Detailed plans for the future, while important, have never really helped teams be agile in a situation that calls for transformation. But few product leaders build roadmaps without waiting for external change to improve their offering.
On this note, Chargebee talked to Jodi McDermott, the CPO of Dude Solutions, and Navya Gupta, the CPO at Peek.com, who shared their first-hand experiences on embracing change, building pivots in their plans, and reimagining the future of SaaS products in the world of disruption.
Here are the major takeaways from the session:
The Makings of a Great Product Roadmap
Successful businesses today leverage innovation to grow and stay ahead of the curve. This innovation can happen in different ways, and product innovation is a crucial part of it. And the best way to channel that innovation efficiently is through the product roadmap, which essentially acts as a blueprint for the company.
According to Jodi, the product vision – what you’re trained to create – and the product strategy – what the company should pursue-should be the guiding principles for sound product roadmaps. So, apart from working with stakeholders, clients, prospects, sales, and product managers, it is vital to work closely with the executive leadership of the organization to answer critical questions about what the business is trying to achieve:
Do we want to grow geographically? What vertical markets do we want to be in? Are we trying to increase the average order value? Where do we want to win, and why? How is the organization best set up for us to execute that plan?
These strategic initiatives play a big part in ultimately what flows down into a product roadmap. Once you have them in place and have alignment across your leadership team, the product roadmap then underpins executing that plan.
Agreeing with Jodi, Navya relates product strategy to building a house. The product vision – the essence of your product, the “why” behind your build – forms the foundation of your house. On top of this, you have another foundation of customer centricity to cement the product vision further. To do so, build the narrative around your customers. Leave them a seat at your table and ask yourself, “what would the customer say?”.
Once you’ve achieved alignment with the customer narrative and product vision, you must erect the pillars, which are the strategic initiatives or critical questions that Jodi mentioned. Ensure that these pillars are feasible, measurable, and deliver exceptional value to your customers. The final aspect is to build the roof of the house, which is the communication.
As a leader, you might pick the best features that make the most impact, but it depends on how well you communicate it by answering questions like; “Why is this house the best you can build?”, “What is the strategy behind it?” and “Why did you pick this?” ~ Navya
Achieving Product-Market Fit
Navya advises not to make plans unless you have a product-market fit. She says, “invest in iterating, talk to your customers, and figure out what you’re building before planning out and tying up your resources.”
And sometimes, an essential part of it is going roadmap-free once in a while. This is when companies want to make big bets on problems that are uncertain. For instance, Peek carves out capacity in its roadmap to solve those uncertain problems. They call it ‘Peek Labs’ and have observed some of the best practices of working in a roadmap-free world.
Firstly, you need to have a strong business justification and be able to say, “this is a problem worth solving.” After which, you need to staff and fund your team and give them free rein to be boundless while trying to solve the problem. Not having limits on creative capacity is vital. However, there is a trade-off – by solving one uncertain problem, you’re not solving a hundred other problems. So, the mark of a great product leader is also to know when to stop. At some point, you have to understand that you worked without a roadmap; you experimented and failed – but learned from it. And that’s when you course correct. Add more funds to set up your strategy and your roadmap for the following year.
In Dude Solutions, Jodi’s team builds heat maps to understand feature functionalities they have today and the market segments they can sell. Once they realize their product is a good fit for a particular segment, they enhance it via their product roadmap to achieve their business goals. Here, she talks about the importance of innovation in big companies.
“If you are a startup, quickly iterating until you get that core five to ten referenceable customers, you have essentially solved your business problem. But growth comes from continually adding on to that.” ~ Jodi
Through it all, whether you’re a startup or a large enterprise, constant experimentation and iteration in your product are what will set you apart.
Managing the Product Roadmap
According to Jodi, the core tenet to managing your product roadmap understands capacity. Ensuring a good split between the care and feeding of your tech stack as well as feature functionality. For instance, Dude Solutions starts with a basic model of 30% capacity that goes to the tech teams, and 70% goes to the product. And the latter is further broken down into maintenance, sustenance, growth, client satisfaction, and feature functionality.
“I encourage my product managers to push themselves in the growth bucket since it’s easy for the product roadmap to be stuck in the sustainability treadmill or become very feature-focused. If that happens, then there aren’t any new product releases or modules that you can cross-sell or upsell to grow and ensure client retention.” ~ Jodi
Navya agrees that there needs to be a balance between all the various streams that product managers could go into – growth or sustainability. To not be stuck in a rut, she suggests having a goal every quarter to launch something innovative that nobody else has, as Peek does.
“Innovation and differentiation are our contributions to the industry, making sure we are moving it forward. And that’s something that I always iterate to my product managers to help them think outside of the box and not just deliver what they think the customers want.” ~ Navya
Future Trends of SaaS
When asked about how the SaaS industry might evolve, Navya excitedly shared her belief that vertical solutions might be the future. For example, in ride-sharing, can technology empower the driver who finished the ride to tell him exactly where to go based on where the demand is expected at that time or day of the week? Or, can an app empower a hairstylist in the beauty industry to automatically remind someone that it’s time for a haircut because he always picks it every six weeks? Or, let’s take the travel industry. Suppose there’s a walking tour in San Francisco. Can technology automatically adjust prices and online booking cutoffs to improve profitability for a bus company to ensure they’re not running empty or with minimal customers?
In these different examples, the common trend is that they’re all vertical. It’s about understanding the needs of your customers along with the industry and tailoring to that. And we see the same trend across other sectors like hospitality, retail, and real estate. “Various industries in combination with what can be possible with mobile SaaS, tech, and AI is quite thrilling for me.”
Jodi believes that the future of SaaS involves the large-scale transformation of traditional business models into SaaS solutions. According to her, many on-premise applications sitting in government back-offices are suitable to transition to the cloud. For example, there is an opportunity to transform how governments are trying to build smart cities. It can start from to optimize the routes of trash trucks through the city. The trucks will only go to full bins because the IoT sensor on that bin has sent off the signal. “There’s a massive untapped market for SaaS. The opportunity for transformation is all around us.”
In a nutshell, we’ve seen what goes into rethinking a product roadmap – from defining the product vision and strategy to the importance of executive alignment and listening to the customer. Check out the list of all the change-makers from the Champions of Change Summit 2021, here. We’re also decoding change one episode at a time on our Champions of Change Podcast. You can listen to it here!