We’ve all been there. You work hard on putting together your roadmap, finding just the right opportunities you should focus on. But when you present it to various internal audiences, whap! You get smacked in the face with questions: “Where is the feature for my top customer?” “What about cloud?” “I thought the new infrastructure was going to be next.”
Not getting support for the roadmap results from not getting buy in from the people who sell and support your product. They cannot see how you came up with your list and why you chose to put one thing in front of another. And whether you’ve built your roadmap up from a set of features or down from a set of strategic initiatives, you need to get your entire organization on board.
That starts with showing everyone your process. Explain the different factors you used when prioritizing the roadmap: impact to customer, number or percentage of customers affected, revenue and cost estimates, strategic initiatives and so on. Explain the formulas. You want them discussing the factors and the weights, not arguing about individual items. Once they see a method in your approach, they’re more inclined to support it.
But let’s take it further. Ask representatives from each team to vote “yay or nay” to each item on the roadmap. I’ve found that people are more inclined to support something when they’ve had the chance to define it or at least contribute to its definition. In the following template, I’ve added a section to the roadmap for internal buy in with a column for each organizational group. Each group can say whether that item is critical for their group or their customers. (Note: Each idea has one point already built in, since the idea had to be accepted by product management first.)
In this particular case, it’s clear that the first feature is important to nearly everyone. Further down you can see the sales and marketing teams are big on the social media integrations, while the post-sales groups want real-time status updates and point tracker. The leadership team values everything.
To focus conversations, limit the number of votes per operational area. There are 11 items in this list; give each team 5 or 6 votes and see what happens. Like the game of musical chairs, where there’s always one chair fewer than the number of children playing, this approach prevents people from choosing everything and really forces them to prioritize.
This technique enables you to earn internal buy in, but what about customers?
Some companies prefer to keep their internal plans internal. But startups and other companies may find sharing the roadmap can be a great way to promote and validate innovation plans.
You could use the same scoring approach at your next customer meeting, adding a column for customer votes. Or even better, add a column for each target market segment. Then you can see that Japan and Korea want certain capabilities, while Western Europe wants a different set. Or you can distinguish the needs of financial services from those of manufacturing.
I implemented a similar technique with my customers using jellybeans and fishbowls. At the time, we had many big initiatives—more than we could do—and no clear strategic direction from inside the company. I held a customer advisory board meeting of a dozen customers. At the side of the room I had a dozen fishbowls, each labeled with the name of one initiative. I gave each company a bag of 50 jellybeans and asked them to vote. Some were very careful, putting seven beans here and 17 beans there, but one customer (our most vocal) threw his entire bag of jellybeans into one fishbowl. He said, “I can’t keep using your product if you don’t complete this!” The “jellybean and fishbowl” method is simple; it’s easy to explain and it doesn’t cost much.
Want buy in for your roadmap? Create a prioritization scheme that makes sense to both colleagues and customers and that doesn’t require too much technology to support. Solicit feedback and insights and then show them the math. When they understand the logic behind your longer-term plans, they feel part of the process—and are more likely to get on board.
For a template to help you create your own roadmap that gets company buy in, please click here.