It is all about the Product – Roadmapping and Strategy

For many types of companies, the nature of the product is at the core of everything. This seems particularly relevant today as startup companies spring up regularly to try and attack a certain niche or disrupt an industry with an innovative idea. While there are many ideas, most fail as they are not effectively monetized. Why is this? In this article, I will detail my product experience throughout my career and a more structured way to view product strategy which can increase the probabilities of success.

The first thing to keep in mind is that product strategy should not simply rely on inspiration and creativity as the main elements. Inspiration is unpredictable, so waiting for that “light bulb” moment is a recipe for failure. Creativity for creativity’s sake (e.g. we will be the first one to do this!) also may not be tied to any monetization or commercialization opportunity. Rather, with an initial understanding of the industry and area in which you are operating, this approach can be followed to gradually improve or completely innovate the product road map. The one thing that is universally true in my experience is that the product strategy needs to be flushed out before an execution plan is developed. Some impatient executives may not like that truth, but it is reality. Here are some cornerstones of product roadmapping and strategy from my experience and perspective.

  • Product strategy is not and cannot be dictated from the top. It should flow organically through a collaborative effort to understand the industry, the end customer, and the key problems that are being solved for.
  • Product strategy ties to the company vision and eventual strategy. If the company vision and strategy isn’t flushed out, the product strategy will have a lower probability of success. So, before embarking on detailed product strategy exercises, ensure that the high level vision of where the company or business division should be going is made explicit.
  • When the company vision is flushed out, the targeted customers, geographies, and verticals should be somewhat clear. A mistake often made is focusing on internal stakeholder feedback as opposed to actively obtaining external feedback. One of the first product strategy steps should involve focus groups and one-on-one meetings with your prospective customers. The feedback on their current needs, business problems, and potential future needs is invaluable in developing a product strategy and a prioritized product road map.
  • From the external feedback, a full competitive and product assessment of the space where you are operating should occur with the output of the UI/UX of competing products, functionality lists, and alignment to the current and future needs gathered from customer research. Understanding what your competitors have done and are doing is very helpful with competitive positioning later on.
  • Just as was the case with company vision, the product vision should be established and matriculated throughout key areas of the company before developing detailed plans. This gives other internal stakeholders a chance to provide feedback and buy in to where the product is going and what market it is serving. There may need to be some revisions made based on internal feedback, however the end goal will be to have internal alignment on the product end game which eliminates political battles later on.
  • Develop a list of features, functionality, and UI/UX to implement. Once you have the population, ascertain resource availability through an enterprise resource management model (or something similar) and work internally to prioritize features across a time horizon. The output will be short, medium, and long term product development deliverables which is your product road map. Note that while priorities may change, you need to prevent a constant changing of priorities or else the road map will never come to fruition. Additionally, ignoring the resource allocation and capacity is a recipe for disaster.
  • Establish product goals and milestones for the product road map. This will include qualitative and quantitative measures. For example, KPIs and metrics to capture specifics on customer LTV, new customer acquisition, and vertical penetration and user surveys and feedback to ensure the “feel” of the product is right. When defined, you should also specify intended behavior to alert to product strategy and road map pivot points when the metrics do not follow the intended behavior. The defined vision and goals will act as guide rails for when new product elements are proposed for addition to the road map. Every product initiative proposed need to tie to the vision and be there for a reason.
  • Monitor the road map execution. As the product deliverables are complete and incrementally deployed, a good practice is to pilot them with certain customers to gather feedback before a broader deployment. This feedback can also occur during the development phases to ensure you do not totally miss the mark, but the point is that the feedback should be obtained for course corrections or confirmation.
  • Monitor the overall product vision, strategy, and road map periodically based on prioritization, enterprise resource planning, industry developments, competitor actions, etc.

My Experience:

I approach most business situations with the voice of the customer in mind, whether an internal or external customer. I have developed applications on my own and also in a corporate setting. Additionally, I have constructed product road maps and execution as it pertains to a core software product or a digital transformation effort. The key to all of these experiences was to fully understand the problem being solving for as well as the mindset of my end user, so I could design the systems with the proper UI/UX in mind to ensure it not only functioned, but also was intuitive so the learning curve was reduced. This is a good product strategy principle to follow across the board.

Early in my professional career, I developed an end to end real estate information system which solved for a key problem that many small and medium sized realtors had at the time. In addition to that, I have developed a predictive commodity trading application which produced highly accurate entries and exits predictions for commodities such as gold, silver, copper, palladium, and platinum based on an extensive multi-regression model. I have also developed Android apps based on specific requests. In a corporate setting, I have produced automated functional applications as well as a broad Enterprise Program Management system for a medical device research and development setting. Each of these applications successfully accomplished their goals despite the situations and industries being unique. The guiding principles were always the same:

  • Understand the problem you are solving.
  • View the functionality and experience from the end user/customer perspective. Keep it simple!
  • Have a full grasp of the external environment (competitors, industry).
  • Have visibility over enterprise resource availability and priorities.
  • Be flexible and open to change. Incorporate pivot points for end user feedback and logical changes as conditions dictate.

-Jonathan Ozovek

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