The Art of Road-Map Prioritization and Trade Offs: Methods for Smarter Product Management

“Tips on Product Roadmapping & Prioritization” with Barbara Nelson, VP Marketing, Construction & Real Estate at Sage                                                                 

By Alpa Agarwal

September 2013 Event

Barbara Nelson 2 SVPMA 0913 Event Write-UpProduct roadmapping & prioritization is the most important function of a product manager. And since it’s been done for so long, it should have become a science. But as Barbara Nelson, VP of Marketing at Sage Construction & Real Estate, pointed out product roadmapping is really an art.

A creative activity at its core, product roadmapping starts with a customer problem and envisioning solutions to address the problem. After customer collaboration, competitive benchmarking, industry trending and internal technology & resource assessments – a solution and timeline of feature releases is developed. But it’s not that simple. Product roadmapping and prioritization is one of the most challenging functions of a product manager.

In her energetic and interactive talk, Barbara reminded the audience of the top five principles of successful product roadmapping & prioritization.

1.  Strategic Planning Process: Product roadmapping is first & foremost a planning tool and process. It begins with strategic roadmapping at the portfolio level & then comes down to individual products or services. This strategic process is very important and if done well by the company’s leadership, provides focus to the product teams & clears cross-company prioritization & dependency questions.

2.  Target market identification: While, there are many ways to narrow down the number of target segments & in turn customer requirements, in reality, the product or service must still meet a number of varying needs. Barbara reminded the audience of the value of using affinity maps. Affinity maps lay out the list of requested features on one axis and the customer segments they map to on a second axis. The idea is to consider backlogging those features that don’t appeal to as many segments. However, this is only one of many tools & criteria a product manager must use for prioritization.

3.  Market Opportunity Score: This is another tool product managers can use in feature prioritization. Customers should be asked two critical questions during requirements gathering – “How important is the particular function or feature?” And two, “Are you satisfied with how you solve it currently?” Customers rate on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the most important or most satisfied. The equation is as follows: Market Opportunity Score = [Importance + (Importance – Satisfaction)]. For innovative products, a good way to get customer feedback is to focus the customer on the outcomes they are looking for & if the product helps them achieve the outcome.

4.  Writing a Press Release: Product managers should discipline themselves to write press releases for their products. This helps them focus on those product attributes that matter most – themes, customer segments or features that will have the most impact.

5.  Minimum Viable Product: Barbara reminded the audience that less is more. Two ways of avoiding bloat ware are to remove items from “old” backlog lists and slotting features for new customers over existing ones. She also referenced a great definition for MVP from Saeed Khan’s, “Devil’s Dictionary for High Tech,” as “a set of product functionality that can best be described by the following phrase: ‘Well, it’s the least we could do.’”

Barbara also highlighted other important product management practices such as persona creation, identifying themes, learning how to say no, getting alignment, and more.

Alpa Agarwal is Partner and Director of Product Management & Marketing at Digital DNA Infusion. She has held Director of Product Marketing at eBay Inc. as well as taught in various Executive MBA programs, authored numerous articles and been quoted in international business journals. Alpa is based in the San Francisco Bay Area and can be reached at

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