Ashton Therrien, former Product Manager at Harvard Business Publishing, and Latif Nanji, Co-founder and CEO of Roadmunk, discuss the most common mistakes that product managers make when roadmapping and how to balance long-term goals with iteration.

Latif is the co-founder and CEO of Roadmunk, one of the most popular product roadmapping tools, and Ashton was one of his first customers. At the time of the interview, she was Product Manager at Harvard Business Publishing, where she was managing products that educate the next generation of leaders. Now she’s an Account Manager at Respondent.

Ashton says that roadmapping is a way to connect strategy and vision and to turn it into actionable work for the team. Put simply, it is a prioritized plan. Planning is critical, but in the digital age, it's also important to adapt to changes in the market and iterate based on what you learn from users. Ashton stresses the importance of allowing for iteration and making sure that the team understands the long-term vision.

Ashton recommends building roadmaps around core themes, upcoming research, and with team buy-in. A roadmap is a “product GPS” that shows how to take where the product is today to where you want to go, she says.

Just like a GPS adjusts when you opt for a more scenic or less congested route, flexibility is critical when roadmapping. Because Ashton worked with cross-functional teams, roadmapping is particularly useful for getting everyone to coalesce around a unified vision. With a well-designed roadmap in hand, Ashton and her team are able to develop and refine both a view of the future and a plan for how to get there.

At the heart of a well-designed roadmap is a fundamental understanding of what customers need. Latif highlights three major considerations:

  1. Highlight key customer inputs and includes the right stakeholders.
  2. Talk in terms of problems, not solutions. Give the creative people within your organization the freedom to design things off the beaten path.
  3. Define the market that you’re trying to capture.

Tactically, Latif advises creating customer feedback channels. At Roadmunk, there are daily customer feedback posts available for everyone in the company to see. This ensures that everyone can easily get a pulse on what the biggest and best customers are saying and what they’re asking for. The roadmap is then presented within the context of that feedback, and it’s easy for Roadmunk employees to ask “why aren’t we working on X, given what this customer said?”

Ashton and Latif create different types of roadmaps. Some are more tactical, some more strategic. For example, one of the roadmaps that Latif creates centers around initiatives and problems. These don’t focus on solutions but rather on why the problem is worth solving in the first place.

For roadmaps at the product level, Ashton focuses on current, near-term, and future work. Ashton sends out higher level quarterly product roadmap across all of offerings to entire business units to let them know where the organization is allocating resources and delivering value. She also creates a roadmap to share with clients. This is primarily to get clients and prospective clients excited about new areas of focus and open a dialogue.

With regards to timelines, Ashton relies primarily on time estimates for project completion instead of a strict deadlines. Latif notes the importance of giving different time frames for different stakeholders, saying that the product team ought to have a view for the plan much further down the line than clients. She reiterates her point that roadmaps should be flexible, align teams towards a strategic long-term goal, and help prioritize projects along the way.

You’ll learn a lot from this episode about how to build roadmaps that balance iteration with a strategic long-term vision.

Here are the highlights:

  • How roadmapping fits into Ashton’s role as a product manager (6:32)
  • How Latif balances long-term planning with quick iteration (10:50)
  • Ashton describes best practices for creating roadmaps (15:10)
  • Latif explains how he shapes his roadmap based on user feedback (18:50)
  • How Ashton and Latif establish timelines in their roadmaps (26:30)

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