How to survive roadmap planning

New year, new roadmap, same problems…

A new year brings many new challenges, new opportunities, and unfortunately, some of the same problems. Every product manager knows that roadmap planning and prioritization is hard. Building software products requires deep expertise in an exhausting number of areas, everyone has differing opinions on what to build, and there is never any guarantee of success (anyone remember Google Glass circa 2013?)

If prioritization wasn’t hard enough, getting alignment from stakeholders can completely derail roadmap planning. So when Q1 planning is still happening in February and no one can agree on what to build, how do you get everyone on the same page?

The first thing is to be transparent about your process. Make your decision-making formula as clear as you can. Share the spreadsheet you used to make your decisions, define concepts, and give people the chance to look behind the curtain. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that people have access to the information that lives in your head. Sharing your thought process increases alignment and mitigates risk, as well as giving you informed feedback on your framework from your colleagues.

Secondly, ask for feedback and actually listen. You may never get everyone in perfect alignment, but that isn’t the point. Often people push back because they feel like their ideas aren’t being heard. If you take the time to hear them out, thank them, and explain your reasoning, generally you can diffuse the majority of the tension. Miscommunication is one of the hardest problems for teams to tackle, but those who get it right are infinitely more successful. Building products is a team sport, and much like in sports, the best products are built by teams with strong mutual respect.

Lastly, don’t be afraid to stand your ground. Product management is not a popularity contest. Your job isn’t to gather other people’s ideas and choose by consensus, it is to think deeply about the customer and the market and determine the right things to build. You’ll learn infinitely more from shipping a feature than you will from endless internal discussions, so commit to delivering and follow through. The sooner you release something and gather feedback, the sooner you’ll be on your way to building great products.

Transparency, feedback, and commitment to delivery are crucial for surviving roadmap planning. Remember, the focus isn’t on building a beautiful roadmap, it is on building a beautiful product, which is done through constant iteration, rigorous testing, and quality feedback.