Woosh. 2017 was intense. So much happened in current events and business and everywhere else. We saw product managers take on a more critical role within companies than ever before. Yet amid all the topsy-turvy there was one thing that did not waver — the power of the written word.
I was looking for some inspiration. This was back in October 2016 and we were in planning mode. Our product teams at WhiteHat Security had spent most of the year struggling to stay true to one annual roadmap. But as we looked back, it was clear that what we had said we would do and what we were delivering simply were not the same. Why?
It was my first week as a new product manager. There were already a ton of feature requests coming in from different teams. Most were partially defined and very few were prioritized. I was drowning in requests. There was also a pile of customer ideas that needed review, release timelines to plan, the list went on. Where to start?
Public speaking. I have learned to really enjoy it and consider it an honor. I have done a lot of it over the last ten years. Although I do understand the anxiety some people feel looking at all those expectant faces. The nervous jitters or pressure to put on a show. But the audience is not that scary. They are just people like us. No, there is something else you should be afraid of that is related to presentations — it might surprise you at first.
“I cannot believe it is almost 2018.” You will be hearing this from your family and friends pretty soon. But if you are a product manager you can believe it. This is because you have been in 2018 planning (hopefully) for weeks now — already making plans for next year.
There is a plague infiltrating your office. Sales? Already infected. Most of the other teams are sick now too. The symptoms make people act lifeless — paranoid thinking and nonsensical talk. You might even hear folks muttering, “We are behind.”
Who is the most misunderstood in technology? I would say it is the person who plans what will be built next. This person — often called the product manager — is a puzzler to many. Just consider how many different job titles are used for people who do the work of product management: product manager, product owner, business analyst, and even program or project manager sometimes. To keep it simple — let’s refer to these folks as product managers.
“What are you planning to deliver in the second half of the year?” We were wrapping up a meeting with our customer advisory group when someone asked me this question. As a product manager, I should have known how to answer. Unfortunately, I caused more confusion than good. Here is what happened.
I have never been a fan of fire drills. Not the drills to ensure you can get out of a building in under 120 seconds. I am talking about the ones that every marketing team knows and dreads — the last-minute, hair-on-fire work problems.
Great products are typically the result of having a breakthrough plan. That’s a strategy. Aha! makes it easy to set your product vision, goals, and strategic initiatives and link them to your releases and features. We call this the “red thread of strategy” and believe that it’s fundamental to the roadmapping process. And now you can visualize, via an interactive diagram, your entire strategic business and product framework.
So, you just built an awesome roadmap. Congrats. Customers are going to love it because you prioritized what many of them were asking for. You did a fine job working with the sales team to make sure they were aligned with the product’s direction. And engineering was standing tall right by your side in full agreement.
The product roadmap is one of the most essential documents your company creates. It shows what your product aims to achieve, how it will fulfill important goals, and how your product will impact the larger organization.
It’s amazing what you learn when you stop talking at work and start listening. This is particularly true when you are meeting with the world’s best innovators and product builders. We get to practice our listening skills a lot because at Aha! we speak with hundreds of product managers each week.