Product Management

Expert Q&A: How to Manage a Multi-Product Roadmap

By Michelle Gardner
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Creating a product roadmap is difficult enough with a single product. But what happens when you have multiple products to consider at one time? How do things change?

Charles Caldwell, Logi’s Vice President of Product, recently shared his tips on managing multi-product roadmaps in an interview with Product Collective’s INDUSTRY podcast.

INDUSTRY: Where do people usually go wrong when they make the transition from one product to multiple products?

Charles Caldwell: One mistake folks make as they start to go multi-product is when they’re trying to either forward- or backwards-integrate into a market. People will have motivations that are around market expansion. They don’t realize that it really starts to change the go-to-market strategy, the channel, the buyer personas, and the product personas.

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As a product organization, you have to assess your ability to understand the needs of multiple personas who have different objectives, hopes, dreams, fears, requirements, and so on. The sweet spot is when you’re looking at a persona you know really well and a set of capabilities across that persona, and you’re expanding by solving new problems for them. That’s where multi-product roadmaps get a lot easier, because you don’t have to re-train your marketing or sales departments (or build separate ones entirely).

The high-level value proposition for both products is the same. And while you may be solving new problems, you’re not really trying to learn a whole new tribe of people in doing that. As soon as you start introducing a bunch of new product personas by adding additional products into the roadmap, I see that as at least a yellow flag, if not a red flag.

Once you’ve made the decision to develop a new product, where do you start?

With brand new products, the very first thing I do is validate that there are people in the market who have the problem and are willing to pay for something that will solve it. As you’re launching that new product, scope it very tightly. As much as you are having to steal resources from your main product, you should dedicate some of them solely to the new product for a short period of time. I would even pick fewer dedicated resources versus trying to share the entire team across two product workstreams.

One of the challenges with a multi-product roadmap is recognizing where the products in your portfolio are in their own lifecycles. If everything is in the same spot in the lifecycle, such as startup mode, it’s going to be extremely hard for you to execute. However, if you’re able to manage products in your portfolio based on their lifecycles, you’ll be able to determine how to allocate investments to multiple products.

How do you represent acquisitions and partnerships in a product roadmap?

Typically, in an acquisition phase, you legally cannot talk about it to anybody until it’s done. So in terms of representing that acquisition externally on a roadmap, never ever do anything until the deal is signed.

When you’re buying something as a pure IP play (to accelerate your roadmap), you typically don’t have a bunch of overlapping functionalities. With those, I represent them on the product roadmap as I would communicate anything else. Very often, I’m not saying, “I’ve acquired a thing and now I’m integrating it.” Instead, I’ll talk about things I’m getting from an IP acceleration the same way I talk about anything we built organically.

An even simpler situation is when you’re acquiring a product that is a near adjacency to what you already offer. Here, you can go right to the market with the new solution on day one. Even better, you can continue to offer it as a standalone solution right out of the gate, and that will also reduce pressure on your roadmap.

What are the major differences between single- and multi-product roadmaps?

As a product manager, I have to look across my multiple products and communicate to my Chief Marketing Officer how the value proposition and competitive differentiation has changed or evolved. Can I avoid having five products but eight value propositions? If I can have five products and a core value proposition with drilldown, that’s better.

When you have multiple products, your burden as a product manager just increases. Avoid falling into the trap of saying, “All my children are special and different, and you must know everything about all of my children.” That just won’t work. You do have to be able to give your stakeholders the “news that they can use.”

In a perfect world, I want the marketing department to be able to target the same personas in the same segments across as many of my products as possible. The same thing goes for sales—I must be able to tell them how to qualify and compete the new product(s).

Release cadence is also important when you have multiple products. Synchronizing release cycles may seem attractive because it can help you touch the field as few times as possible—but if you do have five or seven products, that won’t be digestible. As long as the products synchronize in the problems they solve, the personas they touch, and the technologies they use, packaging up release cycles makes more sense.

Get more roadmap advice in the full INDUSTRY podcast >

Originally published April 12, 2019

About the Author

Michelle Gardner is the Content Marketing Manager at Logi Analytics. She has over a decade of experience writing and editing content, with a specialty in software and technology.