Why Product Managers Should Bring Their Roadmaps to Sprint Planning Meetings

Annie Dunham

Annie Dunham
Director of Product Management at ProductPlan

Physicist and futurist Michio Kaku theorizes that in the near future, robots and artificial intelligence will replace any job, or any part of any job, that involves processing or memorizing information. We won’t need humans to do that stuff anymore; computers will do it far more efficiently and reliably.

Think about your role: What makes you valuable as a product manager? Is it that you’ve memorized a lot of details about your product or your market? Nope. You could drop all of that info into a file or program a computer to hunt it down for you.

Your value is the human capital you bring to your product’s development (which Dr. Kaku describes as intellectual capital). It’s your creativity. It’s your ability to see the patterns and trends that computers cannot. It’s your emotional intelligence—your ability to empathize with customers, persuade executive stakeholders, and motivate developers. Robots can’t do those things.

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“Your value is the human capital you bring to your product’s development.”

Now let’s talk about your developers. What makes them valuable? Is it that they’ve learned a few coding languages? Nope. Writing code is only a small portion of what your engineers do. They, like you, bring human intellectual capital to their roles—a unique perspective on your products, the ability to identify an elegant solution you might miss, etc. That’s their real value.

So the question becomes: How can you extract the maximum amount of value from the human capital provided by your entire team?

One highly effective way is to bring your product roadmap to your sprint planning meetings. Here’s why this has worked so well for us here at ProductPlan.

Why Our Product Roadmaps—and Our Developers—Play Key Strategic Roles in ProductPlan’s Sprint Planning Meetings

As the director of product management for ProductPlan, I know how tempting it can be for a PM to walk into her sprint planning sessions, tell her engineering team exactly what two or three tasks she needs them to complete in the next two weeks, and then leave.

But here’s the problem with that approach.

As a PM, you are often in a head-up position: You’re looking out across your market, talking big-picture strategy with your product team and stakeholders, and discussing your product’s key benefits with your user community. This is why you’re able to bring that human capital to your role. You have opportunities every day to think creatively, get enthusiastic about your product and hear directly from the people using it.

Your developers, on the other hand, spend much of their time in a head-down position. They spend most of their days thinking about the products they’re working on not only from a strategic perspective but also from a ground-level tactical one: fix this bug, finish that story, and get the code ready for QA.

But what I’ve learned throughout my product management career, and what we’ve experienced at ProductPlan, is that by reviewing with our engineering team not just the backlog but also our strategic roadmap, we are able to get a lot more value from our sprint planning sessions than if we just gave them a to-do list. Specifically:

  1. We can tap in to our development team’s collective creativity (even genius), and discover new ways to get things done.
  2. We can get our engineers more enthused about their work—because they can see how the small items they’re working on for this sprint will be serving the product’s long-term health and creating a better user experience.

Imagine you ran a restaurant, and your wait staff treated the kitchen team strictly as task-doers. During the breakfast shift a waiter would pop his head into the kitchen and say, “I need an order of scrambled eggs,” and a moment later a waitress could walk in and ask for an order of French toast and a side of sausage.

Your restaurant could run relatively smoothly this way, but you probably wouldn’t reap any of the benefits of your chef’s’ creativity or enthusiasm. And that means you could miss many opportunities to create something special with your restaurant to create unique and memorable experiences for your patrons.

Now imagine instead that you told your kitchen staff the night before their shift began that you wanted to create a special breakfast experience for an anticipated 40 patrons the next morning—and, you added, “Let’s do something special.” Here you’ve given your chefs the chance to prepare the kitchen in the way that makes the most logistical sense to them. You’ve given them the opportunity to add some creativity and even a personal touch to their dishes. You’ve made them feel like strategic contributors to your restaurant’s experience.

Giving them your big-picture plans for the next morning’s breakfast is like letting them review your strategic roadmap.

Communicating Your Roadmap in Spring Planning Aligns Your Team

Why is this important? Because a strong correlation exists between your roadmap and your team’s human capital. The high level nature of your product roadmap makes it the perfect tool for communicating the meaning behind the work at hand. And it makes sense. Human capital is galvanized by passion and inspiration. Tap into the bigger picture with the help of your roadmap, and increase your chances of striking a chord with the people pushing your product forward.

You hear stories all the time of engineers coming up with innovative ideas for their companies’ products. That phenomenon can happen in any organization—assuming the product team sets the stage for it. This includes inviting the development team into the strategic conversation.

A company will be far less likely to reap the full benefits of its development team’s collective human capital if they just treat them like robots that need to hammer out a bunch of code. Use the tools at your disposal to constantly remind your entire team what it’s all for, and the genius will follow.

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