and open to change is a requirement of the job. 

After carefully planning and creating a Q2 roadmap in March of this year, we had to adapt and start fresh to address the changing needs of the business due to COVID-19. Since there were so many urgent requests coming in daily, we switched from working in two-week sprints to using a Kanban board. We organized what work was “backlogged,” “up next,” “in progress” and “completed” into columns. 

We were able to rapidly re-prioritize as new requests came in while providing transparency to all stakeholders on their status. When we need to re-prioritize, we stay aligned and make decisions by keeping Forward’s mission top of mind.

 

Four Winds Interactive

Beth Toeniskoetter

DIRECTOR OF MARKET SOLUTIONS

Beth Toeniskoetter

What steps do you take when developing a product roadmap to ensure there’s early alignment across teams?

Communication seems like an obvious answer, but it’s never as easy as it seems. First, know who the stakeholders are and how each of them, and their respective teams, are impacted by the product roadmap. Primary stakeholders are usually leadership and customer-facing teams like sales, customer success and marketing. But don’t forget about internal-facing teams as well, like legal or finance. For example, there may be implications to contracts or forecasts you’re not aware of.

Second, consider using additional inputs to drive the prioritization and timing of a roadmap. External factors are key such as competitive landscape, innovation in current and adjacent industries and customer-driven initiatives. Internal factors, such as cost efficiencies through automation, are also key to consider. 

Finally, communicate the process early and often while seeking buy-in from all stakeholders along the way. 

"Discuss changes early, often and across the company.”

 

How do you maintain that alignment throughout the development cycle? 

At Four Winds Interactive, the most important aspect is to help the engineering team understand the problems that are being solved with the functionality they are developing. Provide context on the main use cases, the struggles of the user and their current workarounds. 

We created user personas based on the roles we see most often with our customers. We conduct ethnographic research through our user experience team to observe customers in their own environment, using our platform. The insight informs our product roadmap and provides contextual examples that our development teams can use to ensure we’re building the best solution. 

 

As project needs change, how do you re-prioritize the product roadmap and keep teams aligned?

Priorities change based on customer needs, market dynamics, advancements in technology and other factors. As a result, roadmaps change. 

During the initial creation of a product roadmap, identify the top functionality that needs to be developed and released over the next six to 12 months. Rank those priorities to create a baseline for re-prioritization, while ensuring alignment across key stakeholders from the start. When shifting the roadmap and communicating new priorities, have a shortlist of items to consider and understand the impact internally and externally. Discuss changes early, often and across the company if possible. Provide context to the changes, like the reasons why and who’s impacted, and reiterate the priorities going forward. Ideally, these practices will create minimal disruption.

 

Optimizely (San Francisco)

Claire Vo

CHIEF PRODUCT OFFICER

Claire Vo

When developing a product roadmap, what steps do you take to ensure there's alignment across teams from the get-go?

At Optimizely, my job as a product leader is to ensure alignment by articulating a clear product strategy, which acts as a guiding light for the members of the product team. This strategy outlines what we are focusing on, why we are focusing on it and how we are measuring success. If our strategy is clear, PMs should know if they are working on the right things. Each PM has full ownership of their area. They can, and do, set their own roadmaps and priorities. We manage global alignment and prioritization through staffing and trust each other to raise conflicts, dependencies and trade-offs. 

"Changing your roadmap or reprioritization is not a bad thing.”

 

How do you maintain that alignment throughout the development cycle?

We maintain alignment through transparency. We have a single source of truth for everything in design, development and delivery, which is our “Wall of Work.” When we’re in the office, this wall is a physical space that represents all of our major work in-flight. Now, with everyone working from home, we have a virtual Wall of Work in JIRA. We review the Wall every Monday, giving the team time to inspect, adjust and promote the work they are doing. Externally, to our product and engineering teams, we have a public-facing roadmap that we update monthly so customers and our go-to-market teams know what is upcoming. 

 

As project needs change, how do you re-prioritize the product roadmap and keep teams aligned?

I’m a big fan of failing fast. Changing your roadmap or reprioritization is not a bad thing. It’s a sign of learning. I would rather a project change mid-flight than launch something no one wants just because “we put it on the roadmap.”

It is up to the individual PM to prioritize, or re-prioritize, as appropriate. All we ask is that the PM communicate early and often, and provide the thought process behind the change. We share this information with customers or other people in the company. With full transparency, we’ve been able to build a lot of trust within our company and customer base, so there are rarely concerns when we decide to build something different than we originally planned.

 

Zumper

Nico Rattazzi

HEAD OF PRODUCT

Nico Rattazzi

When developing a product roadmap, what steps do you take to ensure there's alignment across teams from the get-go? 

At Zumper, we achieve alignment by ensuring stakeholders get visibility and sign off on the strategy of the roadmap. Before we get to a roadmap, we ensure the OKRs are well-defined. Each product area defines a set of OKRs, which is rooted in an ambitious objective directly to our company objectives. Then, we come up with key results, which should be specific and measurable targets to achieve our objectives. We make sure all stakeholders approve of these OKRs. 

