TBM 21/53: "Vision" and Prescriptive Roadmaps

First some biggish news. I'm releasing a collection of drawings, infographics, lists, and tweets on September 1st! You can pre-order it, which will guarantee I can't back out. Peer pressure for the win. To see some samples of the stuff I will include in the book click here and here.

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On to the post…

I was chatting with a friend recently about product vision. They were fresh out of a meeting with their company's product management team. In that meeting, the product team had brought down the house. Applause! Questions! Excitement! According to my friend, the product team had redeemed themselves after a year of doubt. The presentation was visionary.

This sounded great (almost Steve Jobs-esque), so I dug in. What did they do? How did they get everyone excited?

It turns out the product managers went into full sell mode. Animated gifs of yet-to-be-built features. Stories. Promises. It was a full-on pitch fest. "Before this presentation, we never knew what they were doing," explained my friend who works in sales enablement. "I wasn't excited or motivated by their work. They sort of seemed like they were slacking." Now the product team was putting a stake in the ground!

Hearing my friend explain this brought a point home for me. For lots of people—especially folks who haven’t been involved in product work—having product vision means knowing exactly what you are going to build. Not knowing what to build is a sign of weakness. Knowing what to build and "telling the future" is a sign of confidence. Features Are Real. And something else…optics do matter when it comes to establishing and maintaining trust.

Picture yourself as a salesperson working to hit a quota quarter after quarter. Under the gun and in the trenches. Deals coming down the wire. In waltzes a product team talking about experiments, outcomes, missions, discovery, and abstract non-$ metrics. WTF? Does that feel fair? Where is the vision and commitment?

Here's the uncomfortable reality. In 90% of teams (especially in B2B), no one ever gets fired in the near/mid-term if they deliver a roadmap that everyone is bought into. This is one reason why feature factories are so prevalent. Once you've done the roadshow, everyone has a stake in—and a bias towards—those solutions. Even if the outcomes are mediocre. On some level, a mediocre outcome from shipping what you said you will ship (fast, of course), is better than a better outcome that no one understands.

In my work, I meet teams that are doing great outcome-focused work, but are terrible at "selling" those outcomes. They don't do whiz-bang prescriptive roadmaps, so they don't benefit from the perception of "seeing the future". They also don't take the time to really align the organization on what they actually choose to release, and don't circulate meaningful outcomes. When they hit a snag, it is back to square one and leadership overcorrects back to the feature factory. And a wicked cycle ensues.

You can't just decide one day to shift to an outcome-oriented roadmap and expect the rest of the org to fall in line. You have to contend with the fact that the people you work with likely view your job as seeing the future and knowing what to build. They actually admire product people for being able to do that.

So...if you plan to take another approach, you are going to need to fill that void. You are going to need to spin a new narrative across the team. You will need outcomes that matter to everyone, not just to the product team. You will need real results, and then you will need to shout those results from the rooftops.

I'll end with one of my favorite quotes from a salesperson:

I used to sell the roadmap. But the team started to do amazing work. On my calls, I could point to their amazing work over the last 12 months. The team consistently blew it out of the water. I sold our ability to innovate and I sold real ROI and outcomes, not future features.

That’s what you are looking for, and it isn’t easy.

I have three events on May 27th: