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Managing the Product Roadmap: Why Everyone Has to Pull Their Weight

The other week I had the pleasure of meeting product management genius Janna Bastow. Janna is not only the co-founder of product management software company ProdPad, but is also organizing various events and meetups for Mind the Product, an international product community with over 5000 members and events in more than 25 cities around the world.

We had a long conversation about the trails and future of product management and the most strikingly obvious yet important ‘issue’ — finding the balance between long term strategy thinking and vision as well as bottom up insights from customers and sales leads and how all these feed into features and building the product roadmap.

Here are a few of my takeaways on negotiating the complicated world of product management, courtesy of just an hour of Janna’s time.

1. Vision is crucial

Here’s a word that gets its share of overuse. Yet again it’s super relevant! A lot of companies get started in order to solve a customer problem and it’s all about getting the right people into the picture: your customer (the purchase decision maker) and the end user.

However, only listening to customers might lead you in a different direction than you intended when starting the business. So greater focus on the long term vision cannot be underestimated.

2. Product management is something that happens everyday

Having said that, starting out with the vision is crucial, the reality of product management is in the every day of the business. The hard bit is staying focused and avoiding the trap of starting out with the best intentions.

Again, key is keeping lots of the right eyes in line and regularly reviewing the goals. And on top of this, your customers will have loads and loads of input on what they want to see added to the product.

3. But product management isn’t just the product managers’ job.

It’s quite funny to imagine a product manager running brainstorming sessions on their own. But the reality is that the best product decisions will be made with input from all areas of the business, taking in account the needs of the customers, the abilities of the technical team, and the aspirations of the business.

To steal someone else’s great description, Marty Cagan describes the job of the product manager as “to discover a product that is valuable, usable and feasible”. The product vision, roadmap and ongoing development should have input from all parts of the organization, not just the Head of Product.

Bringing it Together

Straightforward, right? It may seem so, but I’ve seen quite a few companies fail for product mismanagement — for example, by only listening to end-users and making bespoke changes to the product, and therefore losing sight of the long term vision.

The other most common problem is being driven too much by a top-down vision and losing sight of what the end-users and paying customers actually need. The key for me is that responsibility and accountability is company wide.

Paying attention to this balance is not solely the CEOs or the Board’s responsibility — everyone needs to pull their product management weight!

Check out ProdPad — it might help you manage the daily work of product.

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