Your Startup And the "Why" Driven Product Roadmap
July 9, 2014

Your Startup And the "Why" Driven Product Roadmap

by Brian de Haaff

Building a great product is hard, but it should not be excruciating. And marketing, selling, and supporting a product with potential should be a joy too. That is why people working on new products and services should be the happiest people on earth. But most companies never benefit from their product leaders’ love of innovation because they are beaten down by a lack of progress. Sometimes hopelessness even sets in.

I suggest that if this sounds familiar, you are likely suffering from a product that has no direction. Because a product with no direction might be moving forward but it really is going nowhere over time.

If you cannot describe where your product is headed and how it will benefit customers in one simple sentence — you probably are focused on the “what” (features) and worse, the “how” (engineering) rather than the “why” (strategy). And it is the “why” that inspires and sets a vision for product management and engineering and the broader company to follow.

A business-driven roadmap is all about the “why.” That’s because the “why” gets to the heart of customer and market motivation.

It sounds easy, but how many meetings have you left asking yourself, “What did that relate to?” or “What was that decision based on?” Aligning the “whats” and “hows” of business to the “whys” that drive the product is critical to team motivation and success. And when this does not happen, startups fail and larger companies struggle to keep up.

Larger companies have more girth to survive, but by the time they are talking about “failing faster” or “change management” or even “innovation day” they have already lost.

Focusing on the “why” sets a clear vision which is important in every business but fundamental in technology and in particular software companies.

We have learned this ourselves over the years at multiple early-stage companies including now at Aha! This is because the customer experience that is produced by the team is the product that customers buy and thus the product is the company. Build the wrong product and you kill the company. Build the right product, define a market, and be loved.

When you are thinking about leading with the “why” you should considering answering these questions in as few words as possible. They will provide the strategic guidelines you need to lay out your product roadmap and courageously define what is in and what is not as you do your product planning.

Customer “whys”

  • Why do our customers exist? ___________

  • Why do our customers need our solution? ___________

  • Why do our customers pay us for our solution? ___________

  • Why do our customers need our solution to be better? ___________

Market “whys”

  • Why is there a market that can sustain us? ___________

  • Why do we win in market? ___________

  • Why are there better alternatives than our product? ___________

  • Why is the market changing? ___________

As a great product leader, you must establish a true north for your product based on the best customer and market information you have. Reaffirm your strategy and tweak it as a necessary, but stay grounded in what you are trying to achieve and the motivation behind it. Your roadmap lays out a true north and explains to the team the value new releases and features will deliver to customers and the business. Make sure it is grounded in the “why.”

How do you lay out the vision for your product and talk about the “why?”

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 roadmap software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the adventure of living a meaningful life.

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