How we build our Product Roadmap at Asana

Before Asana I worked at Google and Microsoft, and I learned two very different ways of approaching company strategy.

Microsoft was very top-down: Our senior VP crafted a strategy, and then our junior VP crafted a narrower strategy for our division, derived from that one. Our GPM then wrote the one for our division, and PM leads would parcel out the projects to people like me. The strategy was clear, but it was very hard as an individual contributor to make a difference.

Google was very bottom-up: Each team decided independently what they wanted to work on, and told the Director. The director would pick their favorites and send those up to the VP as their strategy. The VP would pick their favorites and send them up to be company strategy. The other work would still get done, it just wouldn’t connect into the strategy. As individual contributors, we had a lot of autonomy. But, often people outside the team wouldn’t think the work was strategic, leading to canceled projects and wasted work.

At Asana we wanted to get the best of both worlds: a clear strategy where everyone can connect the dots from their daily work to the company mission, and a collaborative process where the people closest to the work can influence our direction.

We believe strongly that having clarity of purpose, plan, and responsibilities helps everyone at a company do their best work. The way we represent this at Asana is with The Pyramid of Clarity.

The pyramid starts at the top with our company mission, the ultimate goal we are all working towards. Help humanity thrive by enabling all teams to work together effortlessly.

We then break the mission down into our high level strategy. It’s a little more detailed than this, but it basically rounds up to:

  1. Make a product that makes teamwork effortless
  2. Get that product to all teams
  3. Make Asana the best company at doing 1 & 2

Our Mission and Strategy stay consistent over time, but each year we get together cross functionally to build our Objectives collaboratively. Objectives are the year-long goals that we believe are most strategically important to be successful in the next year. In 2017 we had 14 Objectives, including 4 company-wide ones (eg. growing revenue), and 4 product ones (eg. making the product fast).

It’s no easy task to get input from everyone across the company on what we should be focusing on for the next year. Some people are very shy about sharing their thoughts, while others are disproportionately loud. It can be hard to prioritize across wildly different ideas coming from different groups with different perspectives. It’s important to hear and understand all of the ideas, but also to be brave enough to say no, and to explain why so people can trust the end result.

We’re always iterating on the process, but I generally like to combine an open call for ideas with a structured process for soliciting ideas.

One of our most important processes is “Voice of the Customer”, or VoC. Each customer facing and business team works with all of the individual people to create their own top-10 list of product requests. For example, the customer support team considers the number of tickets and the sales teams consider the value of the deals lost. The owner of VoC then works with business leadership to combine those rankings and socialize back to the individual teams to get their buy-in. This creates a single top-10 list that the whole business org agrees on. At the beginning of 2017, app performance was at the top of our list, and we really rallied around making a big investment there.

To gather even more input, we ask each PM & Eng Lead, and representatives from Design & UXR for their ideas, and scour through our “Product Opportunities” project where people from across the company have been adding and voting on ideas all year.

We then work in parallel on choosing our Objectives and defining the Product Roadmap. If there’s product work we feel is really important, we figure out what higher goal it levels up to. If there’s a company outcome we feel is really important, we consider what work we could do to achieve it, and how much work we can fit into a year.

One approach that really works well here is considering our roadmap like a portfolio. We of course use Asana for this — creating a project with tasks for each piece of product work and custom fields to match it to Objectives, Business value, and Cost. That makes it really easy to reorder work to be above or below the line, and to discuss and clarify the work in the comments of each task .We look at what percent of our efforts is going towards each Objective, and then we can adjust our plan at that level if the balance seems off. In addition to balancing across Objectives, we also balance across other dimensions like small wins vs. big bets.

Once the Objectives & Roadmap are settled, we pull it together into a big all-hands presentation where we draw the vision for what Asana will look like at the end of the next year and examples of what kinds of work we might do . We go into detail on each Objective to connect it to the overall company strategy. This is one of the most important presentations we do all year because it helps every person at the company get clarity of purpose.

Then we get to the bottom of the Pyramid of Clarity, the KRs, or “Key Results”. KRs are the goals teams set for each Episode (6 months). Each KR has an assignee, a due date, a clear definition of success, and directly connects to an Objective. Teams determine their own work and their own KRs, and the Objective owners review the KRs to ensure that the work we’re doing will actually add up to achieving the Objective.

Here’s an example of what all those dots connecting looks like in practice. There was a person at Asana who worked on finding ways to send less data over the network whenever someone opens Asana. That work was in service of a KR to double the speed of loading data. The KR was in service of the Objective to make Asana fast. The Objective was in service of strategy point #1: Make a product that makes teamwork effortless (since waiting for an app is the opposite of effortless). And that strategy is in service of our mission of helping humanity thrive by enabling all teams to work together effortlessly.

Our product roadmap is one of the things I’m most proud of at Asana. We consistently hear from people across the company that they believe we are working on the most important things. People across the company have a clear vision of what we’re building and why. We’re intentional about what we choose to do and what we choose not to do.

We constantly iterate on this process to make it better. For next year, we’re looking at ways that we can be more problem-focused rather than solution focused and have PMs and other people work on project proposals throughout the year. We’re also considering how to best incorporate more long-running teams while still retaining the flexibility to shift people to the most important work.

How do you do roadmapping at your job? I’d love to hear in the responses below!