18 April 2020  4 min read

How to convince your executives and get your product roadmap approval

executive participating a one on one meeting

Have you heard "we won't finance the product roadmap," and your product development process suddenly died?

Do you wonder why you didn't land funding for your fantastic product launch? 

Do you have a feeling, you should have worked harder on bringing executives on the same page?

Here is the article for you. Don't worry; I have been there. Ten years I have developed one of the best image recognition SaaS products in Europe, and finally, I haven't landed the executives' approval, and my product roadmap blew off. Pivot was my only way to get out of the situation. Today, I want to write not about pivoting, but about how to persuade your boss and get stakeholders approval. 

Mike Tyson said, "Everybody has a plan until they get the punch in the face" - trust me, you don't want that punch to come from stakeholders. 

As a product person, you can't build and design your product in the vacuum. Even if you are right with the first version, you will eventually feel that somebody pushes the brake pedal, and you start moving slower. If you feel this, stop and ask yourself, "What is the name of the executive, I forgot to talk about my roadmap."

Product Roadmap waits for a lot of input

Remember, you want everybody on the same page, pushing pedal to the metal together with you. Your first step - identify all your stakeholders. Here is the list, which always works. In small companies, a few functions might be located in one position. CEO can be customer service, for instance.

Which doors to knock?

  • CEO - as we all know, he or she makes the strategic decisions regarding many different layers of the business. Input from this level is essential, as it influences the whole company. 
  • CFO and Finance - these people understand how the gross margin performs and what level of ROIs are expected. If you want to persuade your boss about your idea, you need to knock their doors.
  • Product team - developers, data scientists, data engineers, project managers - all these folks, roll up sleeves every day to craft the best user experience. Also, machine learning specialists and AI-product managers are probably studying hard, to grasp what is new in the Artificial Intelligence space. I want to encourage you to continually talk to them, brainstorm ideas, and build the first versions of your product map with them.
  • Frontline people - sales reps, customer service, call center managers are always ready to respond to customer inquiries about bugs, flaws in processes, and other issues. They know what doesn't work. Get their input, and your roadmap will become stuffed with real solutions. 
  • Lawyers - these people protect the company from stepping into ugly things. You will not be able to persuade your boss if you don't get their input. I run a project for a global entertainment company. My team and I helped them to design new digital business models. Do you know who was the last mile, the most important? Lawyers. We gave them business model innovation training, explained how the business model strategy works. Afterward, they studied our roadmap and made modifications. We all were on the same page. 

As I mentioned before, nobody likes the punch. Get these people involved, and you will grasp the idea about what kind of roadmap is possible. 

Stakeholders management strategy is critical because you need key people to push the acceleration button together with you. 

How to get the product roadmap feedback and approval?

I cracked the process, which you can leverage in your product manager job. It is an actionable plan, ready to be deployed to the action.

Prepare your list

First of all, please prepare a list of specific people. Make sure you put the list in front of your eyes, and you be honest with you. The list needs to be comprehensive. Don't bypass anybody. Does the CFO is a tough guy, he always pushes you down and expects meat and bones, not sugar candies? Go to him first. Don't scroll him down to the list. Use the bullets, which are above, and build the names of your teammates. 

Company strategy is a compass needle, get it

Here is the story. I am working for a startup in Africa now. The guys who developed the company are amazing in fintech business. A few weeks ago, we had a video call, and they asked me about five ideas for new products or services they could develop. Without understanding their strategy, I could only shoot from the hip, so I showed up prepared like James Bond for his last action. No way to shine on the meeting, without being a strategy advocate. 

The product roadmap needs to love the company strategy. If you want to persuade your boss to about your idea, study the strategy. 

In 2019 Spotify decided to dominate podcasts landscape. The company spent $400 million on podcasts companies' acquisition. Bang! This is the field that you need to understand. Where to start? Grab the company presentation, study it, and dig into the details. 

Even if you have the most impressive AI-driven robot, you won't persuade Spotify boss about your product. Why? His mind is thinking, "podcasts, podcasts, podcasts."

