How to avoid customers from hijacking the product roadmap

I have talked about prioritizing requirements to list them in chronological order in product roadmap. Product Manager diligently prepares the product roadmap to reflect the product growth strategy. Nevertheless nothing works as per the plan. First roadblock that every PM face is some unexpected product requirement requests from their customers and that product requirement will be total deviation from the items planned in the roadmap.

I bet every Product Manager would face this situation on every day basis. So how do Product Managers stop their customers from hijacking the product roadmap? Before Product Manager definitely puts his/her foot down and say NO irrespective of revenue contributing potential of the customer, I shall suggest Product Manager to follow the following steps (aka decision tree) to mitigate the situation in a way that it is win-win for both Customer and Product Manager.

The entire exercise might not be required if the business model is to entertain customizations or handle specific customer requirements for additional $$$.

Step 1: Understand the requirement – WHY?

It does not suffice if Product Manager just knows what the requirement is. (S)He needs to have a broader understanding of why customer has asked for the requirement. Unless Product Manager gets a grasp of the underlying reason or cause behind the product requirement, (s)he will not be able to make informed decisions in the subsequent steps.

Also please take a look at my blog on ‘Understanding customer requirements’.

Step 2: Validate the requirement

Is the requirement valid? In certain cases (mostly in B2B environment) because of lack of product awareness or technology, customer raises product requirement that is either invalid or not feasible within the scope of the product. If the requirement is invalid we should definitely make attempts to immediately communicate the information back to the customer with appropriate reasoning.

Step 3: Understand the business criticality

Understand the potential business impact to the customer because of not fulfilling the product requirement. Is the requirement has any potential revenue impact or is it just to enhance the usability of the product or is it just nice to have a feature. In case of revenue impact, the stakes for delivering the product requirement goes HIGHER.

Step 4: Identify alternate (optimal) mechanisms to accomplish the requirement using existing infra of the product

In the initial step, I suggested to look for the actual reasons behind the requirements ie Product Manager needs to understand the WHY part of the requirement in addition to WHAT part of the requirement. Having known the WHY part, Product Manager needs to figure out whether there is any alternate optimal mechanisms to address the WHY using existing product infra. If yes, communicate the alternate mechanisms to the customer provided Product Manager gets convinced that the alternate mechanism is actually the optimal way of addressing WHY.

In case of no alternate mechanism to address the requirement, let us proceed with next steps.

Step 5: Is the requirement generic or customized

Is product requirement custom or generic? Understand whether the requirement is customized to the requested customer or it can be generalized for broader segment of customers. In case of generic, Product Manager could not have discovered the need and it is good that some customer had brought this to his/her attention. Product Manager now adds the requirement to the requirements backlog, the timeline to deliver could be figured out depending on the business criticality and requirements prioritization process. In fact, I have talked in detail about how to prioritize requirements in in my earlier blog. If the delivery timeline conflicts with the expectations of the customer, then Product Manager has to negotiate – move to step 7.

Step 6: Understand other additional requirements of customer

We have reached this step because the product requirement is customized. In case of customized product requirement, please do not look at the requirement in isolation. Take a look at other requirements from that customer, also take a look at the requirements available in the roadmap and figure out how many of them would be applicable to the requested customer.

Step 7: Negotiate

Identify possibilities to trade the customer requirement with any of the generic requirement(s) already available in the product roadmap. Even if the customer requirement is critical, as long as Product Manager is able to compensate with other requirements that matter most to the customer, it would definitely be a WIN-WIN situation. If someone insists there is nothing to compensate and there is no product requirement in the roadmap that would suit the customer, then I could only think 2 possibilities (i) our understanding of the customer is flawed (ii) customer does not actually belong to the target customer. Please note that it is worthy to forego a sale rather than selling to a wrong customer, this topic definitely needs more attention.

Final Thoughts

Earning the trust and credibility of the customer is mandatory to engage in a meaningful conversation and to communicate the NO for any product requirement request in a convincing manner.

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