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How do you handle exec input in the roadmap, and convey a point of view while also accommodating?

11 Answers
Marion Nammack
Marion Nammack
Braze Director of Product ManagementFebruary 8

Let’s say that a product team and an executive team are aligned on the goal of improving customer satisfaction with the product (measured by a CSAT survey). The product team will then do research and perform experiments to validate the best way to impact customer satisfaction. Including executives in the research process via stakeholder interviews is a great way to get input early - executives are viewing things from a much different perspective than team ICs and often have great ideas. When the team prioritizes opportunities to pursue, the framework they use for prioritization can also be used to convey their point of view on the best way to impact customer satisfaction.

If an exec suggests making an adjustment to the roadmap during the team’s roadmap review, seek to understand why and dig into their thought process. Then, seek the truth. Is there a quick way to validate or invalidate the feedback? What does the objective evidence point towards as the best opportunity to impact the goals?

For more on this topic, I recommend “Cracking the PM Career” by Jackie Bavaro which has a chapter on working with executives.

Krishna Panicker
Krishna Panicker
Airbase VP ProductMarch 8

Exec input is key so that you're aligned on the company goals.

First get a breakdown from the Execs and finace on which levers the company intends to pull so that it achieves it's goals, and then categorise, eg, X% from new customers acquired , Y% from existing customers , Z% from cost savings.

Then map the biggest customer problems to each of these categories - this gives you your key themes.

Now that you have this mapped out

  1. First playback your understanding of the importance and priority of each category / lever
  2. Second highlight the customer problems that align to each category
  3. Finally flag high level features that map to the each customer problem. - Ideally you don't even need to show this as the feature level conversation becomes far less relevan once 1 and 2 are understood

You should now be getting useful feedback at the appropriate level and steering clear of the feature level discussion which will likely be a distraction.

Jacqueline Porter
Jacqueline Porter
GitLab Director of Product ManagementApril 13

This is certainly a tricky one! I like to think of a roadmap being made up of four sensing mechanisms: 

1. External stakeholders - investors, board members 

2. Market landscape - competitors, analyst reviews or reports, and prospects

3. Internal stakeholders - CEO, leadership, cross-functional teams 

4. Customers - install base or existing paying and free users 

When you are able to attribute the sources of your roadmap features transparently, it becomes a trade-off conversation with executives - rather than a top-down mandate. Being able to show that certain bodies of work have been sourced from competitors or analyst reports which show that you may be lagging behind, for example, is a great dialogue to have when it comes to prioritizing the input from the executives.

If the feature request should get done because you have applied a RICE score or some other type of validation, sequencing behind the most impactful items will be a great way to accommodate the request while delivering the most impact. 

Aleks Bass
Aleks Bass
Typeform Vice President Product ManagementJune 16

The most helpful way to maintain alignment with the exec team is to align early and often on the product vision and strategy. Those conversations will likely surface gaps or areas of misalignment that you can address or close at the strategy level before you ever get into a roadmap discussion.

If however, you find yourself at the receiving end of some exec input that isn’t aligned with a strategy you have socialized, there are several ways to handle it.

  1. Pull the suggestion into your input process and work the idea through your product development lifecycle to see if it will make it through your process fairly and as intended. Many suggestions will likely fall into this bucket and will eventually land on the roadmap, but the tricky part will be keeping the exec in the loop about the progress.
  2. Sometimes, the suggestions are fantastic, but the team is occupied with a longer-term project that is sequential in nature and it would be extremely disruptive to their progress or their morale to reprioritize something else. In this case, I’d raise this concern to the exec in question. Compliment the value of the idea, and mention that the team is not quite in a good place to take it on, but that you will explore it with them as soon as they complete their current work stream.
  3. The suggestions could be coming quickly and often, and way too frequently for your team to be able to accommodate them. In this case, I’d leverage tradeoff conversations. If this new idea is going to be prioritized on the roadmap, what item (of equal or greater effort) comes off?
  4. There are scenarios in which the suggestions are not aligned with the product strategy and vision the team has agreed to. If that’s the case, it’s important to surface it so that either the strategy can be adjusted to accommodate more of what the broader team was expecting or to stop investments like these from distracting the team.
Kara Gillis
Kara Gillis
Splunk Sr. Director of Product Management, ObservabilityOctober 31

Executive alignment on your roadmap is pretty key to getting funding and resources to deliver on your roadmap.

Your executive team probably cares about customer success, growth, and potentially things like margin/security/compliance.

Tie your roadmap to these outcomes very clearly. If you can communicate very clearly HOW your roadmap item helps achieve more than one of these outcomes / benefits, you are more likely to get buy-in. 

What happens when you disagree with the executive? Well, that depends on whether the exec is challenging your roadmap prioritization to understand where you're coming from as a mechanism for providing feedback OR if the exec is communicating a mandate to accommodate a strategic initiative. There's a difference. For the former, you can make sure to communicate how your roadmap helps achieve those desired outcomes. If the latter, accommodate away.

Richard Shum
Richard Shum
Splunk Director of Product ManagementJanuary 10

It's always good to review roadmaps with leadership on an ongoing basis. These touchpoints allow you to keep your leadership informed and give you the opportunity to solicit feedback. 

