What new product managers need to know about creating their first road map

chris illuk

Monday marked my 6 month anniversary since joining OpenAgent as a Product Manager. This has been my first formal product management role and prior to starting, my knowledge of the discipline was largely limited to stuff I’d read online or figured out by doing incorrectly at my own previous startup.  

Of course nothing demystifies like the internet. Having read what felt like every other article published on product management, I was left with the impression of the PM function as being one or a combination of the following:

  • Project manager/ technocrat/ Agile weenie#Â÷ãÇà
  • Babysitter/ whipping boy/ butt of jokes for engineers
  • Moses like visionary, parter of seas and diviner of shiny new features.

To be perfectly honest I wasn't sure I fitted one of these distinctions entirely...

What was clear however was that Product Managers are responsible for coming up with ideas for new products, features and initiatives, and creating a case for which ones to commit to working on as an organisation. Then, shepherding them through design, delivery and later iteration.  

Approaching my start date at OpenAgent, one of my main apprehensions was how on earth I would come into a new organisation and immediately start coming up with enough ideas for new things to work on to keep myself busy during my first quarter.

I just got a job as a Product Manager? Cool, now how do I figure out what to build?

As a first time PM one of my biggest concerns was coming up with an initial roadmap. In 6 month retrospect, this was probably the concern least worth worrying about. It quickly became apparent that prioritising an overabundance of potential stuff worth working on would be the much more of a real problem. Within my first week I’d filled enough notebook pages for 4 quarters worth of roadmaps.

To fill your first roadmap, talk to a customer. To fill your next roadmap, talk to more.

My first week afforded me the opportunity to do one thing that I knew, despite my lack of formal PM experience, I had an unfair advantage at: talking and listening to customers.  

At OpenAgent, our mission is to make selling a property easy. My start date coincided with a new intake of client service consultants whose job it is to speak to vendors to help them find the right real estate agent to sell their property . I jumped into the new consultant’s orientation program and within a few days was having the same conversations, with the same customers, using the same tools that our consultants use every day.

My week on the phones produced some very clear insights which became the basis of most of the initiatives that filled my roadmap for the next two quarters. In a high-touch service environment, where a consultant walks customers through a process such as researching and recommending real estate agents, customers’ specific pain points surface very quickly. The same pain points are also symbiotically experienced by the client service team. In this environment, finding the right pain points to solve becomes apparent very quickly.

Of course speaking to customers shouldn't be a one off for any product manager. Speaking to only one type of customer at one stage of the user journey should also not be the sole or even the main way of taking the pulse of what customers are thinking on the whole. However, in many organisations, members of sales, customer success and support teams often speak to tens of customers each day. Attempting to do this outside the set structures these teams use to manage this many conversations would be extremely challenging, whether selecting customers at random from a CRM/ database or running interviews.

Putting yourself in the trenches with your most customer facing teams provides one of the most effective ways of getting lots of real customer exposure as quickly as possible and is a way to drastically short-circuit idea generation.#Â÷ãÇà

I want to build everything. What to work on first?  

Having filled notebooks with ideas and established that the ideation problem was little more than a hang up, the real problem becomes which ideas to squeeze into an inevitably crowded roadmap and which ideas to work on first.

It’s hard to have a conversation about product management without talking about prioritisation. In a resource constrained reality, a core function of product management in any organisations is prioritisation. For a new PM, going into an environment with many moving parts and seemingly limitless opportunities, and competing for the resources required to construct and deliver on your first roadmap can be intimidating.

Confirm opportunities with data

Anecdotal data taken from customer conversations, even when correlated by multiple examples, is only one signal of an opportunity.

Despite the internet being full of content about the importance of listening to customers, listening to customers only surfaces the issues. In any organisation with more customers than you can count on one hand, data is required to confirm the scope and size of a problem or opportunity, and the potential upside in addressing it.

Example

During my week with the client service team it became apparent that some customers would sign up for our service on the website and when later contacted by phone, would not remember our brand. This was a painful experience not only for the customer but for our consultants who immediately started the conversation on the back foot.  

