The Benefits of Collaborative Discovery and Pre-Wiring Your Roadmap


As a product manager, you must have the ability to create a business-viable product vision. Not only that, but this vision needs to drive and influence others to execute and deliver the components needed to build out that vision and make it a reality. But how do you get there? Given how many people are involved in an organization  —  with emotions, egos, unique styles, and different goals  — the human element of any business makes building things hard. At times, that requires a lot of diplomacy and emotional agility.

Without collective discovery, pillar documentation and pre-wiring (i.e. a pre-meeting) stakeholders to ensure the prioritized solutions will work for the user as well as the business, it is highly unlikely that your desired product outcome will be achieved.

These three components make up the core competencies of any strong product manager. When put together, you not only make sure all stakeholders understand the product mission and strategic objectives, but it enables you to come up with a solution customers love that also works for the business — a solution that is valuable, usable, feasible and viable.

3 Ingredients to Building Out Your Product Vision
Unfortunately, all of the roadmap planning in the world and the most thought out mitigation strategies are not going to prevent stakeholder roadmap dismantling, scope changes and risk events from occurring. This is how the following can help — these are the three ingredients which will enable you to plan, execute and deliver your product vision components.

1- Execute Collective Product Discovery
There is one major activity that needs to be included in every product manager’s roadmap framing technique — collaborative discovery. This is all about how the product manager, product designer, tech lead and even stakeholders (marketing, sales, support) collaborate to discover a solution worth building. Essentially, collaborative product discovery gives your product team the chance to feel respected and that their contributions are welcomed and valued.

Simply put, collaborative product discovery work is a useful communication tool that you cannot afford to do alone in isolation from others. This is a process where stakeholders roll up their sleeves and go into the trenches with you and other cross-functional colleagues to discuss a particular matter where opposing arguments are put forward. It gives you the space to argue about a feature’s benefits and value and consider a possible course of action. In discussing and disputing with others, you discover collectively. This is where cross-functional trust is formed.

By discovering collectively, you can see if the feature will be something the customer will use, value and buy, if the solution will work for the business, or if the engineers can even deliver the solution with the time, skills and technology available.

During discovery, explore the problem space and figure out whether a solution is worth building. This means outlining the problems to be solved, the metrics to provide evidence of the pain points as well as the collection of data to validate and increase the confidence score in justifying the need for the proposed solution (e.g. market validation, customer listening, A/B testing, prototype, alpha release).

One of the biggest benefits of collaborative product discovery is that the stakeholders are so involved in the discovery work that when something is ready to be prioritized, they often know precisely why it’s important to prioritize — keeping everyone together on the same page.

2-Invest in Writing Content Pillars
To protect an organization against pursuing seemingly good ideas without evaluation and prioritization, it’s best to invest in writing content pillars, also known as committing the collaborative discovery solutions to paper in a long-form document. Fun fact, pillars are part of our SOAP™ methodology for product planning and roadmap prioritization.

Content pillars provide context and framework for roadmap planning and decision-making. This records and helps product managers to thoroughly consider and evaluate the justification for a proposed roadmap initiative, pushing them to be more research and data-driven, sizing up the expected commercial benefit. It’s important to spend the time developing the content pillar documentation so they capture your product initiative’s features and their purpose and value. This exercise helps convey the essence of strategic choices, distinguishing them from fruitless and ineffective features.

A detailed pillar document also provides ready-to-use information which allows product managers to develop concise content for various target audiences. Like with sales, support or marketing teams enablement, concise communication is important in getting a large team to work together efficiently. Cascade these pillar documents throughout the organization so that each level of management is on the same page.

Roadmap initiatives will have momentum only when executives can be confident that the actions of the product manager are guided by the product mission, strategic statements, principles, and nuances that they themselves defined. By following this guide and molding your content pillars, not only will you capture a roadmap initiative’s most important purpose for existence, but you’ll also ensure alignment with stakeholders.

3- Pre-Wire Your Meetings
A pre-wire is a quick 5 to 10-minute meeting in which you let a stakeholder or product leader know about the developing roadmap pillars. This provides them with the opportunity to process what you set down in writing, ask some questions, and discuss a few options, giving them fair warning of information that may come as a surprise.

When trying to get approval for an important decision, it’s always a good idea to have one-on-one, face-to-face pre-wire meetings with all of the major decision-makers. Often, just taking the time to meet with meeting attendees in advance is enough to make them sympathetic to your position and it prevents them from being caught off guard.

There’s a risk with waiting until your roadmap prioritization meeting to introduce your proposed features as it can shift the meeting toward a solution design session. In pre-wiring the affected stakeholders beforehand, you can head off much of the debate that can derail your roadmap planning meeting.

The biggest advantage is that it not only keeps the meeting on track, but also prevents you from getting blindsided by major objections to your proposed features during your pillar content introduction. All major players should be taken through the pillars and their solutions in private as presenting your findings to individuals allows you to gather additional inputs that help you develop a broader perspective.

As such, you may uncover new details that compel you to adjust your conclusions. In addition, if you have some alternatives, this gives you the opportunity to bring them up and potentially get buy-in and support in time for the roadmap prioritization meeting.

This way negotiation, compromise, and new facts that are integral to the acceptance of the roadmap proposal will be integrated in time for the presentation. Essentially, pre-wiring can help a meeting reach its intended purposes and build stronger connections between participants. Getting some of the nitty-gritty out of the way ahead of time can open time and space for richer discussion and work during the meeting.

It’s important to schedule your pre-wire meetings with enough time to react to any issues that come up. This meeting should be short as you don’t need to go over every inch of the pillar documents (although you should leave behind pillar print-outs), just enough to make sure you’re all on the same page.

Conclusion
To conclude remember the three key ingredients in order to build out your product vision:

  1. Collective product discovery: Collaborate to discover a solution worth building.
  2. Content pillars: Protect your organization against pursuing seemingly good ideas without evaluation and prioritization.
  3. Pre-wire meetings: Don’t get blindsided by major objections to your solution.

Need help with writing content pillars? This is part of our SOAP™ methodology for product planning and roadmap prioritization. Book a demo today!

Bain Public offers consistent roadmap planning processes & tools for business leaders and product managers organized around what motivates, inspires and improves growth. We offer a variety of articles, e-books and approaches designed to help organizations understand their digital strategies, introduce elements of roadmapping and establish product-led change amongst the senior leaders and managers. Our approach, product, expert advice and coaching help entangle complex technology, people and roadmap dynamics. For more information, visit bainpublic.com or call 514–442–8487.

Thanks to Loren O'Brien-Egesborg for contributing to this article as well as reading drafts and overseeing aspects of its publication. Also, if you have any feedback or criticism about this article, then shoot us an email info@bainpublic.com.