Great ideas do not always generate great products. In fact, ideas are a dime a dozen, as the saying goes. In other words, ideas are cheap; the expert execution of an idea is where the real value comes from.
An aspiring writer sees a newspaper article about a Russian submarine going down in the Atlantic and writes a novel based on that idea, only to have publishers reject the story as amateurish. Tom Clancy tries his hand at writing, turning a similar idea into a blockbusting bestseller which later becomes a hit movie. The ideas may have been virtually the same in outline form, but the superior execution made all the difference.
Our modern world is changing at an ever increasing pace. Companies that can’t keep up with those changes will ultimately fade into obscurity or die. Every great idea needs to be properly vetted and, when approved, given the best possible path to product release. Any mistakes along this road can prove costly or even deadly. Product road-mapping helps to ensure the product’s successful launch.
The Product Road Map
The product road map is an information resource about your upcoming product, or about an existing product’s next version. This resource includes many elements that help you coordinate the actions required to bring your product into reality successfully. These elements typically include,
· Resources involved in the product development and roll-out
· Features of the product
· Description of what is being built
· The problem to be solved by this technology or product
· Business goals which this product will help the company achieve
The properly done product road map will act as a project management tool by providing all of those involved with a clear cut set of expectations, including a delivery schedule. It also facilitates effective communication between stakeholders by providing a centralized forum in which to discuss product goals and progress.
Product road maps also give all interested parties an update on the current status of the product development project. These interested parties include development team members, senior executives, investors, upper management, sales force and marketing teams.
A properly done product road map will be based on the wise consideration of,
· Existing trends in technology,
· Current market conditions,
· Technological constraints, and
· The business’s value proposition
Building a solid product road map begins with a well-defined product strategy. Any company embarking on the development of a new product is committing a great deal of money, time and company resources to that development. The product owner who creates the road map needs to keep in mind the immense costs being committed to the product. Like any personal purchase, you want to be able to justify that purchase. Why do you need it? What purpose does it serve. What problems will it solve. What goals will it assist?
For the product being developed, which customers will find it useful? What problems will it solve for them? How will this product be different from other, similar products in the marketplace?
Every great product starts with a specific vision. The elements within the product strategy need to align with that vision.
The next step is to collect all your requirements for the upcoming product. If this is a new product, create a prototype and survey people’s reactions to it, or simply survey your target audience for their thoughts on potential product benefits and the features that might deliver them. If you’re working on an upgrade to an existing product, chat with your sales and customer service teams. They will have a wealth of information from existing customers on earlier versions of the product. This is your goldmine for product upgrade requirements. Not every idea will be valuable or vital, so you might want to survey customers with the list of ideas you glean from those two teams.
This step is important enough, you should also engage directly with your existing “power users” to find out their likes, dislikes and pet peeves. Not only will this give you more “gold” for your requirements list, but it can help strengthen your bond with the companies biggest fans — your loyal customers.
As a final step in gathering your list of product requirements, use your own knowledge of the product to assess its strengths and weaknesses. Sit with the product for an hour or two, looking at it objectively for those core features which are vital to the product. Ask yourself how you can strengthen any of its weaknesses.
Create a broad overview of your timeline so you have a rough sense for when each of your initiatives will be completed. Don’t go detailed on this, because you don’t know what problems or changes you will encounter. In an agile development environment, your development team needs to remain nimble enough to change directions when the requirements change.
Next, obtain stakeholder buy-in. But be willing to say “no” to any idea that jeopardizes the overall success of the project. At the same time, give stakeholders a reason to like the product road map. The success of the product launch will depend on their commitment to its success. So, try to find some of their suggestions that can be incorporated — ideas that don’t jeopardize the product launch.
Each group of stakeholders will want certain kinds of information to help them achieve the much needed buy-in. For example, senior management will want to focus on the product strategy information, plus all the information you have regarding market size. Your marketing group will want to know all about the features in the product, plus an honest comparison with similar products in the marketplace. And yes, marketing will want to know the product’s potential for generating future sales. Your sales force will be keen to understand the product’s benefits. They will want to know what kind of advantages the product will provide to the customers. Sales will always want hard release dates, so it’s important to make it clear that the dates in the product road map are not that, but rough timelines for helping teams understand the pace to be expected. Naturally, your developers will want to know specific requirements, sprints, deadlines and any specific, required tasks.
Finally, share the product road map with all interested teams. The product road map sets expectations and shows the progress so far. It also helps to maintain the needed buy-in. And, perhaps every bit as important, the road map helps to keep everyone accountable for delivery.
The Dangers of Product Road-Mapping In-House
Every individual on the planet has their own biases and blind spots. This truism applies equally to groups, as well. Members of a team can fall into the trap of “group think” which could jeopardize the product’s successful launch.
A product road-mapping expert has seen many road maps in numerous settings with differing corporate environments. This gives the expert a unique advantage to see things your own product road-mapping effort will likely miss.
Consider for a moment the very real possibility that all your hard work might fail because you didn’t have someone else look at your product road-mapping efforts with a dispassionate and objective eye. Think of the cost in money, time and corporate momentum that could be lost without that little extra help up front.
Certainly, your team knows your product, your corporate goals and even your customers far better than any outsider might. But that advantage can also be a disadvantage. An expert outsider can likely see things your team may miss.
Why Hiring an Expert Can Save You Money
Even if you hire a product road-mapping expert for one consulting session, you will gain the insights of an interested third party. Both your executive-level stakeholders and your development team will have their viewpoints. The outside expert will add a third viewpoint not constrained by corporate culture or group think. A fresh perspective can make all the difference in the world between a lackluster product launch and an epic success.
The truly expert product road-mapping consultant can speak and write in simple, easy-to-understand language. They remove most, if not all, jargon. They remove all heavy, overly pedantic prose or “business speak” from the document. After all, a product road map must be easy to read, otherwise most people won’t look at it. The few who do force themselves to read a poorly-written road map will suffer their eyes glazing over at the sheer, mind-numbing torture of big words and writing fluff. Good writing makes a road map accessible and useful; bad writing makes it cringeworthy.
When you compare the cost of a consultant with the total cost of a product launch, product road-mapping consultant fees are tiny. Remember, great ideas are cheap. The real successes rely on the level of expert delivery. Every precision tweak in a product road map might make the difference between spending an extra million, and coming in on budget. It might mean the difference between missing your delivery window plus losing an entire season of potential sales, and meeting your greatest expectations.
Keep the Goal in Mind
With an expertly written product road map, the goal is a product launch that meets or exceeds your expectations. When shopping for a product road-mapping expert don’t accept anything less than the best. Your entire product launch enterprise may well depend on it. After all, you want that great idea to become a great reality.
Ready to take the next step, and launch your MVP? Drop us a line. Our team of ex-Googlers can help you every step of the way, from design, to engineering, and all the way through product-market fit