At the end of the day, gaining alignment is key to getting funding and resources. The leadership team is often looking to understand how your product is doing (e.g., usage, adoption, success stories) and how your roadmap can deliver additional impact (e.g., growth in usage, adoption, customer happiness). Clearly communicating how the roadmap can deliver outcomes will help you get buy-in.   

While unlikely, your leadership can use their power to overrule and change your roadmap. When this happens, kindly ask your leadership to help you understand why they are asking for the change. If the rationale isn't sound, it's ok to push back. If the rationale makes sense, use their line of thinking to help your team understand why the roadmap has changed.

Ashwin Arun Poothatta
Ashwin Arun Poothatta
Green Dot Corporation Principal Product ManagerApril 4

As a PM, it's important to seek input from and align your roadmap with executives regularly. Executives can be valuable in several ways.

  • Executives can help define strategy. They can use their expertise to guide your roadmap and prioritization based on company strategy
  • Executives can help refine the roadmap. They can challenge initiatives and question timelines or impact to help sharpen your roadmap before sharing it with the broader organization. It's crucial to back up initiatives with data where available, such as customer feedback, reduced churn, increased conversion, and build effort, to tell a story consistent with company goals and vision.
  • Executives can help identify gaps in the roadmap based on their exposure to leaders and decision-makers

Effective executive communication is a two-way street, and it's essential to convey and defend your story and vision while being open to input that will help the company put its best foot forward.

Paresh Vakhariya
Paresh Vakhariya
Atlassian Director of Product Management (Confluence)June 22

It is tricky but important to handle exec input. Here are some tips:

  1. Get a good understanding of the company objectives, priorities, OKR's and exec interest in your area.

  2. Articulate your product strategy and how it aligns with the overall business objectives. Explain how your roadmap supports the broader objective.

  3. Bring metrics data and customer to support your views. Also any competitive data as applicable.

  4. Clearly show all blockers, tradeoffs, and gaps. Ask for any resourcing or funding you may need.

  5. Show all alternatives you have considered. Seek input on alternative suggestions they might have.

In summary: seek exec input and make active changes to your strategy and roadmap accordingly.

Zeeshan Qamruddin
Zeeshan Qamruddin
HubSpot Senior Director of Product Management, FlywheelOctober 26

Finding the right balance of leadership input to infuse in roadmap planning is always a challenging endeavor. What has been most effective in my career is coming to the table with a clear perspective and reasoning for prioritization.

As a leader, staying in tune with the business should allow you to preempt those initiatives that are top of mind for your executive team. It is absolutely not an exact science, but building a bridge between 1. The company/executive priorities and 2. The areas that you would like your team to invest will create an organic overlap for the top items on the roadmap.

Ashka Vakil
Ashka Vakil
strongDM Sr. Director, Product ManagementMarch 20

Exec input on the roadmap can be a double-edged sword. It can bring valuable strategic insights, but it can also lead to feature creep or misalignment with the product vision. Start by understanding the context that led them to provide input and use it to augment your current thinking. Once you have reformed the opinion based on the new data, convey your well-informed point of view while demonstrating respect for their perspective and finding a solution that benefits both the product and the broader business goals.

Here are some steps you can take in situations where you receive input from an exec that you may not fully agree with :

  1. Listen to Understand the Context:

    Executives often have a high-level view of the business and market trends. Their input might reveal strategic opportunities you haven't considered. Let executives fully explain their vision and rationale behind the suggested roadmap changes without getting defensive or interrupting. Ask clarifying questions to ensure you understand their perspective and where they are coming from.

  2. Evaluate Objectively:

    Analyze the exec's suggestions through the lens of data and customer feedback - do they align with user needs and business goals? Assess the feasibility and potential impact of the proposed changes.

  3. Communicate Your Point of View:

    When communicating your point of view to the exec, back your arguments with data, customer insights, and market research. Use metrics to demonstrate potential risks or benefits of the proposed changes. Explain how your current roadmap aligns with the overall product vision and business goals. Highlight potential conflicts if the exec's suggestions deviate significantly. Be rational versus emotional.

  4. Make it Win-Win:

    Try to find common ground to make it a win-win. Frame the conversation as a collaborative effort to find the best solution. If the exec's suggestion isn't ideal, propose alternative solutions that address their concerns while staying on track with the product vision. Consider a phased approach where you can test the exec's suggestion on a smaller scale before full implementation. This allows for course correction if needed.

  5. Be Transparent and Provide Updates:

    Communicate the final decision to the executive team, explaining the rationale behind it, even if it differs from their initial suggestion. If accommodating the exec's input requires adjustments to the roadmap, set a clear timeline for implementation and keep them updated on progress.

Anton Kravchenko
Anton Kravchenko
Carta Sr. Director of Product ManagementApril 11

I usually focus on deeply understanding the "why" behind an ask or input. One time, I heard "We should build a new product A" directly from a CEO. Asking the question "why" helped me understand that the broader delivery organization was undergoing a transformation, and building a new product would support the business while creating customer delight.

In return, when conveying a point of view, I often refer to data or customer anecdotes. Offering customer-centric insights helps executives understand how our product shapes customer behavior, while data brings clarity to how it impacts larger business objectives.

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