To increase the chances that the new Product Roadmap (and my first here) would win favor throughout the company, I decided to conduct a campaign to build early support for the Roadmap itself.
As the new guy now leading the Product team, I had my hands full getting up to speed in the first few weeks. My immediate concern was keeping the current Release on track but the greater challenge was creating a new Product Roadmap for the upcoming year and rapidly drumming up support within the company.
What drove this decision
Taking over a Product team at the beginning of a calendar year has some additional pressures as you might expect. Many internal and external parties are looking for clear indications of the overall product direction, the most concrete of which is the Product Roadmap.
Our company likes to kick off the new year with a rousing, all-hands pep rally for the entire company and one of the meeting's big agenda topics is the presentation of the refreshed Product Roadmap. A big reveal from me that early on would be risky as I hadn't built up sufficient credibility by that point. And with just a few weeks into this PM role, I really hadn’t hadn't been able to speak with as many departments as I had hoped. To pull this off, I needed to build a groundswell of support by having the various department weigh in on, or at least preview the Roadmap before I tried to broadcast it to the masses.
The decision: Build support for the new Product Roadmap in stages
My ultimate goal was to present my new Product Roadmap to a room full of supporters. To improve my chances, I started a somewhat calculated crusade to win friends and influence people all around the company.
Plan of attack
There is no one, obvious way to plan a campaign like this but the strategy I recommend is to start small and with people whose opinions you value and push them to poke holes in your product strategy before moving to the next group. I have outlined the approach I took which proved successful.
Start with just the Product team
I began the exercise with my own Product team, perhaps the most empathetic of the groups I would encounter. These folks were the most patient and, because their future paths were most closely linked to the Roadmap, the most eager to engage. With this group's help, I was able to get my initial story straight, confirm the overall themes, and plug some minor gaps in the strategy.
run the roadmap past the Sales Engineers
The next audience I sought, though discretely, was with the Sales Engineers. I had worked closely with this team in the past and knew they would be supportive. I trust their general feedback but it was also important for me to vet out some of the key product decisions with someone who interacted more frequently and directly with our prospects and customers.
pitch to the Key Stakeholders
With my confidence growing, I moved on, skipping over the individual departments to gather all the stakeholders in a room. As you might expect, this group of department heads, their bosses and our senior leadership team is composed of a great number of strong personalities. But when invited to sit alongside their peers, even the feistiest individuals will often tamp down their protests, yielding to and general supporting the views of the larger group. I found this to be the case with my Roadmap presentation and used the inferred approval from the group to launch into the home stretch.
present to Individual Departments
With support from the top, I proceeded to set up separate meetings with each major department including Engineering, Operations, QA, and Customer Support. In each meeting, I tried to highlight those parts of the Roadmap that I thought would appeal most to each group. This proved valuable later, in the larger setting when I was able to direct different topics to specific members of the audience, with the effect of making it seem as though they had already endorsed the individual ideas.
Announce to the Entire company
The final stop in the campaign of dreams was pitching the Roadmap to the entire company. At that point of course, through all my previous efforts, I had eliminated the element of surprise. I had effectively planted sympathetic individuals in the crowd who consciously or not, were giving me the nods of support I needed.
And, while there was no thunderous applause at the end of my presentation, I did get relatively high marks for a "new guy". In fact, a number of people approached me afterwards with positive feedback and great suggestions about how to further socialize the Roadmap internally. For example, we decided to start using the many monitors hung on the walls throughout our office to track our Roadmap progress over the coming weeks & months.
When I look back, it is obvious to me that this kind of approach to build internal support takes more cycles than one big reveal. Meeting with each team, one at a time and reviewing the Roadmap over and over was certainly more work in the short term but has paid off. I still have to demonstrate that we can achieve what was promised but I should not be spending as many cycles defending the Roadmap itself.