How to Align Teams Behind a Product Roadmap

May 11, 2020

For product managers, corralling numerous departments and stakeholders into synchronization while working through a product roadmap can be a challenge.

Each party involved has their own goals, and implementing a change from one department can affect all others involved. In order to balance roadmap updates and prevent delays and frustrations, PMs must schedule regular cross-departmental communication.

Many LA product managers agree that change is an unavoidable aspect of product creation. Stakeholders might request an alteration to a feature. New insights via customer feedback might be discovered mid-development cycle, which could necessitate a change later in the roadmap. Change should be expected, but it shouldn’t derail a project if context and impact are provided early and often.

Making efforts to keep teams and stakeholders united behind a project’s central goal should come just as frequently. PMs need to keep the vision of what a completed roadmap should accomplish clear for every contributor.

 

Rapid7 team working a product roadmap
rapid7

Each project should work toward a more significant business goal. Nick McKee, a technical project manager for Rapid7’s InsightVM team, said maintaining alignment requires keeping sight of the product vision and ensuring teams understand what’s needed from them for the project to be successful.

 

What steps do you take when developing a product roadmap to ensure there’s early alignment across teams?

The first phase is creating a product vision. That vision is meant to inspire internal teams, stakeholders and prospective customers for the foreseeable future. Our vision is built upon customer outcomes that support business objectives, which ultimately leads to our outcome-based roadmaps. The discovery of these outcomes require working cross-functionally with teams like UX researchers and designers, software engineers and product management. When including these teams early in the discovery, design and iteration phases, they buy into the outcome-driven vision of that problem and collaborate to provide a solution.

There needs to be a constant feedback loop with stakeholders.”

 

How do you maintain that alignment throughout the development cycle? 

Alignment through the development lifecycle occurs naturally when including cross-functional teams early and often. When our customer researchers provide feedback to the team, their readouts include information for each working team, ensuring alignment throughout the organization. 

We started a project at the end of 2019 and before writing a single line of code, we interviewed customers to understand the problems they needed us to solve. We took the feedback and held a planning session that included designers, developers, product and program managers. The group created an outcome-driven solution that turned into a prototype, and put it in front of customers and stakeholders. Within days, we had feedback that was used to make changes. 

There needs to be a constant feedback loop with stakeholders to continue to iterate on the outcomes provided.

 

As project needs change, how do you re-prioritize the product roadmap and keep teams aligned?

Rapid7’s customer-centric mindset and outcome-based roadmaps are what enable the agility of hitting moving targets. When project changes are required, they’re communicated throughout each cross-functional team during sprint planning and continuous communication. These time requirements are reflected in the business objectives through roadmap refinements and timeline adjustments. What’s important here is that keeping the outcome at the center of focus and solving the core problem, not just delivering a feature.

 

Verifi team working a product roadmap
verifi

A “scrum of scrums” helps keep teams at Verifi aligned as they work on a new implementation together. Senior Product Manager James Breen said he works to set clear objectives at the beginning of a project’s roadmap and uses frequent check-ins with each team to keep work moving forward.

 

What steps do you take when developing a product roadmap to ensure there’s early alignment across teams?

It is all about the outcome and clearly defining the problems we are looking to solve. If I’m ambiguous or not concise, it can lead to confusion across the teams from the start. OKRs have been a great way to achieve alignment. Going into roadmap planning, everybody is clear on our objectives and the outcome. We can then align on which key results, across all teams, will drive us to the objectives. 

In my experience, the times when I failed in my objectives were because I did not clearly articulate the problems we were trying to solve to the other teams whose help we needed to succeed.

While making a change, clearly articulate why it’s happening.”

 

How do you maintain that alignment throughout the development cycle? 

Regular check-ins across teams are vital. It’s not ideal to be delivering on time, only to run into a conflict with another team. We have several applications that have multiple teams doing work on them in the same development cycles. So we implemented a “scrum of scrums” across the teams. In this weekly meeting, the teams align on areas of the applications they are touching and where they may be impacting other teams. This alignment has been essential in helping ensure all our teams are able to stay on target with our roadmap.

 

As project needs change, how do you re-prioritize the product roadmap and keep teams aligned?

Alignment starts with understanding that we are working toward achieving outcomes. To deliver those outcomes, needs can change or new needs can materialize. When a roadmap changes, understand the impact that can have on other teams. If alignment is reached at the start, it should be clear what the other teams may be dependent on. Hoping that the other teams will understand the impact of moving an item further down the roadmap creates a setup for failure. 

