How does your approach to influencing a 3 year product vision vs. next quarter or next year's product roadmap differ?
I find that the key difference between influencing a 3 year product vision vs. features for the next quarter are about the precision / availability of information.
The next quarter can typically be assessed pretty clearly. You can talk to customers / do research into what their needs are now and you can often make some predictions about what the benefit will be addressing that need.
When influencing a long-term product strategy, you often have to identify static needs / jobs to be done for a client and long-term trends. For example at Facebook, it's pretty clear that businesses still want increasingly efficient ways to acquire customers and at the same time there is an acclerating trend toward a more private internet. I can bank on these factors when helping to determine what to do next. At the same time, you'll also want to help the product team make "good guesses" when things are less certain. For example can you draw on analogies from other industries to give an idea of where your market is going?
I will also note that I recommend thinking of long-term visions as "living documents". It's your best guess at a point in time as to the future. You will likely need to revisit it regularly as you get more information about what is coming.
For longer term roadmaps (a year out), I think about how to grow the company’s TAM. What are potential new personas, industries, or use cases we’re already seeing organic traction in and could build on if we had supporting product functionality?
For a quarterly roadmap, I think about how I can influence the highest impact products already on the roadmap. you can use to identify opportunities to add value throughout the product development process.
Quite honestly I haven’t been at an org yet where folks outside of the executive staff had influence over the 3 year vision.
I dont actually think my approach changes. I tend to believe that the process will yield results and my process to influencing roadmap focuses on acting (in my head) like I'm the owner of my product:
- what users use my product?
- what are they thinking/feeling as they go through the journey to understand and ultimately use my product?
- is there a known gap in terms of what would make them use more of the product?
- is there a common denominator that is driving either upside or downside for the product?
And based on that understanding of the user and the product, specific features fall into place. Low technical cost updates with immediate usage impact that fit within the long term narrative make sense as next quarter launches. Big things make sense as next year launches. Fundamental shifts make sense as 3 year updates.
Each horizon requires buy-in from the PM org themselves to prove the business case for what you're trying to suggest, which I tend to believe comes from:
- usage data
- market analysis
- desk research
- comissioned research
- narrative creation
- awarness / consideration / preference metrics
As you look to shape near term roadmap, you may need less stakeholders in the room and less prep work to prove the business case for your suggested roadmap enhancement. As you look to shape long term roadmap, you probably need more stakeholders in the room (and more senior ones at that) and more prep work to prove the strategy.
So the main difference in approach is the amount of work required, but its made easier if you have a sound process that works for you to achieve xfn buy-in and you scale that process as necessary.
The closer you are to the product launch, the more tactical the PMM has to be in influencing the roadmap. Products that are coming out in a quarter are close to being built (if not already built) and have very little room for adjustment. If Product Marketers are only being brought in at this stage, the PMM's primary way to influence the roadmap is to work with Product to define launch success metrics and provide feedback post-launch on what did or did not work. This will help with future iterations of the product.
More strategic Product Marketing teams generally work with product teams to plan launches about a year in advance. With a year's worth of lead time, PMMs can more effectively share perspectives on what should be adjusted in the roadmap based on market and buyer insights, competitive intel, win/loss analysis, customer feedback, etc. This gives PMM and PMs time to collaborate back-and-forth before jumping into launch execution. One year of lead time to plan the roadmap tends to be a good goal for SaaS companies that want to create a strategic launch process that accounts for perspectives from across the product and GTM teams.
At three years of lead time, most companies are defining their overall strategy and vision, not necessarily just a product roadmap. At this time horizon, PMMs can help the company think through overall positioning and how this needs to evolve given the dynamics of the market and movement of competitors and other players in the industry. Here PMMs can contribute towards a SWOT analysis of the company, providing recommendations for areas to pursue and avoid as the organization considers where to focus in the coming years.