How to Prioritize a Product Roadmap


Probably the most frequent question I get from product managers is around how to successfully prioritize a product roadmap. I think when folks come to me with this question they are often looking for a formula they can apply or at least an algorithm they can go through to prioritize their roadmap. But the reality is crafting a successful product roadmap is far more art than science.

I instead wanted to share the three lenses we apply each time we put together a quarterly product roadmap at Notejoy. Each of these lenses looks at prioritizing a roadmap from an entirely different perspective. The art then comes in determining how to ultimately put together a roadmap balancing these often diverging priorities. Let's look at each of these lenses in turn.

Customer obsession
The first lens we always take is customer obsession. Being a customer obsessed product organization means that we are always inspired by the needs of our customers and constantly seeking to deliver value to them that exceeds their expectations. Thus the feedback we get directly from them has a huge say in prioritizing our roadmap.

To facilitate this, we've developed a continuous feedback loop, complete with a feedback river that allows us to dip in and see customer feedback in real-time, but also a feedback system of record that allows us to easily see all customer feature requests with frequency of occurrence and other customer commentary. Since our feedback system of record is user-facing, we've often engaged directly with customers on their feature requests, collected additional details on what they are trying to accomplish, and often even outlined and received feedback on various approaches to addressing their requests. This significantly reduces the burden of capturing, cataloging, and the need to solicit additional feedback during quarterly roadmap planning.

Given we have this, we instead spend our time synthesizing the feedback to understand are there groups of top feedback or feature requests that would constitute a roadmap theme we may wish to take on. We also dissect the customer segments that top feedback is coming from and decide whether it makes sense to prioritize based on the value of those customer segments to us. We also discuss alternative approaches to solving for the user's end goals that may better serve their needs.

Business obsession
The second lens we apply is business obsession. The ultimate business objective is to maximize profits, which can be broken down to it's most critical drivers. For many SaaS businesses like Notejoy, that usually breaks down into acquisition, engagement, and monetization. User acquisition is all about how do we attract new users to our product and activate them after initial signup. Engagement is about getting users to come back to our service, take advantage of our various functionality, and stay retained. And monetization is about upselling our users to our premium offerings, getting them to increase their spend, and preventing them from churning. We have key business metrics that we monitor in our daily dashboards across our acquisition, engagement, and monetization objectives.

Each quarter as part of our roadmap planning, we take a look back at how we previously performed on the metrics associated with each of these business objectives and decide where we are going to focus in the upcoming quarter. We think about where are the biggest burning fires? What is most critical for our overall success? Where is the low-hanging fruit? We start to formulate what kind of lifts we think we could accomplish in our prioritized objective metrics and then brainstorm potential initiatives that could help us achieve those lifts. We're realistic on the fact that not all our initiatives will work and our initiative lift estimates will ultimately be off, so we adjust our metrics expectations down based on a more realistic estimate.

We ultimately formulate this as a list of OKRs, or objectives and key results. The key results being the specific metric lifts we are looking to achieve and the objective being the set of initiatives we believe will ultimately enable us to achieve it.

The business obsession lens creates real tension with the customer obsession lens because the vast majority of customer feedback ends up typically falling in the engagement business objective. Existing users tend to give you feedback on what they would like to see improved to use your product even more. You typically aren't going to get much customer feedback that aligns with your monetization objective. That tension is incredibly healthy and the very reason why we apply these different lenses for ultimately coming up with our product roadmap.

Vision obsession
The final lens we apply is vision obsession. Like most startups, the initial product we brought to market was a small step towards enabling us to achieve our ultimate vision for Notejoy. We've painted the picture of our ultimate vision in a variety of formats. A dream scenario that illustrates exactly how we hope new ideas can ultimately spread through an organization. Detailed descriptions of a variety of future features we ultimately hope to build in Notejoy. And more.

During quarterly roadmap planning we evaluate the progress we've made against achieving our ultimate product vision and brainstorm what new experiences we believe are the right next stepping stones to getting us closer to realizing our ultimate vision.

The tension between vision obsession and customer and business obsession is probably the strongest. Users are most often concerned with the here and now of what they are trying to accomplish with your product when giving you customer feedback. At the same time, a straight-forward path to optimizing your business objectives usually looks like short-term tractable initiatives that you can forecast and have clear line-of-sight to. Neither of these lenses typically would bias you towards focusing on launching brand new experiences that get you closer to your vision. Yet if you don't find ways to invest here, you'll never ultimately achieve your vision. As I said before, I think this tension is extremely healthy and the balancing act is the art of roadmapping. So when do you know it's time to invest in a new product vision experience versus addressing customer feedback or optimizing for a business objective? There is no straight-forward answer. But there are a couple of things I look for. Occasionally you do see some overlap between something your customer is asking for and an aspect of what your ultimate vision is. When this is the case, we try to prioritize a broader set of efforts that get us closer to our vision but include solutions to today's customer feedback. I also find that when you are starting to feel like there are no burning fires with respect to acquisition, engagement, and monetization objectives, that's a good time to start investing more heavily in product vision initiatives.

Applying the lenses of customer, business, and vision obsession have been critical tools for us to constantly balance a myriad of competing interests in our quarterly roadmapping process and hope you'll consider trying the same for developing your next product roadmap.
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