Example customer conversation that generates an insight:

“Hi Sally, this is Chris calling from XYZCompany. The reason fo —”

“YourCompany..? What was that again and why are you contacting me?”

Insight: Leads are not expecting to be contacted when the attempt is made.

Example funnel data that generates an insight

Call failure reason ? Not aware of brand = 2%

Leads attempted but not successfully contacted = 50%

Insights:

  • A small number of leads don’t remember our brand by the time they’re contacted.
  • Only half of leads are contacted.

Combining these, insights exposes what looks like a small but clear problem. A small number (2%) of contacted leads are not sure of our brand and therefore not expecting to be contacted at the time the contact attempt is made.  

We can also hypothesise that a proportion of the larger group of uncontacted leads are in a similar position of not remembering the brand and not expecting a call, however instead of taking the call from a number they don’t recognise, simply choose to ignore the call.

On a simplified funnel it looks like this:

Example XYZCo funnel

funnel

The initial data point (customer and consultant feedback about not expecting to be called) seemed to point to a smaller issue. However, looking at the data provided an insight to a possible cause for the much larger issue and opportunity, in this case the 50% of uncontacted leads.

The opportunity is therefore a classic iceberg problem, with 2% of leads telling us they don’t remember our brand. This opportunity is clearly visible above the waterline. The larger part of the opportunity lies below the surface and is harder to identify. An unknown number of leads are choosing to ignore our call and unlike the contacted leads, never get as far as telling us they’re not expecting a call.

The addressable opportunity therefore lies in better communicating to leads when and why they will be contacted. On our example funnel, tackling opportunity should decrease the number of contacted leads who did not expect to be contacted (a small % of overall).

More importantly improving the contact rate by just 1%, in this case by addressing those people who won’t take a call that they they’re not expecting, would result in 10 additional Contacts and one Conversion.

Know Your True North/ 1MM

In order to allow for opportunities to be properly evaluated and prioritised, they need to be capable of like-for-like comparison.

What makes this possible is having a ‘true north” or “1 Metric that Matters (1MM).” This makes it possible to apply a prioritisation framework like ICE, without resorting to a guessing game.

Sean Ellis’ ICE scale, which stands for ‘Impact. Confidence. Ease’ is used by many growth teams to rank ideas, by assigning each idea a score of 1-10, based on an equal weighting of impact, confidence and ease. The most difficult factor to evaluate is most often impact - how do you compare the impact of a new landing page versus a new sales training program?#Â÷ãÇà

Using a relevant 1MM simplifies this and makes it possible to quickly score, compare and rank ideas without time wasted on debates over what initiatives will have the greatest impact.

In my first quarter, the 1MM for my team was number of vendors introduced to real estate agents every month, or simply, ‘Intros.’ This metric was effective as it was tangible (easy to understand and report on) and immediately influenceable (new initiatives could be evaluated on changes to intro rates within a few days or sometimes hours of being launched).

In this environment, comparing and prioritising product changes, tactics and initiatives becomes really easy. It is relatively simple to calculate the change in Intros caused by a given initiative and therefore easy to compare initiatives on this metric. The ‘Impact’ variable in the ICE score becomes a tangible starting point when discussing product changes, initiatives and ideas that are closely aligned with business goals, while also easily being easy to measure and compare.#Â÷ãÇà

The process for coming up with my initial roadmap, and the one that I continue to use now basically comes down to 4 steps:

  1. Ideation: Talk to customers or stakeholders to find out what is hard/ annoying/ could be better about your product or service.
  2. Data confirmation: Pour over the data to identify where the opportunity sits in your funnel/ user flow/ service to see if there is a genuine opportunity for improvement.
  3. Opportunity calculation: Calculate the size of opportunity against your company/ team/ personal 1MM.
  4. ICE Prioritisation: With the I in ICE clearly established, compare the initiative  against other ways of addressing your identified opportunity as well as other opportunities.

To go back to one of my initial points, product management is different at every organisation. Whether you’re a new or established product manager, or responsible for a product management function at your current organisation, I’d love to hear about the process you use to identify, assess and priorities opportunities. After all, we’re hiring.

You can email at chris@openagent.com.au 

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