Then, we determine a set of themes. Themes allow us to define areas or approaches, which we plan to investigate or utilize to hit our OKRs. We review these themes with our stakeholders so they understand how the product, design and engineering teams plan to approach these problems. From there, specific initiatives are defined and sequenced into a roadmap. By the time the roadmap is defined and reviewed, there should be a high level of alignment, as the stakeholders are brought through the journey of how the roadmap was approached.

"We achieve alignment by ensuring stakeholders get visibility and sign off on the strategy of the roadmap.”

 

How do you maintain that alignment throughout the development cycle? 

Once development begins, we try to make sure each of our roadmap initiatives is run as an experiment to ensure we’re learning the impact of our efforts and validating that our themes are the right lens to provide impact to our OKRs. All team members know the OKRs, themes and initiatives and are part of the brainstorming and research to help generate ideas for initiatives. If everyone is aligned with the goals and is part of the process, alignment becomes strong throughout the team. 

For example, when our consumer product team first defined a theme, they got the product, design, engineering and other cross-department stakeholders in a room to ask them to brainstorm initiatives that would provide value. Their theme was the following: how might we best help renters search for apartments? Members of the team were then able to submit ideas on Post-Its for the group to see. After pitching initiatives, everyone gets to discuss and then vote on the initiatives for the group. This allows everyone to be heard, increases buy-in amongst the team and provides alignment with the roadmap initiatives so that development is clear and focused throughout the cycle.

 

As project needs change, how do you re-prioritize the product roadmap and keep teams aligned?

Our products and initiatives all begin as small minimum viable experiments that allow us to ensure our development efforts are validated with data and product-market fit. We ensure projects are small and well-defined in order to prove or disprove a hypothesis. When an experiment succeeds or fails, the team gets together to discuss what caused it. What did we learn? What can we improve? This discussion sometimes results in changing the roadmap or altering the themes. If this occurs, the team is notified when a theme is discarded or a new theme is introduced. The team then understands why the pivot is being made. For new themes, we go through another brainstorming process so the team is aligned on why we’re taking this angle and contributes to the initial planning process.

 

Brex

Lydia Han

SENIOR PRODUCT MANAGER

Lydia Han

When developing a product roadmap, what steps do you take to ensure there's alignment across teams from the get-go?

A product team’s roadmap should either contribute to a top-level company goal for the quarter or it should be a strategic bet that the team believes will set the company up for success for the year. As a PM, you'll need to share the roadmap with teams that are impacted by it and be able to articulate why certain projects were prioritized over others. I typically evaluate projects using the RICE method — what is the reach, impact, confidence and effort for the project? — since it helps others see how all the projects rank against each other.

 

How do you maintain that alignment throughout the development cycle? 

At Brex, after a roadmap is finalized, the next phase is defining the requirements and scope of a project. Every product requirement document should clearly define what the problem is, any context about the problem area and the proposed solution. As a PM, it is your job to understand all the moving pieces across the company — other projects that are in-flight — and how much resourcing you have to deliver value to customers in a timely fashion. 

There is a fine balance between the minimal viable product experience and the ideal solution. If you wait until the ideal solution is in place, then you probably shipped too late. In order to help others understand how you defined the version 1 of the product, it is important to lay out the ideal version. Then, show others how the team will get from version 1 to the ideal version, what value you’re delivering to customers with version 1, and what you think you can learn from shipping version 1.

"As a PM, you'll need to share the roadmap with teams that are impacted by it.”

 

As project needs change, how do you re-prioritize the product roadmap and keep teams aligned?

Being flexible is a core part of being a great PM. A project can change for a number of reasons: a new problem arises, and it takes priority over a current project that you are working on; existing hypotheses going into a project were incorrect, and by conducting user research or testing an early version with customers, you realize you need to iterate on the product specifications; resourcing changed in your team and you need to adapt. The most important part of a reprioritization is sharing with key stakeholders of a project the context of why the change is happening. As a PM, it is your job to bring others along the journey and ensure they understand how decisions are being made.

 

SMS Assist

Kevin McDunn

CHIEF PRODUCT OFFICER

Kevin McDunn

McDunn’s colleagues at SMS Assist work on strategy and discovery in parallel with product delivery. Their cross-functional scrum teams allow employees to carry out business-themed objectives while thinking outside of the box. While a certain initiative might be beneficial long term, McDunn recognizes the benefits of prioritization. 

 

When developing a product roadmap, what steps do you take to ensure there’s alignment across teams from the get-go?

The first step is creating a vision for product and development followed by a strategy to achieve that vision. When I first came to SMS Assist, I interviewed customers to understand the business. I met with the existing team to learn their thoughts on what we should be prioritizing. 

Eventually, we were able to identify some emerging themes based on consumer value and how well certain factors support our company strategy. That’s how we came up with our unifying vision statement. Collaborating as a team to first establish this coherent, hierarchical set of values and objectives allowed us to align everyone toward a singular overarching purpose.

"We work on strategy and discovery in parallel with product delivery.’’  

 

How do you maintain that alignment throughout the development cycle? 

Early on, we developed cross-functional scrum teams that exist in a dual-track scrum approach. While many companies practice Agile methodology, we work on strategy and discovery in parallel with product delivery. 

