How these B2B SaaS Leaders Handle Dissent about Product Roadmaps
Hear from 6 product and customer success leaders on how they deal with conflicts about product roadmaps
When dealing with product roadmaps, disagreements happen. It’s inevitable. How do you move past it?
Last year, we talked to product leaders from companies such as HelpScout, PracticalCX, and Kustomer about how customer success is influencing the product roadmap. We learned all about how feedback-driven development is used in their companies when it comes to product roadmaps.
Considering the challenges that the last year has brought in all facets of business, we were interested in how product and customer success leaders are handling conflicts about their roadmaps, so we spoke to 6 B2B SaaS Product and CX leaders.
How these B2B SaaS Leaders Handle Dissent about Product Roadmaps
Bobby Gill, CEO @ Blue Label Labs
I feel a lot of product roadmap issues will be resolved provided there is proper execution with a design sprint and an understanding that there needs to be some flexibility as it's critical to be able to adapt based on user feedback.
At Blue Label Labs, we begin every project with a Design Sprint which is designed to address several matters when it comes to building any kind of software as well as establish a product roadmap. All matters related to the MVP must be locked into place after you wrap up feedback and testing as this allows you to focus on the baseline feature set that will allow your product to begin gaining momentum in the marketplaces. Here, your product roadmap should detail what will go into future iterations but it’s important to keep in mind that there needs to be some flexibility. Ideally, you should be constantly collecting user feedback and analyzing behavior – in doing so, this often reveals that it might be in your userbase’s best interest to rearrange planned feature releases. In other cases, feedback might open your eyes to the value of a feature you didn’t think about or nixed when you first put together your product roadmap..
In summary, you should focus on the most feasible features for the MVP, then plug the rest into the product roadmap while keeping in mind that it may be necessary to revise depending on user feedback.
Daniel Kyne, Founder and CEO @ OpinionX
Handling conflicts about product roadmaps: The best way to handle roadmap disputes is with data from user research. We use dynamic surveys to ask users what their biggest pains, unmet needs and motivations driving their behaviour are. This gives us a mix of qualitative data (users telling us in their own words why they do/need this) and quantitative data (users voting on each other's responses to surface the highest impact statements). By combining these two together, we know exactly what the biggest need affecting the largest group is. If we have to dig in deeper, we might run some follow-up user interviews, but generally the combo of qualitative and quantitative survey data gives us all the prioritization input we need to keep the team on the same page.
Tyler Bryden, Founder @ Speak AI
Product roadmap prioritization is a fun and challenging part of growing a company successfully. There are several frameworks that we have found to be helpful.
The first is OKRs, which is Objectives and Key Results. OKRs was originally created by Andy Grove of Intel and has now become a popular framework for many companies including Google, LinkedIn, Twitter, Microsoft and others.
Goals are set at an organization and individual level, and because of that, OKRs help teams align personal and professional goals. If done right, OKRs can eliminate a lot of the conflict of product roadmaps. Goals are set clearly in advance, publicly, and are connected by more than just organization success which keeps team members happier and more engaged.
The second framework that is often used is ICE, which helps you prioritize feature development by measuring the impact, confidence, and ease of implementation. This is often done together so that the scores are agreed upon. This is another proactive tool to reduce conflict, especially in high-growth situations with rapidly evolving priorities.
At Speak Ai, we have found success after several years of prioritizing features wrongly by talking directly to customers, opening up a Slack community that users, paying customers, and interested people can engage in, creating a public roadmap that anyone can see using Trello.
Additionally, we've looked at search queries for volume, competition, and commercial intent, website traffic, competitors and more. We've also released the news of features we are beginning to work on. Based on the response and interest, that has helped our team agree on what to build next.
It is easy to build things you believe based on a feeling, imagination, and your own desires, but the closer you can get to customer's pain points, needs, and solving problems, the easier identifying the right work to do becomes and the less conflict should emerge.
Chris Von Wilpert, Founder @ Content Mavericks
It is unavoidable to have conflicts in any organization especially nowadays that people are working under a different work environment due to the pandemic. A lot of people with different personalities are stressed out because of these trying times.
There are several ways we respond to conflict but we never avoid it. As a team, we have to collaborate and so addressing matters as soon as possible during the early product mapping stage has to be a priority.
At times when disagreements turn to arguments, we always let each other's side be heard. We see this as a healthy exercise and take important points out of it. Luckily, our team members are professionals and know their boundaries.
However, we always prepare ourselves for times when things get personal and that's when we step in. We always acknowledge emotions and frustrations especially on people pitching their ideas for the road map. This goes hand in hand with verbally appreciating someone's effort but has to also explain why we can't implement everything and even if it hasn't been implemented it doesn't mean that it's not good. Acknowledgments and assurance can usually pacify people after they vent out.
After you've addressed the emotion-based argument, you have to bring back the discussion to the product roadmap and remind everyone of your goals. It helps people see the bigger picture.
Lilia Gorbachik, Product Manager @ Intermedia
If there is dissent, then I propose to take a step back and revise the overall strategy of the company. Is the current strategy up-to-date? If yes, then I propose to revise the roadmap and make sure it is aligned with the strategy. Then it is time to narrow down the area that causes dissent.
Typically it's about 2-4 projects and their place in the roadmap. I gather the data that I have for these projects: analytics, risks, estimations, resources required, impact, and value and describe why I put these projects in the roadmap. The main discussion turns from abstract disagreement to arguments and constructive discussion.
Of course, it’s not so simple as it is on paper. But at the end of the day, everybody in the company wants to bring max value, that's why it's important to keep a laser focus on the strategy and overall impact. At the same time, a roadmap is not something that is written in stone, that's why it's ok to have some level of uncertainty there. For example, keep 4 products for Q4 knowing that we will be able to accomplish only one and agree to review the Q4 roadmap later. It can be handy if you see a new trend on the market, but not sure about it at the moment.
Connect on LinkedIn: LinkedIn
Caroline Lee, Co-founder and Growth Marketer @ CocoSign
In today’s agile world, presenting and knowing how to get people to agree with your product roadmap is not an isolated phase of the product life cycle. You can’t simply move neatly from creating your roadmap to sharing your roadmap to executing your plans.
The process is iterative, and communication is part of every step. You will need to update the relevant teams and stakeholders throughout the process, to keep everyone apprised of the product’s progress and to ensure everyone is working toward the same strategic goals. Doing this will definitely make sure your team members are on the same page with you on your product roadmap.
Here are three key takeaways from the above:
Communication is critical. Making sure you’re speaking to team members and stakeholders throughout the process of handling dissent. This includes customers. Sit down and discuss concerns with the relevant people.
Look at the whole picture, and keep your goals in mind. At the end of the day, we’re all striving to hit those targets. Making members of your team aware of the goals puts things in perspective.
The roadmap is not set in stone. Changes are to be expected with a changing landscape. Iteration is a part of the process. Embrace it.
Kareem is a co-founder at Savio. He's been prioritizing customer feedback professionally since 2001. He likes tea and tea snacks, and dislikes refraining from eating lots of tea snacks.