Once the initial version of a product has launched, a product manager has to balance between the needs of their many customers, addressing engineering debt, and staying aligned with the business or organization goals. This can result in tough trade-off decisions like keeping the existing customers happy or launching the feature that would make a product the market leader. What are some common challenges product managers face when creating their roadmaps? OCI Director of Product Devika Nair gives some thoughts about techniques that have helped her manage both customer-facing and platform products.
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On why you need a roadmap as a PM
It’s easy and practical to focus on the “what” and the “when” of our projects, but a roadmap demands another element: the “why?”
“I think it’s just like in everything else, just like with your life, just like with every little thing you’re doing. Your goals are important, because that’s where you’re marching towards. And that’s what your roadmap is. It’s your plan of action. It’s an outline of where you’re headed.
And it’s also providing that context for your work. So you want to have that vision, the direction, your priorities, and having all of those having that plan of action, your outline of how things are ordered, as well as giving context to your team members.
I really think a “why,” as long as your roadmap has good reasoning and good data to back it up, is what makes a strong roadmap. It doesn’t necessarily have to be in every place you’re putting your roadmap, but at least you can document it for your leadership. Maybe it’s just in your head, but as long as you know exactly why you have every item in that list. I feel like it’s going to be a roadmap that delights everybody.”
On creating different views of the roadmap for each audience
After more than a decade in her role, Devika has encountered the common pitfalls and shares her solutions.
“So while you create a single roadmap, you want to have different views for everybody. What your SEO wants to see is going to be different from what your engineering team wants to see.
Think of it like we think of database tables; you have multiple views coming from the same table. Your road map is sort of like your own database table, but with multiple views. And if you’re trying to make a single table with all of that data, you’re going to either add too much information, confuse people, or add too little information and not provide enough context.”
On why you need a North Star
Reaching any goal requires direction, or really defining the goal. That’s the North Star.
“Where are you headed? What should your product look like in five years’ time? What problems are you looking to solve? What is your product strategy? And how does it fit in? This to-do list is just your beginning. Your product is unique, you know its needs, and you’ve now come up with a whole lot of things that you want to do in order to get your product to where you want.
So where is your product headed? So you had this big to-do list, your customers had some jobs to be done, they were probably not getting done. Is that part of your product vision?
Similarly, the organizational goals, in most cases, unless you’re a small startup, yours is the only product you’re talking about. Your organization may have goals that are different from your particular product goals. And you want to fit that in as well. What is it that the org wants to do?”