Setting a company’s product roadmap requires prioritisation and the proper tools

By Jodie Hopperton

INMA

Los Angeles, California, United States

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One of the toughest things about product is deciding what to do when. This is often the source of most conflict in an organisation and we can’t always please everyone. However there are some ways in which product leaders have shown they can mitigate conflict and answer questions through process. Here’s a quote that I think sums it up nicely:

“Good prioritisation always comes down to what value can be achieved over a given horizon with a given investment or effort. Any great product pursuit will have trade-offs to consider from time-to-time.” — Michael Cerda, vice president of product of Disney+ on Product Board.

5 keys to successful prioritisation of the product roadmap

There are 101 great ideas from all over the business, some processes that need fixing, a few bugs, a couple of senior management passion projects, and perhaps the company is pivoting to a new subscriptions model. How do you prioritise the roadmap and decide what to deliver with the resources you have available, as well as keep relationships intact when you can’t please everyone? 

Product leaders are faced with these demands daily. Let’s break this down. 

1. How do you decide? 

Most leaders agree that prioritising the roadmap must be based on overall company objectives (we’ll go more into goal setting and measurement over the next few weeks). 

Gannett, owner of USA Today and the largest local news business in the world, uses three things to set priorities. Kara Chiles, vice president/consumer products, summed this up nicely in a recent Product Initiative Meet-Up I hosted:

Kara Chiles, vice president/consumer products at Gannett, shared these priority-setting guides.
Kara Chiles, vice president/consumer products at Gannett, shared these priority-setting guides.

  • Level of effort: For this to be truly understood, great specs need to be written with clear deliverables in mind. Gannett did a lot of training around this in the early days. 

  • Impact: It must work for the organisation as a whole and contribute to positive growth. 

  • Timeliness: The nature of the business in news is prone to urgency. As Kara says, we can “blow up the roadmap if we think it’s worth it,” but it has to be intentional.

2. Who decides? 

The short answer is everyone. OK, maybe not everyone, but each department that could have an impact on the product in question should be able to weigh in. Each department has different levers it can pull to help reach company objectives. Decisions cannot be made in isolation because they will inevitably ... CONTINUE READING

Roadmapping tools

We’ve been carrying out an informal survey of tools that teams use for roadmapping. Often these aren’t prescribed company-wide, leaving teams to decide what works best for them. 

Here are some things to look for when choosing the best tool for you:

  • Easy of use: An obvious one but necessary when multiple people, and multiple types of people, to spend time inputting to something. 

  • Flexibility: As well as being easy to use, the tool will need to give different users ... CONTINUE READING

Tweet of the week

This should actually be thread of the week. It’s a good one. Read the full thing here.

A good Twitter thread for product leaders.
A good Twitter thread for product leaders.

I’ll be going into both of these areas over the next few weeks so if you have anything to add or any comments, please send them my way! As always, I’m at  jodie.hopperton@inma.org.

Recommended Reading

The “CEO Guide to Product” by Tanya Cordrey: As many of us know, explaining product to people is half the battle! This is a great guide that breaks it down in smart, simple CEO terms. “At its heart, a product-centric approach focuses on outcomes not outputs. The success of a great product team can easily be measured through the value it creates for the company. This is very different from a project-led approach which is based on outputs (stuff being built), which as an approach is often more expensive and less successful.” Thanks to INMA member Peter Bale at Stuff in New Zealand for sharing this. 

“An introduction to Aggregation Theory” by Fredrik Haga: This is an excellent breakdown of Ben Thompon’s theory of the large Internet companies. Specifically on Facebook’s disruption of newspapers, he says: “So it turns out that what the newspapers actually had more than anything was a monopoly on the distribution of content in their region. Readers and advertisers to a large extent paid publishers because they did not have alternatives. Now that Facebook owns the eyeballs (demand) and can serve an infinite amount of content, most publishers are commoditised, lacking access to their potential customers, and have an inferior ad offering for advertisers. A newspaper might not like this and stop posting on Facebook, but that void will simply be filled by an infinite amount of other content that would love access to Facebook user’s eyeballs. Simply put, the newspapers have been disrupted.” Full article here. Thanks to INMA member Karl Oskar Teien at Schibsted in Norway for sharing this.

“Growing our business through customer value” by Jason Jedlinksi, The Wall Street Journal: One of a product leader’s most important decisions is identifying what NOT to do. We focus the organisation’s attention not only by clearly identifying targets, but also by declaring we’re not aiming there. We call these intentional tradeoffs. For example: Given our focus on customer value, we decided not to chase visit depth, pageviews per session or one more click. (We’re also not pursuing dormant members. If they didn’t start using their subscriptions during the pandemic, will they ever?). Jason also has some straightforward tips of some of the “quick wins” that have worked for WSJ: A prominent “View Watchlist” link on our desktop homepage led to a 90% increase in unique visitors to that feature. A new “Podcasts” link in our navigation drove a 16% increase in podcast plays in its first month.

About this newsletter 

Today’s newsletter is written by Jodie Hopperton, based in Los Angeles and lead for the INMA Product Initiative. Jodie will share research, case studies, and thought leadership on the topic of global news media product.

This newsletter is a public face of the Product Initiative by INMA, outlined here. E-mail Jodie at jodie.hopperton@inma.org with thoughts, suggestions, and questions. Sign up to our Slack channel.

About Jodie Hopperton

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