While making a change, clearly articulate why it’s happening and the impact it will have on other teams and their roadmaps. Having a defined change request process can help ensure that impacts have been fully evaluated and other teams are aware of the changes.

 

Tinder team working
tinder

Tinder Senior Product Manager Aaron Silvers follows a multi-step process in ensuring a team is aligned along a product roadmap with a quarterly timeline. That method always begins with defining the high-level business goal of the project and what success will eventually look like. 


 
What steps do you take when developing a product roadmap to ensure there’s early alignment across teams?

There’s a series of steps a PM can take to foster alignment. And the team must be aligned at each step before moving to the next. 

First, identify the business problem and goal of the team because they must have a clear alignment around and understanding of the problem they are working to solve. Then, agree on the roadmap timeline, which involves setting initiatives and priorities. Generate all possible solutions to the business problem and prioritize the initiatives the team finds most compelling. For some teams, this is a series of semi-unrelated tasks that attack the problem on multiple fronts. For others, it is one coherent feature set phased out.

Next, build out milestones and reflection points. A product roadmap is supposed to be an evolving tool. Milestones help orient the team toward action and give clear direction. Reflection points allow for sensible modifications and adaptations. 

No matter how much planning goes into the roadmap, something will always change.”

 

How do you maintain that alignment throughout the development cycle? 

For each initiative, identify the specific business problem and what success looks like. Results should ladder directly up to a high-level business problem. By clearly articulating how a single initiative works toward solving the team’s mission, it becomes easier to maintain alignment. 

In a recent example, my team had to make a tough decision to delay the launch of a feature. While this was a tough call, we were all aligned because the delay meant we could launch with better-localized copy. 

 

As the project needs change, how do you re-prioritize the product roadmap and keep teams aligned?

No matter how much planning goes into the roadmap, something will always change. Setting this expectation early on will go a long way toward keeping the team aligned. By setting up milestones and reflection points throughout the quarter, a PM can create a feedback loop to allow for reprioritization without it becoming disruptive. 

Lastly, identifying the priority of each initiative during the product planning process makes reprioritizing based on new information or directives easy; teams will only have to build on top of existing work.

 

TigerConnect team
tigerconnect

The end of a product roadmap can’t be realized without communication. Teams at TigerConnect reach company-wide, unanimous agreements on how to best see a roadmap through. Getting buy-in from multiple departments is a practice VP of Product Phil Leung said helps generate insights that positively affect a project’s production. 

 

What steps do you take when developing a product roadmap to ensure there’s early alignment across teams?

The product team views each new idea through the lens of our company’s business objectives. That goal is the basis that determines if an idea is worthwhile to pursue. 

We maintain a strong alignment with the customer department, and a number of roadmap items originate from discussions with them. We are also engaged with the sales team to understand the ever-evolving buying climate. Their insights are also major inspirations for our roadmap. 

When seeking buy-in across departments, final roadmap decisions are made through unanimous agreement. Ideas are presented at our executive meetings with all departments represented, and each item is weighed against commercial and customer values, along with their effort to build.

Final roadmap decisions are made through unanimous agreement.”

 

How do you maintain that alignment throughout the development cycle? 

As soon as we have a project plan in place for a new feature, and we have ideas on how to iterate future phases, we’ll share the strategy across different departments to seek validation. Most recently, we shared plans for our telehealth product line with the enterprise sales team. It helped us immediately validate assumptions, update priorities and calibrate sequence, all on the fly. The feedback they gathered from recent demos and pitches turned out to be valuable insight for us. 

Throughout the dev cycle, we continue to have regular check-ins and updates with other departments. Having a high level of cross-functional transparency and fluidity has been an effective way to keep priorities and interests aligned.

 

As project needs change, how do you re-prioritize the product roadmap and keep teams aligned?

Changes like scope adjustments or new corporate priorities happen. And we’re fortunate to have the right instruments and processes in place to help guide our actions. I depend on our roadmapping and demand forecast tools that help with visualizing bandwidth and where we may be overloaded. These tools help us make trade-off and sequencing decisions in collaboration with other teams. 

We also have recurring cross-department sync-ups where the product team may join a customer department meeting or we may join a sales meeting. The product and engineering teams meet even more frequently to discuss updates or changes to the product roadmap.

 

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