How to say “no” to a roadmap hijacker

 In Blog

How do roadmaps and best-laid strategic plans get hijacked or derailed?  What can product managers do to protect their products from the would-be hijackers (who are likely unaware of the consequences of their demands)?

Who is hijacking my roadmap?!?!

In many cases, strategic customers are holding your roadmap hostage. We all know how important these relationships are, and for good reason. During early adoption, growth, and other stages of a product’s lifecycle, these customers represent a partnership rather than a transactional relationship.  They strengthen your market position in several ways:

  1. Validating your product’s value propositions
  2. Demonstrating results with credibility
  3. Promoting your product through their thought leadership

Is there anything wrong with that?

Obviously, strategic customers fitting this mold can create immense value. But what happens when those same customers begin making demands of the product that fit their unique needs rather than those of the rest of the market?  Phrases like “we have no choice” or “we can’t afford to lose them” start popping up in roadmap discussions, indicating that a hijacking is under way.

How many market-oriented features have been sacrificed on behalf of a strategic customer relationships?  Why are ultra-specific asks made in the first place?  It’s not a customer’s job to consider the whole market, nor do they need to worry about finding solutions to their pains that also fit a bigger vision. They are simply looking to solve immediate concerns or problems.  Not only that, but customer executives want to know that their “investment” in your product has earned them something, and you prioritizing the features they request can feel like a tangible return.

Despite the risk of losing control of a roadmap to these customers, they’re still critical. And there are ways to preserve, and even strengthen, these strategic relationships while also protecting roadmap plans.  A few considerations:

  1. How would strategic customers think differently if they’d consumed all the research and market intel generated during the strategy or analysis phase of solution development?
  2. What long-term benefits would these customers choose over short term options, if they merely knew what they were?

The answer is in the future

The hijacking narrative doesn’t always apply, because successful outcomes for the product and for strategic customers need not be mutually exclusive.  But these customers can’t choose a future framed by a market-oriented roadmap if they don’t know what the product manager has in mind.  For this reason, an up-to-date external version of an organization’s roadmap is one of the best tools for saying “no.”

Use the exciting future that the roadmap points to as a means to tell a strategic customer, “we’re not going to do that, but we will be doing this, and here’s why this is better for you.”  These conversations take more effort than just agreeing, and they require continual focus on developing a roadmap that is tuned to the market, but the effort is worthwhile when a product’s vision is aligned with those of your most strategic customers.  They never really wanted to hijack your roadmap in the first place.

If you’d like to learn more about strategic roadmaps, either internal or external, schedule a call with a ZM Advisors consultant or register for additional content on the subject.

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