PMMs and the Roadmap, Part 2

Yesterday we talked about principles for understanding product roadmaps and how they can help PMMs in their careers. Today we’ll tackle your first step in getting there: understanding the roadmap to the product team’s satisfaction.

Roadmaps are complex, dynamic living documents. A healthy company is always revising what it’s building, and revising its thinking about why.

To earn the trust needed to drive your own roadmap discussions, you need to first earn the trust of the product managers by showing you care enough to understand the roadmap’s “whys” so that you can drive a roadmap discussion with a customer or prospect. 

Since the product roadmap discussion is ⅓ product development roadmap, ⅔ discussion, earning trust is about how you drive the discussion, not about knowing what some upcoming feature will do.

9 questions to ask product management about the product roadmap.

  • What drives decisions about what we’ll build when, and why?
    This gets to the heart of their strategies. Acknowledge that this matters and you’ll be on the right path.
  • How do we decide what NOT to build anytime soon?
    Funny thing, choosing NOT to build is more revealing of strategy than what TO build. 
  • What questions and challenges do you get from customers on the roadmap?
    This is inherently sympathetic. If you trigger product managers into their memories of the toughest parts of their roadmap discussions, they’ll feel like you care about hard stuff, not fluffy stuff
  • What do you wish we were building instead?
    Product managers are mostly entrepreneurial, and they don’t have 100% control over the roadmap. Yet, they all wish they could “wave the magic wand”. If you understand what they wish they could be building — and why, you’ll clarify to them that you’re on their side of the table, and want to understand their deeper thinking.
  • What parts of the roadmap do customers care about most?
    In their meetings with customers, there are one or two clutch moments, where the discussion gets hot. Asking about this invites them to tell you what matters most. 
  • What do you learn from customers in a roadmap discussion?
    One job of a roadmap discussion is to uncover more than we currently know about their businesses. Product managers are gratified when they help the sales/customer team, and if you trigger them to share these moments, you’ll earn their trust.
  • What roadmap discussions should PMMs lead vs. not?
    Humans like to control things. The prospect of you having roadmap discussions is scary. Handing them the power to control when you’re involved versus them will earn their trust – and won’t limit your involvement.
  • What demos do we show in the product roadmap discussion?
    My #1 anxiety when I was a product manager was someone besides me showing something in the future that promised the world to a customer. By inviting them to limit what you show, you give them more control. 
  • When can I practice/roleplay the product roadmap discussion with you?
    See above on the human desire for control. If you give them a chance to see how you will turn questions back on the customer, especially with more PMMs as participants, they’ll be more confident in you as a partner.

Establishing trust with PMs is the key. Asking the above questions are the best path to earning their trust, and therefore the best path to unleash yourself as a tool for the business 

Have opinions about PMMs and the roadmap? I welcome your insights and feedback

The Front Porch
Moss Beach, CA

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