Getting buy-in for your roadmap

Whether you’ve built your roadmap up from a set of features or down from a set of strategic initiatives, you want to get buy-in across the organization. Here’s a simple technique.

Roadmaps and roadmapping continue to be popular topics for product managers and product marketing managers. Perhaps it’s because roadmapping is such a critical strategic activity but no one is quite sure if they’re doing it right.

A roadmap looks beyond what you’re doing now. It explores not where you’ll be soon but where you could be a year or more down the road.

A roadmap begins with ideas, sometimes large epics or themes and sometimes just a laundry list of features and user stories. Likely you’ll have assessments of the importance of that idea to the business and to your target customers. You probably have some estimates of sizing too.

You stick all that in a spreadsheet, move some stuff around, and then present your roadmap to various internal audiences. And whap! you get smacked in the face. “Where the feature for my top customer?” “What about cloud?” “I thought the new infrastructure was going to be next.”

I’m sure we’ve all had occasions where colleagues questioned the roadmap priorities or even supported it strongly during the team meeting but then complained bitterly about it immediately afterwards. In some cases sharing your roadmap internally a no-win scenario but more often, not getting support for the roadmap results from not getting buy-in from the people who sell and support your product. They cannot see how you came up with your list and how you chose to put one thing in front of another.

So here’s a technique to align your roadmap with internal priorities:

Show them your process.

Explain the different factors you use when you’re prioritizing the roadmap: impact to customer, number or percentage of customers affected, revenue and cost estimates, strategic initiatives, and so on. Explain the formulas. You want them discussing the factors and the weights, not complaining about individual items. You want them to buy-in to the columns, not the rows. Once they see a method in your approach, they’re more inclined to support it.

But let’s take it further. Ask representatives from each team to say “yay or nay” to each item on the roadmap.

Each idea has one point already built in, since the idea had to be accepted by product management to get on the list. We’ve added a section to the roadmap for internal buy-in with a column for each organizational group. Each group can say whether that item is critical for their group or their customers.

getting buyin
getting buyin

In this case, it’s clear that the first feature is important to everyone. Further down you can see the sales and marketing teams are big on the social media integrations while the post-sales groups want real-time status updates and point tracker. The leadership team seems to want everything!

I’ve found that people are more inclined to support something when they’ve had the chance to define it or at least contribute to its definition.

Some facilitators choose to limit the number of votes per operational area. There are 11 items in this list; give each team 5 or 6 votes and see what happens. Like the game of musical chairs where there’s always one chair fewer than the number of children playing, this approach prevents people from choosing everything and really forces them to prioritize.

This method enables you to earn buy-in from your colleagues and leadership.

But wait. Who’s missing?

That’s right. Customers are missing.

Some companies prefer to keep their internal plans internal. But others—particularly startups—find sharing their roadmaps can be a great way to promote and validate innovation plans.

You could use this same approach at your next customer meeting. Or use a voting tool like UserVoice to expand it to more groups. You could choose to add a column for customer votes but it’d be better if you added a column for each target market segment. Then you can see that Japan and Korea want certain capabilities while Western Europe wants a different set. Or you can distinguish the needs of financial services from those of manufacturing.

I used a similar technique with my customers using jellybeans and fishbowls. We had many big initiatives—more than we could do—and no clear strategic direction from inside the company. So I held a customer advisory board meeting of a dozen customers. At the side of the room I had a dozen fishbowls, each labeled with the name of one initiative. I gave each company a bag of 50 jellybeans and asked them to vote. Some were very careful, putting 7 beans here and 17 beans there, but one customer (our most vocal) threw his entire bag of jellybeans into one fishbowl, saying “I can’t keep using your product if you don’t complete this!” This “jellybean and fishbowl” method is simple; it’s easy to explain and it doesn’t cost much.

Ideally you want to create a prioritization scheme that makes sense to both colleagues and customers and one that doesn’t require too much technology to support it.

Want buy in for your roadmap? Create a prioritization scheme that makes sense to both colleagues and customers and that doesn’t require too much effort to support. Solicit feedback and insights, and then show them the math. When they understand the logic behind your longer-term plans, they feel part of the process—and are more likely to get on board.