This approach empowers our product managers to bring creativity and ingenuity to initiatives while supporting our evolving strategy. That way, when we revisit our priorities every two weeks and then on a quarterly basis for long-term feature release planning, our team remains aligned on our goals for the rest of the quarter, year and years to come.

 

As project needs change, how do you re-prioritize the product roadmap and keep teams aligned?

One of our core values at SMS Assist is “relentless innovation,” a spirit of constant versatility and tenacity. This value extends to our approach toward product needs, which are constantly shifting in response to changes in business demands.

Strategically adjusting our priorities and roadmaps during our biweekly and quarterly check-ins is a crucial part of the process. Our team knows that sometimes we have to defer certain initiatives and accelerate others in order to help our business thrive.

 

PEAK6

Clay Johnson

PRINCIPAL PRODUCT MANAGER

Clay Johnson

The PEAK6 team has built an automated solution that presents a unified view of their roadmap. This approach allows the entire investment firm to see all product plans and delivery team progress. Johnson says the company leverages its roadmap tooling for internal product team discussions and external review.
 

When developing a product roadmap, what steps do you take to ensure there’s alignment across teams from the get-go?

We have a consistent, consolidated view of the roadmap day to day. Any distance, physical or temporal, between roadmaps creates switching costs and introduces discrepancies. 

We’ve seen success when firm OKRs have driven prioritization. Outcome-based goals create natural downstream alignment. When conflicts emerge, we leverage both goals and user value in resolution discussions. This is easier to say than it is to practice. It takes time and patience.

Constant communication across product managers is a must. They educate and challenge each other on what is usable, valuable and feasible. Roadmap plans are part fact and part art. Roadmap consumers should not have independent assumptions of the “what” or “why” of the plan.

"Roadmap plans are part fact and part art.’’  

 

How do you maintain that alignment throughout the development cycle?

We understand that the needs of users are more important than sticking to a roadmap schedule. Adjustments to our plans have focused on our users’ needs and even regulatory changes. Prioritizing our users and business metrics forces collaboration across workstreams. That alignment has allowed our teams to coordinate and deploy with few dependency issues.

We have recently made strategic shifts in how we want our platform to serve our user base. A primary delivery team is working on changes starting with a prototype implementation. Other teams have identified both dependencies and opportunities while this work is underway. The product managers have started to add and change plans to use, support and measure new features for their own products. In parallel, they have also contributed back to the primary team’s product plans. 

Our single, unified roadmap highlights dependency and schedule conflicts allowing for clean coordination. The flexible nature of our tooling has allowed us to capitalize on opportunities as they arise and stay in sync across delivery efforts. These have been especially important given the current distributed nature of the teams.

 

As project needs change, how do you re-prioritize the product roadmap and keep teams aligned?

As we’ve shifted to a high-volatility market, we’ve made rapid adjustments in delivery.  We deprioritized longer-runway items and focused on short-term needs. Our focus on ad-hoc communication ensures we address dependencies as soon as possible. 

The focus on outcomes also allows us to de-scope expected deliverables. We’ve split roadmap items when the first part of the deliverable has fulfilled the goal. This strategy allows us to not only maximize ROI, but also frees up pockets of time for unplanned work.

 

Pangea Money Transfer

Shafiq Shariff

VP OF PRODUCT

Shafiq Shariff

At Pangea, final roadmap approval often hinges on whether all stakeholders can see underlying principles at work. Cross-functional planning after every couple of sprints also goes a long way in getting products across the finish line. At the money transfer organization’s most recent quarterly planning meeting, Shariff said the team brought new products to market and validated new, low-cost acquisition channels. 

 

When developing a product roadmap, what steps do you take to ensure there’s alignment across teams from the get-go?

Efficient roadmap alignment occurs when stakeholders can “see” the principles underlying the choices made in the final roadmap. At Pangea, we begin planning for the subsequent quarter by concretely documenting a one-page prioritization framework that ranks what we need to accomplish as a business.  

Additionally, roadmap planning gets exponentially more difficult with the option to add resources. Baseline a plan against current resources, incrementally addressing the next highest impact resource bottleneck to develop a set of two or three scenarios that would benefit from additional hires.

"We’ve built our alignment clock ticks around two-week sprints.’’   

 

How do you maintain that alignment throughout the development cycle? 

Fintech products like ours require a great deal of cross-functional work across a range of departments. New feature launches require regulatory oversight, risk management processes, marketing outreach and more.  

In planning for the next quarter, we ensure the appropriate functional heads have confirmed all dependencies. That advanced cross-functional planning paired with a sync after every two development sprints goes a long way. Teams are better able to understand how products and tests are performing, how our learnings will impact the roadmap and what the next key milestones are.

 

As the project needs change, how do you re-prioritize the product roadmap and keep teams aligned?

We’ve built our alignment clock ticks around two-week sprints. The Monday after our Friday sprint demos, we discuss where to allocate our next sprints based on what shipped and what we learned. This method gives us early visibility into any intra-quarter changes teams should expect. We consolidate this information into the monthly product update every four weeks, which unites all teams if there has been any drift.

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