A couple weeks ago I wrote about product roadmap themes. If you haven't read that, I strongly recommend it. I say that because today's post relates to that, and is a general warning to small product teams. It directly applies to the WordPress ecosystem where I spend most of my time, but this warning will likely apply to more than just WordPress product companies.
Before I get into the warning, let me say that I normally don't write negative posts. More than 1500 posts and maybe I've written 3 or 4. I live by the words we all learned growing up, “if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all.”
I'm also not indirect. So you can be sure I'm not writing this warning to any specific company. But when you spend a lot of time talking about product, product roadmaps, and product strategy – you see some of the same challenges appear (over and over).
So here's my warning.
Don't let a single person drive your product strategy.
Let me explain what I'm talking about.
Situation One: The Developer
Imagine you're a three or four person team building a WordPress plugin. You may not even have more than a single person writing code. One person does marketing, another does support and the other writes code.
How do you build a roadmap? It's like I shared in that earlier post (linked above). But sometimes that's not what happens. Instead, the single developer decides on a feature (or set of features) based on what they are excited or interested in. Regardless of what customers are asking for. Regardless of what support is hearing.
Don't let your developer be the only one defining your product strategy. Get everyone involved.
Situation Two: The Marketer
Imagine you're a small team building a WordPress theme. And you have one person doing marketing, sales and business development. They get excited about a partnership opportunity. And they know how to be the loudest voice in the room.
What happens? The loudest voice pushes the discussion and the next thing you know, they've defined the roadmap. No one knows if that will really deliver the results that were promised. And it's really frustrating when it doesn't.
Don't let your marketing person be the only one defining your product strategy. Get everyone involved.
Situation Three: The Support Lead
Imagine you have a mid-sized team with more than a few developers, more than a few support folks, and some marketing and content folks. You're building a freemium plugin that is getting traction.
The support lead shows up and tells you that you really need to fix or build this one feature that will eliminate 20% of your support tickets and close the back door when it comes to customer churn.
Sounds good, right?
But a lot of times, when you circle back to see if the results really were materialized, you don't see it. Why? Because attribution is tough. It's hard to prove the cause of the absence of something.
Don't let your support lead be the only one defining your product strategy. Get everyone involved.
You get what I'm saying, right?
Product roadmaps should be a team sport. You need to develop the capacity to discuss and debate.
And trust me when I tell you that most people aren't great at having tough discussions (or debates). So learning that early will dramatically help you, your team, and your product.
This is where I would normally give you tips on how to argue at work effectively, but HBR has done it well already. I regularly send folks there.
So that's it. Not really negative. More “encouraging.” Learn to discuss. Learn to debate. And learn to bring multiple voices into the product roadmap process.
If you don't, you'll end up with tons of new features without the one feature everyone's asking for (like Twitter and the edit feature).
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