Get on the right track: How to create a product roadmap

Brands have to evolve. Customers expect it. And one way to do that is to understand customers and create a product roadmap that helps the brand stay relevant even in the future.

In this article, I discuss the following:

At the end of the day, the product roadmap should be informed by insights.

“What you see with the product team, here’s a fixed roadmap. Deliver these features by this fixed date,” said author Teresa Torres. “There’s not a lot of room for discovery in that model. I think there are two core discovery activities. The first is how we discover unmet customer needs, pain points, and desires, which I collectively call opportunities.”

“So that’s where we’re creating customer value. And I think the key activity for that is interviewing. I want to see a team interviewing week over week with the purpose of finding unmet needs, pain points, and desires.”

Read next: How to develop continuous discovery habits

Create a product roadmap through customer insights

Usually, products enter the market using a process similar to this:

Idea > Market research to gauge consumer interest (discovery) > Introduction into the market > Growth

“There are all these well-defined stages of the product life cycle, and research can really permeate all of them,” said Steven Snell, principal survey methodologist at Goldman Sachs, on an episode of the market research podcast “Reel Talk: The Customer Insights Show.” People ask me, ‘When is the right time to do market research?’ It’s early and often. So we should do product research all along the way.”

Questions to get answers to include:

  • Do they even have the problem the product is trying to solve?
  • How do they currently solve it?
  • Would they use this product?

“When we think about informing the product roadmap, it’s virtually all phases of the product roadmap,” Steven said. “From the initial discovery phases all the way through to a mature product.”

Read next: Unlocking Consumer Insight Trends: Analysis and Making Sense of It

What research methodologies work best to create a product roadmap?

“At any point in the lifecycle, we want to make sure we are not solely relying on just one tool,” Steven said. “And what I mean by that is that I’m a survey person. I love surveys. It’s what I do. But I’m cognizant that the survey can’t be the only tool. So especially when we are early in a lifecycle, we want to ensure we are talking to customers and prospective customers.”

That can easily be accomplished through:

Steven said that talking to consumers can get you that texture of consumer feedback.

He explained that the methodology should be picked based on what’s best for each stage, depending on the goal.

“If it’s more exploratory, I tend to lean more qualitative – I want to start by talking to people,” he said. “I like to talk to people one-on-one or in small groups and ask open-ended questions.”

Steven said he would recommend a quantitative survey when it comes to building a prototype or asking about how to bundle features.

"I think every survey should have an open-ended question - or two or three. A few open-ended questions will get you that texture." - Steven Snell of Goldman Sachs

Quantitative results can get us the measurements, while qualitative responses – primarily through video – bring us the color commentary from consumers.

Being focused

It can be easy to add more questions to surveys. “While I have your attention, can you also answer this, please?” But Steven recommends against that. To make the best use of each survey and make sure it will help in creating or updating a product roadmap:

  • Be clear about the goals
  • Understand where the survey fits in the discovery
  • Ask the essential questions

“If we are trying to answer six to eight business questions, it’s going to be a long and difficult survey,” he said. “Hone in on one or two objectives.”

Jenn Mancusi, added that the advances in market research technology have made it easier to do four shorter studies than one big one.

“We have the technology and the ability to do things much faster now,” she said. “And we can analyze a lot faster so we can keep building as opposed to asking every question we have in one survey because we have a captive audience – which used to be the case.”

And don’t go overboard, Steven added. Instead, get the right size of a random sample that works.

“You don’t need to do a full census of your customers every time,” he said. “And you should probably not. Instead, go out to a random sample.”

Read next: Maximize your ROI with these survey design best practices

And really weigh the number of questions asked. With every question that’s being added, ask:

What’s the point of this question?

And definitely don’t add questions “just in case.”

"No 'just in case.' Every question has a purpose!" - Steven Snell

Remember the human

As we discuss in our holistic insight articles, it’s also important to remember that research participants are humans that have a life outside of using specific products. So keeping the totality of their lives in mind can also help build a successful future roadmap. And consider how those interface with the different internal goals, said Nikki Lavoie of Savanta.

“Have a holistic view of what’s going on across the company, across all of the most important measuring points,” Nikki said. “And it will provide sort of an inherent roadmap that says, okay, these are all the things coming up.”

Sharing the right insights to create a product roadmap

For insights to be truly valuable in the creation of the product roadmap, they need to be communicated to the right people in the best possible way:

  • Here’s what was said.
  • This is what that means.
  • Here are recommendations based on what we heard.

“It’s absolutely on us,” said Steven, stressing the importance of sharing the results meaningfully with the rest of the team. “It’s about storytelling, telling a story with our data.”

Read next: Storytelling in market research gets the Voice of the Customer to the table

When making recommendations, also consider how you’ll measure the impact down the road.

“Identify the drivers of satisfaction and then go back to the product team and say, ‘these are the drivers of satisfaction,'” Steven said. “So it’s not just like ‘here are the scores’ but ‘here are the scores, and here’s what’s driving the scores.'”

"It's about storytelling, but it's also about storytelling to drive product change." Steven Snell

Steven said that sharing how customer satisfaction is a way more engaging story than sharing that scores went up.

Author Rob Fitzpatrick said it’s also worth considering recruiting people who directly influence the product roadmap to sit in on customer interviews or even conduct them. If they can’t attend show them the highlight video reels of the most meaningful responses.

And, remember that just because something is a pain point for a customer, it doesn’t mean it fits the expertise area of your company and even should go on the product roadmap, said Brianna Boyer, Solution Strategy at AYTM (Ask Your Target Market).

Final thoughts

And while research can be helpful early and often in the process, pre- and post-launch studies can also be beneficial to see if the market accepted the product the way it was anticipated, Steven said.

“Yes, what we did mattered,” he said. “Look at this new feature set. That’s good storytelling, but it’s also good product management.”

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