How to Align Teams Behind a Product Roadmap

Janey Zitomer
March 30, 2020

At PEAK6, the investment firm’s users are more important than sticking to a roadmap schedule, which helps its team meet clients where they are. Principal Product Manager Clay Johnson said the company makes plan adjustments as necessary, prioritizing consumer feedback and market trends. An unintended benefit? Forced collaboration across workstreams. 

“That alignment has allowed our teams to coordinate and deploy with few dependency issues,” Johnson said. 

Despite the temptation to add resources to a roadmap production cycle, Pangea VP of Product Shafiq Shariff advises creating a plan based on what’s currently at your disposal. That way, teams can incrementally address the next highest impact resource bottleneck and develop a set of scenarios that would benefit from additional hires.

In general, Johnson, Shariff and Chief Product Officer Kevin McDunn of SMS Assist all try to stay the course while preparing for necessary alterations. The Chicago product leaders recommend consistently reassessing user value propositions as teams develop product roadmaps in line with business goals. 

 

SMS Assist
SMS Assist
Kevin McDunn
Chief Product Officer

McDunn’s colleagues at SMS Assist work on strategy and discovery in parallel with product delivery. Their cross-functional scrum teams allow employees to carry out business-themed objectives while thinking outside of the box. While a certain initiative might be beneficial long term, McDunn recognizes the benefits of prioritization. 

 

When developing a product roadmap, what steps do you take to ensure there’s alignment across teams from the get-go?

The first step is creating a vision for product and development followed by a strategy to achieve that vision. When I first came to SMS Assist, I interviewed customers to understand the business. I met with the existing team to learn their thoughts on what we should be prioritizing. 

Eventually, we were able to identify some emerging themes based on consumer value and how well certain factors support our company strategy. That’s how we came up with our unifying vision statement. Collaborating as a team to first establish this coherent, hierarchical set of values and objectives allowed us to align everyone toward a singular overarching purpose.

We work on strategy and discovery in parallel with product delivery.’’  

 

How do you maintain that alignment throughout the development cycle? 

Early on, we developed cross-functional scrum teams that exist in a dual-track scrum approach. While many companies practice Agile methodology, we work on strategy and discovery in parallel with product delivery. 

This approach empowers our product managers to bring creativity and ingenuity to initiatives while supporting our evolving strategy. That way, when we revisit our priorities every two weeks and then on a quarterly basis for long-term feature release planning, our team remains aligned on our goals for the rest of the quarter, year and years to come.

 

As project needs change, how do you re-prioritize the product roadmap and keep teams aligned?

One of our core values at SMS Assist is “relentless innovation,” a spirit of constant versatility and tenacity. This value extends to our approach toward product needs, which are constantly shifting in response to changes in business demands.

Strategically adjusting our priorities and roadmaps during our biweekly and quarterly check-ins is a crucial part of the process. Our team knows that sometimes we have to defer certain initiatives and accelerate others in order to help our business thrive.

 

Clay Johnson
Principal Product Manager

The PEAK6 team has built an automated solution that presents a unified view of their roadmap. This approach allows the entire investment firm to see all product plans and delivery team progress. Johnson says the company leverages its roadmap tooling for internal product team discussions and external review.
 

When developing a product roadmap, what steps do you take to ensure there’s alignment across teams from the get-go?

We have a consistent, consolidated view of the roadmap day to day. Any distance, physical or temporal, between roadmaps creates switching costs and introduces discrepancies. 

We’ve seen success when firm OKRs have driven prioritization. Outcome-based goals create natural downstream alignment. When conflicts emerge, we leverage both goals and user value in resolution discussions. This is easier to say than it is to practice. It takes time and patience.

Constant communication across product managers is a must. They educate and challenge each other on what is usable, valuable and feasible. Roadmap plans are part fact and part art. Roadmap consumers should not have independent assumptions of the “what” or “why” of the plan.

Roadmap plans are part fact and part art.’’  

 

How do you maintain that alignment throughout the development cycle?

We understand that the needs of users are more important than sticking to a roadmap schedule. Adjustments to our plans have focused on our users’ needs and even regulatory changes. Prioritizing our users and business metrics forces collaboration across workstreams. That alignment has allowed our teams to coordinate and deploy with few dependency issues.

We have recently made strategic shifts in how we want our platform to serve our user base. A primary delivery team is working on changes starting with a prototype implementation. Other teams have identified both dependencies and opportunities while this work is underway. The product managers have started to add and change plans to use, support and measure new features for their own products. In parallel, they have also contributed back to the primary team’s product plans. 

Our single, unified roadmap highlights dependency and schedule conflicts allowing for clean coordination. The flexible nature of our tooling has allowed us to capitalize on opportunities as they arise and stay in sync across delivery efforts. These have been especially important given the current distributed nature of the teams.

 

As project needs change, how do you re-prioritize the product roadmap and keep teams aligned?

As we’ve shifted to a high-volatility market, we’ve made rapid adjustments in delivery.  We deprioritized longer-runway items and focused on short-term needs. Our focus on ad-hoc communication ensures we address dependencies as soon as possible. 

The focus on outcomes also allows us to de-scope expected deliverables. We’ve split roadmap items when the first part of the deliverable has fulfilled the goal. This strategy allows us to not only maximize ROI, but also frees up pockets of time for unplanned work.

 

At Pangea, final roadmap approval often hinges on whether all stakeholders can see underlying principles at work. Cross-functional planning after every couple of sprints also goes a long way in getting products across the finish line. At the money transfer organization’s most recent quarterly planning meeting, Shariff said the team brought new products to market and validated new, low-cost acquisition channels. 

 

When developing a product roadmap, what steps do you take to ensure there’s alignment across teams from the get-go?

Efficient roadmap alignment occurs when stakeholders can “see” the principles underlying the choices made in the final roadmap. At Pangea, we begin planning for the subsequent quarter by concretely documenting a one-page prioritization framework that ranks what we need to accomplish as a business.  

Additionally, roadmap planning gets exponentially more difficult with the option to add resources. Baseline a plan against current resources, incrementally addressing the next highest impact resource bottleneck to develop a set of two or three scenarios that would benefit from additional hires.

We’ve built our alignment clock ticks around two-week sprints.’’   

 

How do you maintain that alignment throughout the development cycle? 

Fintech products like ours require a great deal of cross-functional work across a range of departments. New feature launches require regulatory oversight, risk management processes, marketing outreach and more.  

In planning for the next quarter, we ensure the appropriate functional heads have confirmed all dependencies. That advanced cross-functional planning paired with a sync after every two development sprints goes a long way. Teams are better able to understand how products and tests are performing, how our learnings will impact the roadmap and what the next key milestones are.

 

As the project needs change, how do you re-prioritize the product roadmap and keep teams aligned?

We’ve built our alignment clock ticks around two-week sprints. The Monday after our Friday sprint demos, we discuss where to allocate our next sprints based on what shipped and what we learned. This method gives us early visibility into any intra-quarter changes teams should expect. We consolidate this information into the monthly product update every four weeks, which unites all teams if there has been any drift.

 

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