A Brief History of Product Management: Starts With a Spark
Product management was originally seated in marketing but has evolved. It's still misunderstood but it's now getting the recognition it deserves with product people...
The product roadmap presentation might be one of the most important meetings that a product manager has with internal stakeholders. This is, after all, often the go/no-go meeting in which the product manager either comes away with the green light from her executive management team, or is told she’ll have to improve the strategy before receiving approval to move forward.
But because they miss a fundamental yet counterintuitive truth about what these presentations are really about, many product managers prepare for and deliver their product roadmap presentations the wrong way. Worse, it is often this poor presentation — and not an inherent flaw in the product strategy itself — that leads to a thumbs down from the team.
Here’s that fundamental truth. At its essence, a product roadmap presentation is not primarily about sharing information. It’s about evangelizing your product strategy and persuading the stakeholders in the room that the plan and objectives you’ve laid out are the right ones to pursue.
“Although a roadmap presentation covers a lot, it’s less about sharing info than about evangelizing your strategy.”
This might sound counter to much of what you’ve seen, heard and learned about from other product managers. A product roadmap presentation will obviously cover a lot of information. And on the surface, it can certainly look like a meeting that is meant to share information. If you’ve developed your product roadmap in the right way, your presentation will likely cover the major epics of your planned development, strategic objectives for the product, the timelines involved, probably some detail about your targeted customer personas, and the metrics you will be looking for to determine success — such as revenue targets and market share.
And yet, even if you’ve done all of the work in strategically thinking through these details, and even if you’ve put them together in such a way that gives your product the best chances of success, that is no guarantee your product roadmap presentation will earn you the buy-in you need from your stakeholders.
You can still come away from your presentation with a big fat no from your executive team — or a big fat “Huh?” from your developers, if the presentation is to them — if you don’t follow that fundamental truth and craft your product roadmap presentation just as strategically as you’ve crafted the plan for the product itself.
If this were simply an information session, it might not matter so much how you presented your product’s strategic plan. (Of course, any information session will be bolstered if it is presented enthusiastically and in a persuasive way, but this is particularly important when it comes to your product roadmap presentation.)
But remember, your primary goal with a product roadmap presentation is to evangelize for your product’s plan.
With that in mind, the worst thing you can do is dryly recite the facts, no matter how compelling those facts are, and simply rattle off a list of features you’ll be developing and what timelines and resources the project will require.
Don’t hold back your enthusiasm! You obviously arrived at this plan, this set of strategic objectives, after diligent research and some serious thinking and brainstorming. This is the plan that you believe gives your product and your company the best shot at success. That’s exciting news, isn’t it? Share that excitement with the room. As long as you can back it up with logic and data, that enthusiasm will spread to your audience as well.
Remember the last PowerPoint presentation you sat through where the speaker simply read the text on the slide? You don’t? That’s probably because you slept right through it. And because you weren’t awake, here’s a little tidbit you missed: Everyone else in the room slept through it, too.
That’s how your product roadmap presentation comes across to your audience when you simply project your roadmap onto a wall and then talk through the document, detail by detail. Nobody in the room gets a sense of your larger strategic vision, so you lose any ability to persuade them of your plan’s merit. And the people in the room probably won’t remember most of the details anyway.
So when you present this way, you take a strategically vital meeting — the product roadmap presentation — and turn it into a snooze-fest that accomplishes almost nothing.
Talk about your strategic vision! When sharing your product roadmap, explain the ‘why’ behind your decisions. Better yet: Persuade your audience of the merit behind that ‘why.’ Refer to your product roadmap document — the epics, the timelines, etc. — only after you’ve oriented everyone in the room to your big-picture thinking. Only then will those details start to make sense anyway. (And only then will the audience still be awake.)
Because they come so well prepared for these meetings, many diligent product managers can’t wait to share all of the information they’ve gathered with their audience. They have a long list of interesting features they’re planning to build. They’ve developed a complex but workable plan for deploying the right resources on the right parts of the product’s development, and they want to walk the audience through that as well. And they probably also have many useful pieces of data relating to total addressable market or average sale sizes for comparable products.
But in rattling off all of these details, these product managers forget the lede — the headline, the overarching strategic objective or best-case scenario for their product if it has a successful market launch. And remember, that lede is precisely the reason you’re calling this product roadmap presentation in the first place. So it needs to come first in your presentation.
Don’t just jump in and overwhelm your audience with ground-level details about the day-to-day operational plan for your product, or all of the individual data points and metrics that led to your decision to prioritize one feature over another. These details, almost by definition, cannot inspire anyone in your meeting to enthusiastically sign on to your project, let alone to want to dive right in and help you make it happen.
Tell a story! Explain to your audience that you’ve identified an important strategic problem to solve for your market — a way to help your target user personas avoid or minimize a real challenge they face, or a way to wow them and make their lives better. Then show them how your product — not every feature, but a high-level elevator pitch of the product — can solve that problem. And then show the room what solving that problem, and building the product the way you’re envisioning it, will mean for your company — more revenue, more market share, a competitive advantage, whatever.
That’s how you present a product roadmap! And in case you’re wondering, this is how you build one.