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Create an Unforgettable Road Map

This article was written by PTC contributor Anjali Jameson

If you’re like me, you enjoy building out a roadmap. It’s a chance to step back, think about what’s possible, and build out a journey for your products that align with the company’s goals.  Unfortunately, the next step in the roadmapping journey, communicating out your roadmap, can feel far less straightforward. In fact, to many product leaders, it’s a herculean task. Not only do you need to convince people to care about your roadmap, you have to get them to remember it.

Here’s how it used to play out for me….

Over a period of a month or two, I would spend my evenings creating a well-thought-out product strategy and roadmap, aligned with company goals and the interests of key stakeholders. I would then ensure it was presented to the core teams, answering questions from across the organization and posting the information on the company wiki.

Then, a week later I would be in a meeting with, say, the engineering leadership. Someone around the table would comment “we can’t provide you with a resourcing plan if we don’t know what the roadmap looks like,” to which many would nod in agreement. At this point, I would think, “is it too early for a drink?”

If this sounds familiar, you aren’t alone. Even for the most seasoned product leaders, it can be a difficult task to get everyone on the same page. Through trial and error, and a bit of creativity, I’ve found the following set of steps to be incredibly helpful in ensuring you get your message across.

1) Create context
Here’s an analogy I like to use. When in a new city and navigating to a specific address, many of us automatically zoom out on the map to see how that location fits within the broader metropolis. If not, it’s hard to understand where we are going and how our destination fits within the rest of the city.

This is much like a roadmap without a clear or understandable vision. If we can show the zoomed out version of our strategy and, this is the most important part, get people excited about that vision, then we have a much better chance of navigating them to the individual pieces of the roadmap that ladder to that vision.

Ask yourself: Do I have a compelling longer-term vision? Does my roadmap make sense in the context of that vision? If the answer is no to either of these, then keep working on it. You owe it to the organization to show them why that roadmap is the right vehicle to move the company forward.

2)  Tell a story
People remember very little of what they hear on any given day… bullet points on a page are probably not on the top of their mind. Your job does not stop after telling them “stuff”, it stops at the point where they will remember. When you tell your story, is the connection you create between the audience and your story so deep that people wish they were working with you?

A product leader needs to be, first and foremost, an incredible storyteller. If you aren’t, I recommend taking a writing class and practicing until you can tell a compelling story in words and images. I find it helpful to host a writers workshop onsite with all product managers and designers to build these skills. Learn about story hooks, about developing a plot and set of characters, about the importance of a resolution, and, most challenging, telling a six-word story (because a novel on a slide isn’t fun for anyone).

Then, tell your story in written words, images and spoken narrative, avoiding lame animations, weird transitions, and long paragraphs. I know it can feel like a waste of time to spend the effort creating something Apple-worthy, but remember: your job does not end until people remember what you are building.

3) Give people a reason to pay attention
Imagine: You’re attending a new product roadshow. The product leader introduces the presentation with either:

“Thank you all for being here. The purpose of this presentation is to walk you all through the product strategy and roadmap. So let’s get started!”

OR

“Thank you all for being here. By the end of this presentation, every single one of you should be able to give the elevator pitch for this product to <enter in CEO/COO/CPO name>.  Oh, and heads up, he/she just may ask…!”

Which one of these intros do you think would provide more of a reason for you to listen?

Despite our best efforts as humans in a tech world, it’s very hard to keep our computers closed and our attentions on a single topic for a full hour. As the presenter, you’ve got to give them a compelling reason to pay attention from the very first set of intros. What’s yours?

4) Create a chance for recall
If listening to someone speak were enough for us to remember something, we’d all be math, science, or history geniuses. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Any marketer will tell you that it’s important to repeat a message over and over again until it’s remembered.

My favorite way to do this is to turn the recall into a game. Yes, a game.

There are many ways to do this, but here’s one to start with:

  • Create a company-wide quiz
  • Ask a set of 5-10 questions that focus on the most important nuggets of your strategy and roadmap
  • Focus a few questions on the big picture summary:  “which of these statements are the least accurate description of Product X’s vision”
  • Then, focus a few questions on any of the key details you think the company especially needs to align on (e.g. things we can/can’t sell in Q3)

By creating a company-wide competition, teasing it out during your presentation, and tying real prizes behind the winning submissions, you’ll encourage people to listen to you and recall the information later on. And, by all means, come up with your own competition: Game show? Interpretive dance submissions? Seriously, it’s all about keeping your presentation top of mind across the organization.

As product leaders, we spend a lot of time creating a roadmap (sometimes multiple roadmaps) that will help our organization succeed at its goals. Whether the company is 7 or 70,000 people, it’s critical for every person to understand what is being built, packaged, and sold. This is not just about the product-development process. This is about a cultural and organizational effort that transcends any individual team. If you treat it this way, the rest will follow!

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