Products, like human beings, have a lifecycle and are driven by a purpose. Companies and teams create products that carry out a mission that is aligned to a company’s vision and customers’ needs. Yet, more often we see product managers spend a lot of time on product roadmaps by lining up features for 6-months, 1-year, 2-years and beyond.
How useful are these roadmaps going to be, given that the markets change, customer needs change and sometimes the product’s position in its lifecycle itself could change. The product roadmap is a story, and you would be better-off focusing on the story of your product than the feature roadmap.
The Product Lifecycle
We can define a product’s lifecycle from multiple perspectives (engineering, business, design, etc.) but we’ll use the business perspective for the purpose of this discussion. From a sales and revenue perspective a product broadly goes through four stages in its lifecycle:
A product manager would handle the product differently in the early stages. For example, in the introduction stage the product manager would be looking to focus on the right growing market, prioritize the right set of features, balance well between feature depth vs feature breadth and so on.
During growth stage the product manager would mostly try and focus on features that have the most impact on growth – depending on how growth is measured – number of users, revenue, are just a couple of examples. Similarly the focus of the product manager would be different in the maturity and decline stages of the product’s lifecycle.
Varying Stakeholder Interests
The product stakeholders like customers, users, top management, sales, marketing and others have different interests in the product. For example a sales guy would be more interested in knowing the features and capabilities in the product that can help increase sales. Customers would perhaps be more invested in the product’s pricing and usefulness. Top management in the company would be interested in the business the products helps generate and grow.
A feature roadmap doesn’t help serve any purpose for all of these stakeholders. In fact, a roadmap doesn’t help at all, no matter its made of features or themes or whatever.
Your Product Roadmap is a Story
Product Roadmap is best when replaced by a Product Story. Yes, it is indeed a storytelling exercise. Features mean nothing to even your customers, but they do care about how your product is going to help them. Telling your product’s story starts with knowing your company’s purpose and vision. The product’s mission, which you hopefully have in the Product Master Plan, is the key element of your product’s story.
Every time you have to make a presentation to your management, the board, your engineers or your customers, tell them your product’s story. Narrate to them, everything that happened to the product since they heard your story last, what you did, who did it impact, struggles, successes. Tell your audience how the story would unfold in the coming months, how they can be a part of the story.
How to tell your product’s story?
You can tell your product’s story in multiple ways. Here are some ways for you to do it.
- Record a video of yourself talking with intermittent white boarding
- Create whiteboard videos
- Make cartoon strips episodes
- Write a one-pager
You can embed the above in blog posts, newsletters, emails and also use them in presentations that you make to your management and customers. If you have community managers managing customer communities, it will be a good idea to share with them. If you are in a bigger company, it is also a good idea to grow a community of product storytellers who can tell your product’s story to many others.
5 Benefits of Storytelling over a Product Roadmap
- Product Roadmap is drab and is something irrelevant to the present
- Get stakeholders emotionally involved
- Help communicate inefficiencies and shortcomings effectively
- Opens stakeholders’ imagination and in-turn give interesting product ideas
- They are fun