In 2015, my startup, Front, decided to make its product roadmap public, and it was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made.
We’d managed our internal roadmap on Trello for a couple of years when Trello released the function to make any board public. I’m obsessed with efficiency and this seemed like an extremely efficient way to get customer feedback, so we jumped on the opportunity. And we weren’t alone – others who moved to a public product roadmap (either on Trello or independently) include Buffer, Intel, and Jira, just to name a few.
We received a lot of love from customers and peers for the decision. But as with anything worth doing, it came with some challenges: It’s time consuming to keep a well-maintained roadmap, customers have full visibility into any slowdown in product development, and of course, competitors can see exactly what we are working on. But throughout our four years of working this way, the benefits we’ve seen have far outweighed those challenges, and we’re ready to go on the record as strong advocates for open roadmaps. Here’s why.
A public roadmap bridges the transparency gap between you and your customers
Increasingly, customers are looking for more than just a software provider — they’re opting for partners to help them with their business. In a 2018 study from Spiceworks, around 84 percent of IT purchasers polled said they need to trust a tech brand before making a purchase.
At the forefront of any trusting relationship is transparency. A primary reason to make your roadmap public is to increase transparency with customers. Not only can customers see exactly what you’re working on, but they also know that their feedback has been heard, valued, and implemented where possible. And because of this, companies will typically see two positive outcomes:
Customers feel more invested in your company. According to the Spiceworks study mentioned earlier, 57 percent of IT buyers preferred to purchase from companies that were focused on building relationships rather than those seemingly focused on closing the deal.
When customers can contribute and give their input on your roadmap, they’re showing a level of dedication to your team and your business. It creates an environment where customers are actively contributing to the product they’re using, and can physically see their feedback being taken into account. That alone builds trust.
The challenge for you is to listen to this feedback, analyze it, and, if it’s a great idea, implement it. Without any follow-through, customers could forget about the roadmap, or worse, remember the roadmap, realize you haven’t been acting on the input, and lose trust in your company (achieving the exact opposite outcome you’ve been seeking).
You know what customers actually want. An important aspect to growth is doubling down on the parts of your product that your customers cannot live without. There are several ways to gather this information, but a public product roadmap is perhaps the most consistently reliable way.
Your roadmap should automatically stack-rank cards based on upvotes, which lets you see very quickly what features and updates are most important to customers. That alone provides amazing insight into what customers want – insight that can continue to run in the background with relatively little maintenance.
Of course, just because customers want something, doesn’t mean you should build it. At most startups, everything is a zero-sum game. Working on one feature typically means not working on something else. So it’s important to make every product decision by considering who exactly the feature will help, the potential revenue increase or user engagement it could drive, and which projects will need to be deprioritized in order to ship it.
That transparency compounds internally and energizes your current and future employees
According to a study in Harvard Business Review, 70 percent of workers surveyed said they become most engaged when senior leadership is continuously updating and communicating the company strategy. On a similar note, 69 percent said the same thing when it came to the company being transparent in communicating its goals.
Instituting a public roadmap helps encourage and increase transparency across every department, and every employee and candidate, in a few different ways:
It can increase productivity. On top of creating more external transparency for your customers, having a public roadmap contributes significantly to your company’s internal transparency. By giving everyone in the company a solid idea of where your product is headed – and openly displaying which features are most important to customers – you’re breaking down silos between departments that levels the playing field for everyone. That transparency is infectious – the more you can introduce it into your day-to-day, the more it will ripple throughout your entire company.
And I strongly believe this transparency is directly tied to productivity. The less mental energy you exert on playing politics, the more space you have for creative thinking, deep work, and strategy. I consider ARR per employee to be an acceptable proxy for productivity, and when we last measured it here at Front we were 55% above the benchmarks. So it’s fair to say we’re on the more efficient end of the spectrum, which I largely attribute to the efficiency driven by this internal transparency.
It helps your team engineer the product with an empathetic mindset. Andrea Goulet, CEO of Corgibytes, was recently featured a fantastic post about the importance of engineering with empathy. As she puts it, “empathy and seeking to understand the customer are skills that are commonly associated with user-facing roles. But when empathy is part of the mission and culture from devs to designers, it truly sets the company apart.”
A public facing roadmap is one way to foster empathy within your organization. It allows non-customer facing employees, primarily engineers, to forge a connection and better understand customers. By watching the upvotes for each item on the roadmap, they’re able to gain real-time insight into what customers are looking for. This helps provide a bridge from engineers to customers. The result is a better product that’s more in line with customer needs.
You have a better shot at recruiting the right talent. It’s no secret that recruiting in tech has become more and more difficult. According to Forrester, finding top tech talent will become increasingly difficult and more expensive over the next two years.
In this competitive market, companies need to work hard to make sure they aren’t just hiring a warm body but are finding the right talent for their specific challenges. A public roadmap can help with this. If you’re providing the roadmap in advance, engineering candidates come in with very specific knowledge about the product and where you are headed. This gives them a real idea of the type of projects they’d be leading or contributing to. On the hiring side, it allows you to ask much more targeted questions. The result is a more complete understanding of how the candidate could tackle specific challenges, making the recruiting process far more efficient.
Is a public roadmap right for your company?
The short answer: yes.
Public roadmaps are a super easy way to get solid product feedback from your customers about what matters most to them. They work especially well if you’re a company with lots of customers (a high velocity sales businesses or B2C company) or if you have a product that evolves quickly. But the benefits of a public product roadmap apply to just about any business (especially startups).
I also want to stress that creating a public roadmap is super easy and only took us about two minutes to get up and running! Don’t let the idea of this be daunting or hold you back from trying it.
So the real question is: Why haven’t you made your roadmap public yet?