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How to Provide Product Roadmap Status Updates

“How do you provide effective product roadmap status updates for your diverse stakeholders?”

A PM recently came to me on the verge of burnout from too many status meetings and never-ending decks for her globally distributed teams in different functions. 

As someone leading program and product management for companies big and small with teams in over 100 countries, I have also had my fair shares of status updates and meetings.

Here are a few tips to make it easier:

  1. Know your audience’s unique needs 
  2. Build a communication cadence with the right frequency and format
  3. Invest in a source of truth system 
  4. Automate multi-dimensional, multi-horizon, multi-channel updates

Let’s look at them in more detail.

First, it’s important to recognize that knowing where we are now and where we are going is essential for any organization. Ensuring the right type of product roadmap information for the right audience not only enables success for your organization, it actually elevates your role. 

How? The right information in the right format enables your audience to achieve their goals, which makes you invaluable to their success. 

1. Know Your Audience’s Unique Needs

Above all, we must understand the purpose of roadmap visibility. Everyone involved in suggesting, prioritizing, designing, building, shipping, selling, and supporting products needs to know the state of roadmap. They need to know what product teams are (and are not) building, when features will be available (at least from a technical perspective), how the product should be used and communicated, and so forth. So your stakeholders can make effective, outcome-driven adjustments to their work.

A product and engineering organization typically has various information needs from the following stakeholders:

what to communicate in a product roadmap status update to different stakeholders chart

2. Build a Communication Cadence with the Right Frequency and Format

Instead of having a default weekly or bi-weekly roadmap status update meeting,  set a meeting cadence more appropriate to the velocity of your product roadmaps – that is, do you have major features and marketing updates on a weekly, monthly or maybe even quarterly basis? This should help determine the frequency of stakeholder updates in a meeting format. 

What about between meetings? People can’t be in the dark for 2 week or even 2 months, right? 

That’s where a source of truth self-serviced format applies to your diverse stakeholders. 

3. Adopt a Source of Truth System

Product managers are often the connectors of both sides, but they can also quickly turn into bottlenecks. 

Single source of truth” is an information systems concept that ensures everyone in an organization uses the same data when making business decisions. Using it for roadmap visibility allows two things:

  1. Asynchronous access to the latest information
  2. Live status updates in dynamic formats

By automating updates directly from your team’s work, you not only streamline the PM’s day but eliminate both human error and information silos. 

Having a source of truth also facilitates top-down visibility that is crucial to teams (why A and not B). Knowing productstrategies and goals helps teams to maintain alignment. Instead of trying to find what’s buried in emails or PowerPoint decks, an always-on source of truth connecting Strategies and Execution empowers engineers to build with the right context. 

4. Automate Multi-Dimensional, Multi-Horizon, Multi-Channel Updates

While a source of truth provides bottom-up and top-down visibility, we don’t have to stop there. Applying portfolio management on top of that grants tech leaders an even wider view to spot opportunities or catch mistakes. Your product is your portfolio, which means you have more than just a list of features to work with— there are the goals dimension, the customer segments dimension, and many others that go into making outcome-based decisions.

Here’s an example: We had a Product Manager whose team was focused on retention features, everything seemed fine. It was only after she adopted a multi-dimensional view that she noticed “retention” was, in fact, last quarter’s focus!

Additionally, roadmap changes happen all the time. Your teams and stakeholders need up-to-date information to fully understand the impact of those changes to better plan their work, and minimizes disruption for both internal teams and customers.

The speed and quality of available information directly impacts the speed and quality of the decisions made so make your updates count!

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Quarterly Alignment is Replacing Quarterly Planning

Is quarterly planning still relevant in today’s dynamic, fast-changing environment? The answer is a definitive yes, but with a twist. Quarterly planning should not occur only once a quarter, and its deliverable shouldn’t just be a list of projects. Instead, it should be an exercise of continuous alignment on a quarterly horizon.

Some may ask – why do you need a quarterly cadence? With Agile, couldn’t we just continue iterating on the product in sprints? This takes us back to the need for the three separate time horizons of strategy and execution within an organization.

Every organization needs a longer-term, mid-term, and near-term time horizon with their own goals and respective strategies. Quarterly planning focuses on connecting the longer-term vision (e.g. annual) with the mid-term focus (e.g. quarterly), which provides strategic guidance for the next level of iteration (e.g. bi-weekly). Quarterly alignment is for agile leaders to provide context for agile teams.

company quarterly alignment across three time horizons

Here are some of the common challenges for product teams lacking responsive quarterly alignment:

  • Disconnect – Let’s say a product or feature launched from the previous period and hit the market. The resulting business impact may or may not have been anticipated. So, the company must adjust goals and strategies subsequently. However, these strategic changes often won’t reach the team in time or with enough context, resulting in the team continuing to execute strategies from 1-2 quarters ago.
  • Poor allocation – Many companies adopt stable teams or a full-stack team model (think pods or tribes) without adjustment. However, as the business needs change, the previous allocation by team may not support current needs. Some teams end up under water with too many mission critical features while others may not have the same level of delivery pressure, leading them to focus on their locally optimized roadmap.
  • Incongruent UX – Without frequent alignment across teams and functions, silo’d decisions and prioritization happens. Dependencies are exposed. To avoid lengthy delays, teams have to create work arounds. This creates a suboptimal user experience and “products with an org structure”.

Quarterly Planning vs Quarterly Alignment

Traditional quarterly planning aims to address these challenges, but it focuses on the output of a committed list of projects. While there are merits to this deliverable, it does not fit into the fast-changing environment where the list of projects will change through the quarter.

This is why quarterly alignment emerges.

Quarterly alignment is the process of connecting the longer-term vision with sprints and activities responsively via collaboration between executives and leaders and across teams on what we want to achieve and the strategies to achieve them. The outcome is a set of initiatives (aka programs) with defined goals that empower further innovation without misalignment.

How Do You Perform Quarterly Alignment?

Here is a time-tested framework:

  1. Define the top 2-5 goals and target metrics for the upcoming quarter. An OKR framework (Objective and Key Result) is a good way to start.
  2. Brainstorm and prioritize product features, marketing and/or other initiatives to achieve these goals.
  3. Identify gaps and dependencies in achievability and/ or resources (check out how to use MoAR to prioritize).
  4. Iterate between 2 and 3 until a good enough game plan (a list of initiatives enabling your OKR’s) is in place. Learn more about the rock, pebble, and sand method.
  5. Track both work progress and OKR progress to responsively adjust your team’s focus.

Quarterly alignment is not a “build it once and rest forever” exercise. Frequently review (on a bi-weekly or monthly basis) the current trajectory against the desired outcome, and adjust the detailed activities responsively.

Clarity and alignment are critical to the success of any company. Quarterly alignment is a valuable cadence to enable it, giving your company the opportunity to align teams and products against the goals at the OVERALL company level (see the MoAR Method). This way, your teams can innovate and move fast in the same direction.

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