Roadmaps Aren't Just for Product Management Anymore

October 24, 2013

Product roadmaps are essential for providing direction, improving communication and establishing the product’s and company’s focus. They are also a constant source of discussion in the product community, as there are many views on the right elements and timeframes to include—as well as how the information should be shared. Roadmaps for other efforts that are part of the overall product planning lifecycle are often overlooked, however.

Too often, the technical direction for the product is all that is mapped out. But the product marketing team has the same need for a strategic planning process as their counterparts in product management. And they have the same need for an artifact that will share their direction, as wellas improve communication and credibility.

The role of product marketing is often misunderstood. In short: While product management is often aligned with users and the product’s capabilities, product marketing is typically aligned with buyers and the product’s marketability. Executives see the data sheets, white papers and PowerPoint slides that are developed, but not the strategic value.

The strategic planning process of building a product-marketing roadmap will show the critical work being done to support the product. It will lay out a vision of when all that work will be accomplished and create a more complete overview when held next to the product roadmap.

The product-marketing roadmap shows executives, product management, development, marketing and other colleagues the go-to-market vision. It adds credibility to the product marketing team by demonstrating that its focus is set on continuous development, instead of reactive and one-off efforts. It allows the main attention to move from lead-generation campaigns to the more strategic analyzing of win/loss data, gaining customer insight, developing buyer personas, creating competitive SWOT analyses, etc. These increase your value, while also making your messaging in lead generation campaigns clearer, more targeted and easier to create.

Starting Steps

Taking the first step in building a roadmap for product marketing may seem overwhelming, like first steps into unfamiliar waters. But, when you break it down, it is a simple step-by-step process.

Step 1: Obtain a copy of your product’s technical roadmap for the next eight quarters. Two years is considered long enough to look at what is coming, while still offering flexibility to be responsive to shifting market dynamics. If your organization has a portfolio strategy and vision, connect with its owner and become familiar with it.

Step 2: Obtain your marketing team’s plans for demand generation, web, social media, events, papers, PR, etc. You need to understand what the marketing team is doing and how they do it. What are their goals? What are their expectations? Try to get the plans for the same two-year view.

Step 3: Obtain the goals and plans of ancillary marketing teams. If you have teams focused on strategic planning for channel, alliance or partner relationships, find out their plans. Are they launching new programs in the next eight quarters? Their activities may be relevant, and it’s best to be informed.

Step 4: Once you have plans from others in hand, arrange an all-day off-site meeting for the product marketing team. You want to be outside the office to minimize distractions and interruptions. Don’t worry about being at an extravagant location; all you really need is a room with work tables, walls, whiteboards, etc. Make sure you arrange for beverages, snacks, lunch, etc. It’s a small investment to keep up the energy of the strategic planning process.

Step 5: Arrange for a facilitator. This needs to be someone who does not have a vested interest in the outcome. They focus on the process and ensuring that all persons involved are listened to, engaged and valued. You may have a facilitator internally. Companies that have agile processes in place often have coaches, facilitators and/or trainers you can work with. If not, look to local product groups, networks and other companies for their expertise. The key to a successful meeting is the prep time spent with the facilitator. Find a sample product-marketing roadmap, so they know what the end result looks like. Talk with them about how you would like to encourage participation and how to engage all team members in the discussion. You know your team best. You need to engage with someone who will make sure that everyone in the room is committed to the end result.

Step 6: Put the product marketing team in the room. Bring in sticky notes, paper, whiteboards and copies of the roadmaps, plans and marketing artifacts (sales sheets, etc.)—but leave the computers outside and turn off the phones! In brainstorming sessions, technology tends to inhibit and distract. And distracted people lose rhythm and collaboration. Here’s a tip: Remove half of the chairs in the room and have people stand up. It gets the blood flowing and tends to encourage more interaction, which allows different people to contribute.

Step 7: Start your day with a team-building exercise. This may seem “old school,” but you’re about to start a day where you need to be able to share honest communication, respect and trust your teammates, and be willing to give and take. Make the exercises short and simple; 20 minutes is really all that is needed to get the team in the mood. Engaging employees this way delivers deeper, more actionable insights than those stodgy brainstorming sessions, online surveys, focus groups or other tools.

Step 8: Now it’s time to review. Ask the senior product management leader to come in and share the company’s strategy and then review, at a high-level, the technical product roadmap. Then, discuss the plans you gathered from the other departments. Your goal in the review session is to come to an agreement on what efforts from the others will impact your work.

Step 9: Pass out the sticky notes to the team, and have them write one activity that product marketing is responsible for that will support the efforts that were discussed. There should be one activity on one note. These are the elements of the roadmap. (Set a time limit on this exercise or it can go on all day.) Don’t edit the items written; that task will come later. And it doesn’t matter if it is high-level or low-level activity. This is a brainstorming session in a written form.

Step 10: Once the time period is called, take your sticky notes and break them into categories of items that are alike in work. Organize these activities that you just wrote into “important buckets,” a master category/heading. Put the activities that don’t fit into a bucket, the outliers, on the side. Remember to refer to the product roadmap for some important themes that may need planning. For example, if the core product is now going mobile, you may need a special category of items to support this. Tip: At this point, take a photo of what the board looks like. You may need to reference it later.

Now it’s time to actually build the roadmap.

Step 11: Plot out the product roadmap against the marketing plans. Start by building a grid. Your whiteboards, large paper and sticky notes are the tools to build this.

Down the vertical side (the rows) place your initiatives, strategies, business, etc.—the buckets or categories that you created in step 10. What are these buckets of work called? How should the labels read to make sense to you and the business? One company may call it “Strategic Initiatives,” while another may call the same “Organizational Directives.” The label doesn’t matter; it’s the concept where you should focus.

