How to manage product roadmap changes
June 15, 2018
June 15, 2018
Like anything that involves budgets, timelines and human resources, the reality is that even the best laid plans are never exactly as you want it to be. Costs can be higher than you anticipated, developers can be sick or move on to a new job opportunity in the middle of a sprint and overall estimates are wrong and features take longer than you think to complete at times.
A big part of product management is understanding what you are communicating about your product roadmap and how to communicate change when your product roadmap changes. Not only can your timeline change for your product roadmap due to budget, costs and resources but also the market conditions are constantly changing around you and what seemed important to get in an upcoming release is no longer as important as it once was and some new feature has become even more important to your customers. You get the idea, building your product roadmap is trying to hit a moving target where as product manager you have little control over the key factors that can cause impacts to your plan. This is why learning how to manage product roadmap changes can really make or break customer loyalty for a product team.
When you build your product roadmap you always need to add in buffer and oversize changes knowing that things are never what they seem and there will always be a complication but what is just as important as the product roadmap planning process is the communication plan that goes along with it. Knowing that a feature planned for this next few months get bumped out to next year at any time means you need to have an air tight communication plan so when it happens (and it will) there is less impact to the change. Here are some tips to help you learn how to manage product roadmap changes.
Set expectations at the start. When you communicate your product roadmap, you need to communicate the factors that go into how a feature made it to a release and also communicate the factors that can cause the feature to be delayed. You should never commit to a specific date when you are describing your product roadmap as even big targets like saying it will be ready in Q3 of this year may be a lie and it gets bumped into Q1 of the next year. Level set every time you describe your product plan as “goals” and “target dates” for the features but remain noncommittal to a release date as even when a project is going well to deliver a new feature you never know what can be found during testing that sets back the release a few days.
Provide Updates Periodically. No one likes to be blindsided by change. Chances are you know early on that a feature is becoming at risk of the goal delivery date. Don’t be afraid of using a status like on schedule, at risk, delayed or other ways to give stakeholders a rough estimate of how things are progressing and keep the updates visible so they can check in and see the progress on the features they care about. Publish roadmap updates to your team and users so they know what is still coming but can start planning around features that have been delayed. The earlier you can let a user know that a feature is delayed, the less upset they will be as they will have time to react and ideally come up with a workaround until it is ready.
Be human in your communications. Always remember your customers and teams are people and they rely on your product. When you have a delay, you are causing them a potential impact. In your messaging, be direct about the update but also show empathy that you understand the impact the delay is causing. You need to explain why it was delayed and reset expectations on the new delivery target for the feature. Let your users and team members understand the importance of the feature, the cost to their business the delay will cause and how they can track the progress of the feature for the future. Do not be a robot, be human in your communications and it will go along way.
When your product roadmap changes and features that were planned get pushed out it can be chaotic with support and there can be upset customers but how you handle the initial publish of your product roadmap can go along way to manage expectations and how you manage your product roadmap on a normal basis will help limit surprises and impacts.