Time for revenue and P/L

Let's say your boss invested in Machine Learning infrastructure. He spent $1 million and still wait for the ROI to come. The other example; your company enjoys a better gross margin because the team released a new eCommerce app. The app drives growth and keeps churn flat. A success, which influences the P/L. It would be awesome if you can contribute the growth with your roadmap. 

For demonstration reasons, please have the Amazon P/L enclosed.

Here is the example of Amazon P/L, which is a great start for compelling product roadmap creation

Get the company P/L and study cost structure and revenue structure. Pick up ten of the most vital elements. Glue the roadmap to them, and explain how your product can influence the change. 

Four years ago, I worked for a European startup, which released the sleep apnea device. They started to sell it directly to sleep clinics. They hired me to work on the business model. I had a gander at the revenue and realized quickly that income from clinics is not regular. It fluctuates too much. I suggested to build a website (prototype) and invest $10 000 in online advertising to test a direct model. We were able quickly to check a new service and its potential (I got the product roadmap approval)

Related: Business Model design, redesign, and test

Time for presentation

Presentation is your supporting material for meetings. It is not the final art. Please keep that mindset, as you want to radiate with openness and transparency. It means asking questions and listening to the feedback from internal stakeholders. People with different opinions can still align on their intentions. 

After you are done with collecting their stones, now it's time for mixing them with your set. The process requires the elimination of what is not possible. This is an integral part of the whole puzzle. The first rule, eliminate everything what doesn't fit company strategy, then what doesn't influence P/L. Try to avoid "I think that...". Here is the example of a product roadmap (Source: Altexsoft)

Product roadmap example designed by AltexSoft

Presentation is your tool for explaining what you are thinking about, and what kind of roadmap you are sketching. Conversation with stakeholders and lively discussion is most important. It will increase your chances of building a compelling product roadmap. You will be able to find the answer to the critical questions "how to convince the boss"?

Change and come back to them.

When you are done with the first round, and you collected feedback, update your presentation. Now it is time for changing the mindset, from "I am curious what do you think," to "This is the product roadmap, we are thinking about to pick up." 

You want to stay still open, but you have collected so many facts, feedback analyzed the company strategy and P/L. Your roadmap is creamy, like a stuffed donut, aligned, and comprehensive. There still might be small corrections, but it is high time for the consensus. 

Related: A product roadmap is not a project plan. So what is it?

Build a dashboard and start a collaboration

Stakeholders management strategy needs to be paved now. People love to track effortlessly. Stakeholders spent a lot of time with you, and now they wait for the progress. 

One of the most critical things I have learned is that product managers are persuading all the time, 24/7. The product roadmap earned its acceptance; now is the perfect time to keep the morale high. I think it is great to make the product roadmap trackable (there is a lot of tools for that) and give executives regular updates. 

Don't just send them emails or automatic notifications. Book 5minutes meetings every three weeks and share the quick updates. No slides. Just words stuffed with facts and numbers. Explained to all the stakeholders how fast you go, what is the cash burn. Did you land users already? Share the number. Explain the progress. 

How to persuade your boss and engage him in the product roadmap? 

I strongly recommend it is excellent to entice your stakeholders with a draft of the roadmap and share the updates. Here is the presentation plan, which works pretty well:

  1. Goals - What is on the roadmap in the next quarter?
  2. On the table - what are you working on this and next week?
  3. Roadblocks - what can you stop for achieving "On the table"? 
  4. Options - what paths to the ultimate goal, you are considering? 
  5. Budget - how much you swallowed already, how much left, options for changes?

Please remember, executives, are busy. It is always great to understand that your meeting should be 3 - 7 minutes. Make sure your video call or discussion will meet that rule. 

Conclusion

At the end of the day, it is awesome to have your boss engaged in a product roadmap. You need to get teams and stakeholders aligned on the direction your product is going. Once you have done that, you are ready to persuade your boss even more by publishing and distributing the roadmap. 

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