When you’re done, the board/grid will look something like this:

 

Step 12. Look at the empty space to the right on each row, and think about how you are going to complete the block. The content that belongs in here is what will bridge the conversation between you and the teams who provided input. How do you get the product from the initial idea to communications to your sales teams? How will you generate leads through the marketing plans? In each of the cell blocks, add the activities that will be performed to support the goal. This is the content for the product-marketing roadmap.

Take the sticky notes that are on the board and place them in the category where they belong. At this point in the roadmap building process, it doesn’t matter what order you place the notes, just that you have them in the right bucket. When you are complete, it will look something like this: 

 

Step 13: Without dates and goals, this isn’t much of a roadmap, so add in columns with the quarters or years as your headers. Shift activities that have been previously discussed to the proper time frame when they will be accomplished. When are you setting a goal to achieve completion or delivery of that activity? The dates may be by months, quarters, years. What are the dates of your business cycles? How do other teams schedule and report work? Try to align your timeline with others. Doing this will help when you socialize the roadmap later in the process. Once you determine your dates, add in the columns and determine where each sticky note will go. It will look something like this:

 

Step 14: Examine your work. Once you have assigned your activities to the time frame, you most likely will have an exhaustive list of sticky notes hanging around. And don’t forget to look at those activities that you put aside in step 10, the outliers, as well. You may find a place for them now.

It’s rare to find that any one product marketing team will ever have enough resources to complete all the items on their list in the time frame that is desired. In this case, you may find that you will have to rearrange or remove activities.

While you are adjusting for time and resource balance, it will be obvious where gaps exist that should be evaluated. If you see a blank cell on the board, talk about it. Maybe you left that cell intentionally empty, or maybe you should shift an activity or two into the empty cell? Go through each cell and talk about the activity and resource assigned. Are your expectations reasonable now? If not, keep adjusting until you have complete agreement among the team that the activities within each cell address the goals, direction and needs of everyone in the room in a way that will continue to grow your product.

Now, congratulate yourselves! You have built a new artifact—a product-marketing roadmap. Enjoy an after-hours team gathering, and get some sleep. There’s still work to be done tomorrow.

Socializing and Communicating

Unlike the product roadmap, which is built around features, the product-marketing roadmap is built around activities and actions that drive the promotion of the product in the market. But the need to get the organizational support is just as critical. You need to take your new artifact to your peers and partners to obtain their buy in. Without the support of your colleagues, the activities on your roadmap will not be accomplished and you will be unsuccessful in meeting the strategic goals set forth.

Remember, you built your plans off their plans, making your efforts intertwined with theirs. Highlight those connector points. Point out the specific items and impact to each individual group. Help them understand the scheduling of each activity. A specific activity that the other team requested or thought would be addressed may have been deferred or not included. When this happens, it is important to explain what drove the decisions on placement. In other words, prepare to justify and defend. If you have truly used their plans as the backbone, defending your plan should not be a difficult task.

One of the major differences between a product roadmap and a product-marketing roadmap is the stakeholders you share this artifact with. A product roadmap is often shared with external customers and market prospects; a product-marketing roadmap is never shared externally—and rarely shared with the sales team. The product roadmap is sharing a product direction while the product-marketing roadmap is sharing a work activity direction. The audiences for this product-marketing roadmap are the internal customers of your organization, the very same ones who helped supply information to build it.

Getting support at the beginning is not enough. This is a plan that needs to be consistently communicated. It needs to be socialized as part of the daily, weekly, quarterly and annual rhythm. Use this as a guide at quarterly business reviews, staff meetings, product management/product marketing summits, etc. Take advantage of the product roadmap visibility with the executives to “hang” the product-marketing roadmap on the same conversation. Teach the executives to look for this as a regular communication tool for providing vision.

Remember, your goal is to provide not only direction to your product marketing team, but show value to the executives beyond the marketing communication deliverables. Create a quarterly update from the product marketing team that you disseminate to your stakeholders, which contains the progress against your roadmap, relevant metrics supporting the work done and other interesting facts. It will show value on an ongoing basis to a wide audience.

Metrics to include are not only how you have performed against your plan, but the impacts of the activities. For example, if one of your goals was to “upgrade the web/portal experience,” then talk to the web team and ask about how their results have changed since your effort. If “customer migration” was an activity, look at the new customer mix versus the old. What percent of your competitor’s customers were converted? How much did they spend? What increase was that? Provide impact metrics that reflect the business value.

It is also important to understand that a roadmap is a living document. It’s organic, just like the product roadmap, and it will change. This is not a “one-and-done” effort. Schedule time in your team’s routine to review the product-marketing roadmap every quarter. Have resources shifted? Are priorities changing? Do adjustments need to be made? You invested the time in the process; don’t let the artifact die. Keep it updated and fresh.

With support in hand and a communication plan under way, it’s time to build out the plan from the strategic view of activities to one involving tactics. What are the tools that need to be created to support the new migration? What training will need to be delivered to highlight the benefits of the feature coming next year? Is there a PR component that needs to be addressed? Plan your tactical activities from the strategic direction, and you are likely to notice that the everyday work makes more sense. You will see how the tasks are connected. They support a bigger picture now. There is value being built and delivered.

Building a product-marketing roadmap is not difficult. The strategic planning process that comes with the effort is where the energy of the activity is exerted. The roadmap is a tool; the strategic process is invaluable. This is true for product management, and it is true for product marketing. The end result will not only help guide your activities but also bring a spotlight to shine on the value of product marketing.

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