You would think it is trivial — a startup product features and roadmap always reflect the company goals, right?
Well, wrong. In many cases, I find it not to be the case. Many times a company’s product feature set reflects yesterday’s goals. I have seen many cases where the product reflects the organizational structure of the company, and in worst cases, it reflects a power play where strong product leaders get center stage and other important product features are hidden. Some product roadmaps reflect the fact that the team does not know what the top priority is, or does not agree with it. Sometimes, technical teams build frameworks and platforms just because it is fun or technically challenging (I definitely had that experience). Many people get attached to features and projects and keep doing them even if priorities change. Often people have team goals that do not connect to the top company goals and thus build things that are disconnected from the company goals… I can go on, but you get my point.
After seeing these illnesses in many startups, as well as my experience in Google, Microsoft, Twitch, Slack, and Twitter. I have come up with a few simple ways to better connect your product roadmap to your company’s goals. Here they are.
Clearly and repeatedly communicate your company goals
I can not stress this enough. People have an unlimited ability to misunderstand, forget, misinterpret, and not hear about important things just as their company goals. You should put the goals in every company presentation, you should send it in an email to the company, you should send a Slack message about it, you should state it verbally often. You should ask people in the company what the goals are, as well as what is the most important goal if there is more than one.
Choose goals that are achievable, tangible, measurable, and preferably connected to customer value. Make sure each team understands how their own goals and activities tie to the greater company goals. Make sure people understand why the goals are important and why their contribution to it is important. Again, this is where connecting the goals to customer value/pain is helpful.
Let’s imagine that you are a startup that already has 20 customers, but keep seeing churn that hurts your bottom line. Here is an example for a goal:
Goal #1 — Reduce churn by 25%. Users tell us it is hard to onboard and use our product and 45% of them churn.
When goals change, do the entire process again.
Make sure the product roadmap is reviewed in light of the goals
Now that everyone knows the goal, you need to build processes that ensure that what each team builds is connected to these goals. This can be as lightweight as adding a column to a roadmap document that states how the feature helps the goal, or as heavy as building a prioritization process that orders features by impact to each of the weighted goals. It is up to you.
A good practice is to frame each feature in a way that clearly connects to the company goals. Here is an example:
Pricing page redesign — 25% of our users find our pricing page confusing, making it hard for them to pick a plan, resulting in the churn of free customers when they move to a paying customer (towards our goal #1 — reduce churn by 25%).
When company goals change, make sure to stop doing all the projects and features that are not connected to the new goals, or at least time-box their completion. Many times I find teams continuing to work on old priorities way after these goals no longer matter.
Allow up to 20% of the product and features to be connected to important things that are not connected to the goal. Bug fixes, scale, reasonable refactoring, small customer requests, and technical debt. At Amazon, we used to call it Operational Excellence. And doing it on an ongoing basis helps you not deal with big migrations or churn, in the long run.
Measure features and products based on their impact on the goal.
Many times we release a feature and run to build the next one. This is bad because we do not learn if a feature is actually useful, and if we build the right thing or need to iterate more to get it right. Every feature should be measured, preferably in a way that connects it to the goal.
If we continue on our previous example of a redesign of the pricing page — it is not enough to measure that 10K users went through the new flow and that many said the new colors are amazing. It is important to measure that they were more inclined to pick a plan and convert to paying users — resulting in a 17% reduction in churn, going towards our goal of churn reduction by 25%.
Be transparent with goals progress
At Slack, we had a channel that automatically reported on user adoption, churn, and ARR on a daily basis. When I visited Monday.com last, I was delighted to see progress charts of top goals all around, on screens on the walls. When people live and breathe the company goals, especially when they are connected to customer pains, they make better product decisions faster and better.
To conclude, connecting product features to goals might seem trivial, but many companies big and small get it wrong. With the right communication, process, customer obsession, and measurements, you can ensure you are building the right thing, and building it right!