For many product organizations, the end of a quarter means it’s time for roadmap review. Choosing to do this on a quarterly basis helps ensure teams are taking the feedback they hear from customers and applying it to future iterations of their product in a timely and regular manner. However, other departments, and likely the organization as a whole, also set goals during this time. Some of these may affect your roadmap or even be at odds with it. 

So, what happens when plans immediately change at the start of the quarter, and your roadmap suddenly becomes outdated? Too often, teams inform their internal partners of what their plans are, only for those plans to change unexpectedly. 

Working on a product operations team has helped me to understand the pain points felt by internal partner teams when roadmaps change. Oftentimes, other departments are informed late about an adjustment to the roadmap. For some teams, expectations are not set properly that these changes might even happen to begin with.   

Any healthy product organization wants to deliver a clear, concise future direction to both internal teams and customers. Here are a few ways to ensure that you aren’t leaving your roadmap meetings with a plan that is immediately outdated. 

Manage expectations from day one

While we all know that plans change, managing expectations on plans and features inside your roadmap is key before sharing it with your team. For example, groups like sales and success may be talking with your customers and prospects about what features and functionality are to come in the future of your product. Many rely on the information they see inside the roadmap to provide that information. And when a feature fails to ship when the customer or prospect expects it to, it can damage that relationship. It can even hurt the bottom line. 

To make sure your teams are telling the right story, only include items that you absolutely plan to build. Since none of us can predict the future, always caveat with the explanation that plans may change. Setting that expectation and understanding that upfront will help to eliminate confusion and frustration in the long term. And when changes do occur, communicate them as quickly as possible. 

Keep conversations steady year-round

Just because roadmap planning happens quarterly doesn’t mean that conversations about feature development should only happen then. If anything, the roadmap planning should be a final checkmark on plans that have been created throughout the quarter. Setting regular rituals between product management, product design, and engineering ensures that no one is surprised by what they hear once the roadmap is released. In addition, keeping teams up to speed on product plans helps to foster inclusivity and influence across your entire team. 

In addition, as soon as plans change, having an internal change communications playbook can help alleviate some noise. Knowing how your entire team will update one another on new plans will help to build trust across the entire group. 

Be in lockstep with your customers

Customer feedback is core to building out your roadmap. Making that feedback easy to deliver can help assist your team in receiving the knowledge they need to build the right plans for your roadmap.  Tools like Pendo and others make it simple to collect customer feedback in real-time and keep you and your customers aligned. Customer interviews can also unlock understandings about your product that can influence your roadmap. 

No matter which path you choose, getting regular, consistent feedback from customers goes a long way. Your customers will always be the prime source of where they see your biggest gaps. This is especially true of customers who are detractors. While it’s tempting to only seek feedback from your most satisfied customers, what your unhappy customers have to say is likely much more valuable. So make sure these customers are just as involved in your process as your internal teams.

Remember that plans will always change

No matter what, something will most likely cause a delay or unexpected update, if not in the short run, then in the long-term. The important thing to remember is that with any product team, keeping communications open and managing expectations with your customers and colleagues is what matters most. Happy planning!

About the Author

Kim Blight is the product operations lead at Sprout Social. She’s passionate about product teams, advocating for parents in the workforce, and women in tech. When not hanging out with her son and family, she can be found writing or watching the NBA.