Product Management

Planning Your Roadmap and Staying Ahead of User Requirements

By Yen Dinh
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The job of application teams never ends—after you’ve embedded dashboards, reports, and analytics in your application, users will always want more. They may ask for new features, better visualizations, or more seamless workflows. And while these requests may make sense, you can’t accommodate all of them. Scope creep is real. If you start capitulating to every customer demand, you risk losing sight of your core product.

We talked to Janna Bastow, co-founder of ProdPad, about how to articulate your product strategy and avoid becoming a “feature factory.”

How do user requirements change over time?

Janna Bastow: When you first start building a product, you attract a certain type of user: The early adopter. This type of user tends to appreciate cutting-edge technologies and can stomach being part of a beta program. If done right, they make great advocates and will help you immensely with pointing out any areas where your first versions of the product fall short.

But users change. You won’t always attract early adopters, and as your product matures, the type of users you acquire will have different, and often more difficult, requirements. Later customers have the benefit of a wider range of competitors to choose from, and have little tolerance for the fast and furious releases that set you apart in your early MVP days.

And because your incoming customers change, your overall customer base changes. You’ll have the increasingly advanced users who’ve been using your product since the early days and just need that “one extra feature” to make their lives complete, as well as the brand-new customers who’ve just signed up and need to quickly understand the breadth of your feature set. So, managing user requirements for a mature product can become exponentially more complicated than managing them for a newly launched product.

Any advice/tips for PMs who want to stay ahead of changing user requirements, and/or make sure they’re aware of them early?

Janna Bastow: You can stay ahead of changing user requirements by building in time for validation and learning. Many teams simply focus on building feature after feature, which is great for your cadence, but really ineffective for making sure that you’re continually solving the right problems. The best product teams make room for learning, and make structured validation a key part of their process, rather than an afterthought. This way, if user requirements change, the product managers are clued into it as soon as possible and can update their roadmap to reflect the new needs of the market. Validation at every step of a feature build ensures that the final feature actually solves the problem it set out to solve, rather than, quite commonly, diverging from the original need into a spec of its own making.

How can product teams be strategic when adding new features and planning their roadmaps?

Janna Bastow: A good product strategy ties in both top-down and bottom-up thinking. Top-down means looking at the company vision and company-level objectives, and outlining the obstacles and problems you’ll need to tackle along the way. Bottom-up means listening to the market and your customers, and understanding all the opportunities in the field.

The best product managers combine these approaches, and stitch together a plan that involves finding the best opportunities the market presents which also tie back to the company level goals. This then culminates into a product roadmap which helps to articulate the product strategy.

When planning your work ahead, think about your total work in terms of pie. Every new feature that goes in there is taking up a slice of the pie. But you’ll also need slices left over for validation, discovery and iteration, so don’t cram your roadmap full of features. Each time you commit to something, you’re having to say no to any number of other things, so you’re better off leaving blanks in your roadmap rather than trying to fill up every available space.

Instead of thinking of your roadmap as a perfect plan of everything you’ll achieve, think of it instead as a prototype for your strategy: A way to draft out and check your assumptions on what you think needs to be achieved, what opportunities you can take advantage of, and what order you should tackle them in, in a format you can bring to other stakeholders for input. After all, the value of roadmapping is less about the final roadmap and more about the process of roadmapping itself.

Originally published March 24, 2020

About the Author

Yen Dinh is a content marketing coordinator at Logi Analytics. She has more than five years of experience writing content and is passionate about helping audiences stay updated on emerging technologies.