When an entrepreneur starts working on their SaaS business, they have a more or less clear product in mind. What they want the product to do, why they want it to do it that way, and for whom they are doing this. And with that clarity comes a product roadmap that’s well charted, documented and thought out.
Most of the times though, it is a mistake to approach it that way. Mike Tyson said it best:
Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.
The reality of your business does something similar to your product plans. How you thought your product would be used, how it would be most valuable and how consumers would be deriving value off of it might end up being vastly different from how it eventually turns out. And if you are approaching the whole business with a set product plan and roadmap in mind, you will get a solid punch - right in the jaw.
The best product roadmaps are flexible. They are agile. And more than anything else, they include the users of that product.
What does a typical product roadmap look like and why that’s a problem?
Simply put, a product roadmap is a visualization of your product vision. It outlines your product’s growth path, includes a tentative timeline and priority order of release features. It also includes your overall business vision and the product strategy, bringing it a full circle to outline the product lifecycle.
Good product roadmaps include all stakeholders. Tech team, product team, sales team, marketing team. Everyone.
Best product roadmaps recognise that the most crucial stakeholder of all is the customer using that product. So unless your product roadmap is aligned to your customers’ expectations and usage behavior, it will always fall short of the mark.
The problem with your typical product roadmaps lies in the fact that they are often static, pre-defined (therefore fixed), and defined around solutions (i.e. they are solution oriented, instead of how they should ideally be - problem oriented).
Just look at our business, for example. I am sure there are countless ways in which we can improve our product roadmap, but for the time being, let us just talk about the cards we have on the table. As we have discussed on this very blog in the past, and as you would continuously see reflected in our communique and website copy, we always talk about the problem businesses face, the need they have for growth, and how the dependence on analytical, statistical and marketing expertise hinders their growth. That. That is the problem statement we always start with, and we move from there to figuring out the possible solutions to those problems. Solutions that are not complex. Solutions that are value generating. Solutions that would be intuitive, concise and on-point.
For us, it doesn’t matter how many features we are shipping out every week, or how aesthetically pleasing the interface is. For us, the first priority, and quite often, the only priority is how many growth-related challenges can we help our consumers with. If they are aligned with what the product is about, great - those go onto the product roadmap. If they aren’t, then we try figuring out alternate ways in which we can help our customers. (The first place of course is this blog.)
How do you figure out your customers’ problems, and what you need to do to validate them?
So, if your product roadmap is going to follow a problem first approach, how do you do it? You need to figure out your customers’ problems, roadblocks and challenges.
How far do you go down that particular rabbit hole?
The first thing to do is realise that unlike Alice who eventually lands into Wonderland, this rabbit hole is pretty much endless. The deeper you go, the more branched out you will find the rabbit hole to be. And none of those branches would be worthless. They all are problems and challenges a sub-segment of your users are facing. So, if you dive in head first, you are likely to have a very very bad, overwhelming and noise-induced experience.
Then what should you do?
Start with a macro level problem. In our case, that problem is simple “the need for growth”. This helps us keep an open mind and consider a bunch of different approaches in which we can contribute a solution. And off the many approaches we hypothesise, experiment with and try, our customers’ usage behavior would lead us to identify the ones adding the most value to sizeable chunks of our audience. This approach keeps our product roadmap flexible enough to introduce new approaches, solutions and features, and yet moving in the right direction as far as the grand plan and bigger picture is concerned.
Have clear success metrics for your experiments.
When you deliberate, ideate and even launch a feature or a sub-feature, how do you decide if it needs to be in the product or not? After all, you can’t keep on launching one feature after another week after week. If you did that, you would be presenting and extremely bulky, overengineered product in front of your customers, and somewhere in all that mess would be lost the value generating components of your product.
So if a feature isn’t valuable, just dump it. Or at the very least, push it down the discovery process so that it doesn’t take up valuable real estate on the ‘quick access’ sections of the product.
There needs to be a method to help you do this. And the only acceptable way to do so is to get a sense of the percentage of users engaging with and using that feature - once, and then again and again.
This will also help you segregate your target audience into smaller, more targeted and focused sub-segments that you can focus on with a more on-point messaging.
That’s it. That’s all you need to keep in mind to have a product roadmap that adds value to your processes, instead of having an obscure document dragging down the success potential of your business. If you want to discuss your product roadmap, or have any questions about how to grow your SaaS business, you know where to find us.
That’s it for today, see you tomorrow.
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