Your product team has limited time and resources, and you can’t accomplish every initiative on your product development wish list. Whenever you build or update a product roadmap, you’ll need to weigh the costs and benefits of several competing goals. Common examples include:
- Targeting new user personas
- Capitalizing on trends in the market to be the first to offer new capabilities
- Creating a higher-priced version of the product
- Cleaning up technical debt or fixing product defects
Effective product roadmaps include user feedback as a key factor in deciding which goals to pursue. In this post, we’ll discuss how user feedback can affect your company’s priorities and how to gather these all-important insights.
First, though, let’s discuss why feedback from customers should play a role in your team’s strategic planning.
The Product-User Relationship Should Be a Conversation, Not a Monologue
An entertainment reporter once asked the music-producing duo Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis how they created so many hit songs. (The Grammy Award winners wrote and produced dozens of chart-toppers for artists such as Janet Jackson, Mary J. Blige, and Mariah Carey.)
Jimmy Jam said that neither producers nor artists can make a hit. They can make songs, nothing more. A song becomes a hit only if the audience decides it’s a hit.
That’s how products work. Your team can build, release, and market a product. But that product becomes a success—meaning it finds product-market fit—only if users deem it a winner worthy of their money.
Because your users play an important role in determining whether or not your product succeeds, you need to speak with them on a regular basis. You need to learn about your users’ needs, goals, and frustrations. That’s the only way you’ll know the solution you’re building will hit the mark and make your customers’ jobs or lives better.
A common pitfall is to build your product in a vacuum, where the only suggestions and ideas you hear come from other stakeholders within your company. Many teams make this mistake, treating their product-user relationship as one-way. Here’s our product; please buy it. We’ve updated our product; please buy more of it. Hey, we’re releasing a new product. Please pre-order it.
Instead, treat your team’s relationship with users as a two-way conversation, not a monologue. Listen to your users. Ask for their input. Use that feedback to deliver solutions that address the problems your customers care about solving.
Where to Find User Feedback for Your Product Roadmap
There are plenty of ways to gather user feedback for your product roadmap. Here are a few proven methods.
1. Conduct in-depth customer interviews.
Find a few existing users of your product, and schedule a 30-minute Zoom meeting with each of them. You can’t schedule many of these calls because you’re a product manager and booked solid. That’s the downside of one-on-one customer interviews.
But the upside to these meetings is significant. You can dive deep with each customer and learn about their routines, hopes, goals, and fears. The more you listen, the more you’ll discover that could help you build the ideal solution for their needs. And people love to talk about themselves, so as long as you keep the conversation centered on your customers’ goals and challenges, you can learn a lot.
A variation of the one-on-one customer interview is the Customer Advisory Board. You’ll select several customers to represent a cross-section of your user base and hold a series of in-depth meetings with the group. Your goal is to learn more about their hopes and challenges and what they want from your solution over time.
Is your company just getting off the ground and building your first product? No problem. You can even collect customer feedback when you don’t have any customers.
2. Send out surveys.
One-on-one customer interviews and advisory boards are terrific for uncovering the deep insights that surface only during in-depth conversations. The drawback of these meetings is that you can have them with only a few people.
If you want user feedback for your product roadmap from a broader swath of users, survey your customers. You can even send surveys out to people in your target market who haven’t yet bought or tried your product.
The key to successful surveys is to think strategically about the questions you’re asking. Answering survey questions takes time and energy. You want to use that time to gain strategically valuable insights about what users like and dislike about your product, what they want to see added to it, and why.
Writing the questions, determining how many questions to include, and enticing users to take the time will require experience and skill. If you’re not sure where to start, read our article: How to craft a great customer survey.
3. Review your product analytics.
Assuming you have a product on the market, another great source of feedback is product usage data. Product managers tend not to think of data in the product itself as user feedback. That’s understandable. It isn’t feedback in the traditional sense: Users don’t intentionally send it to you as feedback. But your product’s usage data does offer direct visibility into how your customers interact with your product. In that sense, it can be the most valuable user feedback for your product roadmap.
The insights you gather from reviewing your product’s usage data can uncover clues to where to focus your team’s time and resources. It can also add important context to the data you gather from your other user-feedback efforts. In some cases, you might find users responding to your survey in ways that contradict how they’re actually using the product today.
Want more ideas for gathering user insights? Check out our article: Customer feedback opportunities most product managers miss.
Caution: User Feedback Is Only One Factor That Should Influence Your Product Roadmap
As we noted in the introduction, user feedback should play a role in helping you prioritize initiatives on your roadmaps. You don’t want to ignore your users’ input as you build and improve your products. But you don’t want to fall into the opposite trap either: Prioritizing the roadmap entirely based on what customers ask you to do.
As a product professional, your job is to lead, not follow. Your users don’t always know what they want. Remember, when Henry Ford asked people to describe their vision for improving transportation, they suggested a faster horse. When it comes to what they want from your product, your customer isn’t always right.
Yes, you need to solicit user feedback. Then review what that feedback tells you—for example, that customers really want Feature X—against your business’s other strategic objectives. You’ll need to weigh these competing goals to decide which ones earn the limited space on your product roadmap.
One great way to do this is to use a weighted scoring platform, such as the one built into the ProductPlan roadmapping app.
You can use this platform to rate the benefits vs. costs of each initiative, including those you’ve identified based on user feedback. Then, you’ll have a more concrete basis for choosing one project over another.
The key is to remember that user feedback should play a role in how you prioritize your product roadmap. But feedback is only one part of an ensemble cast of strategic inputs helping you decide what comes next for your product.