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Use data to drive the product roadmap
Data can be a powerful tool in building your product strategy and aligning it with the company vision. Get to roadmapping with this how-to breakdown
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Let data lead the way
It is amazing how products get made. An impressive number of departments have to perform in harmony for a company to offer the right solution at the right time and the right price. A lot of founders lean heavily on surveys and interviews to draw out how to build the product. But that leaves a lot of things to the gut. Intuition is a founder’s greatest weapon but the weapon can be supplemented by data.
More data allows founders to make informed and intelligent decisions. Roadmaps rallies each department around common organisational goals, all ultimately aimed at building the best product. Without a data-backed roadmap, it would be near impossible to prioritise projects optimally.
So we spoke to Shweta Doshi, Senior Director of Product at MindTickle, to understand what founders can do to optimally use data to road map their product.
“Product roadmapping in every stage of a company is a different ball game. Core principles will definitely remain whether you are in the early stage or in the growth stage.”
How to start thinking about the roadmap
First of all, at what stage do you start roadmapping? And how different is it, say, for an early stage company compared with one in the growth stage?
Roadmaps apply at every stage. Some things are constant. For instance, doing a solid competitive analysis and understanding where your strengths are.
But plans will depend on a few variables such as whether you are serving enterprises, or small and medium businesses.
They will also vary if you are in the pre-PMF phase in contrast to the post-PMF phase.
One caveat in the early stage is that you shouldn’t have a long-term roadmap. You can have a broad vision but you will need all the flexibility you can find.
Begin by asking questions, Shweta suggests:
First, understand your specific customer. Who are the kind of customers you are able to penetrate based on the deals you are winning? Why are you winning over this particular group?
Next, know the people. Who are the folks that come into the mix of the decision-making in these companies?
Also ask questions about the knots in your business. For example, what are your top challenges? Why are those challenges there?
What competitors are you constantly able to outshine?
Who are the competitors that have a good win rate over you? Why? What about them makes customers like them a lot.
The simple signals you are looking from here are about what customers did or did not like about your product. Further, find out how the product fits into their upstream and downstream systems. “If you realise that they are using a different product upstream, that could be an opportunity to expand into adjacent spaces beyond what you currently do.”
Beyond the product, you should also try to get a sense of whether your go-to-market actions are aligned with the needs of these customers. What is your current sales motion that’s working the best? Which motion has gaps.
“The idea is for you to get a thorough understanding of where your company currently stands. So look at the field data first. ”
A step-by-step approach to data roadmapping
Via Product Talk
Think of this as a simple SWOT analysis for your product. Shweta brings in an example here. “Suppose you notice a huge jump in commercial sales in the past three to four quarters, investigate whether your product has the ability to serve that customer effectively and maintain the net retention rate, or will that be a challenge?”
These observations will help you understand the gaps you currently have vis-à-vis the customers that are coming in. Wherever you are losing out, Shweta says you can plan to build competitive advantage in those areas in your roadmap.
The observations will also help you capitalize on your strengths. “For instance, if your AI capabilities are helping you win enterprise clients regularly, that is a sign for you to build that differentiation even deeper.”
Based on this, what will emerge is an ‘opportunity tree’. But you don’t want to go into a ‘feature factory model’ by rapidly adding features at this point, she cautions. Instead, ideate on what the problems need to be solved for, break down what success looks like for you, and what could be the metrics to measure your success, that way you can drive accountability throughout the product and engineering org.
Constantly keep tying all this back to the company strategy and ensure your roadmap will enable the company achieve its goals.
Building on that roadmap
The data begins to kick into action next. This is when you further define which are the best opportunities amongst all that you have identified.
One way to approach this is by diving deep into the usage patterns of customers who are your most vocal adopters, Shweta says. What does their digital footprint look like?
Examine what has led a customer to expand with you and renew your product. “Now, check how you can get the vast majority to feel the same way about you,” she adds.
Shweta recommends building a one pager for each of the gaps. It will help every product manager to think about building capabilities accordingly, from a top-down as well as a bottom-up perspective.
“When in doubt, apply first principles. Whether you are a startup building a roadmap for the next three months, or a larger company building a roadmap for the next year.”
Let the results speak
There will be noticeable changes in customer behaviour once you start doing this, says the product manager.
For one, you will experience fewer ad-hoc requests from them which is usually a problem in SaaS B2B that hijacks your roadmap and slows down what you want to do. This means customers are more in line with your vision too.
It is fair to wonder whether data is watertight. Could there not be false signals? Indeed. Shweta says it is best to be more informed by data but not dependent on data end-to-end. A lot of other evidence based on qualitative discussions with customers also should figure in the decision making. She shares more insights here.
Data comes in where you can pinpoint that a problem recurs across scenarios one, two, and three. That will help you solve for and get a big cheer from strategic customers.
A roadmap is especially powerful in the B2B SaaS context because it connects sales, marketing, product, and customer success.
“While building roadmaps it is hard to keep all stakeholders happy. So the trick is to keep internal stakeholders slightly unhappy, but make sure you are keeping your customers always happy.”
Last but not the least, you must galvanise the troops to act on these outcomes on specific timelines. Once you have a roadmap, the going certainly gets easier. But the work? That only just begins.
FYI: We’ve been trying to help founders with product building for a while. Here’s one with Satyajeet Salgar, director of product management at YouTube.
What Together has been up to?
Creating a bond: Our colleague, Avinash, spoke to two sets of founders, from Sprinto and RocketLane about how they stayed together through multiple startups. They bared their heart about how they handle conflicts, how they split responsibilities and how they create camaraderie.
A sidekick for you: We announced our investment in Betafi. The founders of the company want to streamline feedback and user research so it can help build better products.
That’s it from us for this time. Subscribe if you haven’t and stay tuned. We have a very interesting guest and topic coming up next month. See you then.