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Introducing Design in the Roadmap Creation Process

Cross-functional collaboration
Roadmap

5 January, 2021

Dmitry Nekrasovski, Senior Manager of Product Design at HashiCorp, recalls the recent efforts to for the first time introduce Design — on par with Engineering and Product — in the roadmap creation process.

Problem

I work on a product line that has been massively successful in terms of user adoption. We have an open-source offering and two commercial products — one is on-premise and the other is deployed in the cloud. The open-source version has been vastly successful and became an industry standard, while the commercial version has not met with quite the same degree of success so far. Further, numerous ankle-biter startups have come along to challenge our commercial offerings by building on top of our open source solutions.
 

The executive team was looking at my product line and was perplexed why we couldn’t drive more revenue as well as why there were issues with customers churning. There was a perception of underperformance compared to other product lines, and justifiably so.
 

I strongly felt that one of the fundamental problems was that Design was not involved in a roadmap creation process.  

Actions taken

Shortly after I started my new role at the beginning of last year, I got together with and started having regular twice-weekly meetings with my peers from Engineering and Product. They were also new to their roles, and it took us some time to gel and understand each other’s perspectives. Going through a lot of collaboration on a tactical level helped us gain mutual respect and build a solid working relationship. Also, it helped us align on the problem space and how we could set the direction to solve future problems.
 

We all were of an unequivocal opinion that Design should be involved along with Engineering and Product in roadmap creation. For the first time, the EPD leadership would get together and put together a roadmap.
 

After some joint deliberation, we realized that our organizational structure was not meeting our product line’s needs. We took some time to think about the new organizational structure and came up with a proposal that focused on customer personas and customer journey instead of areas of the product or the codebase, as was the case previously. We agreed that each team within the EPD representation would have the ability to work across the product and codebase to impact their specific customer persona.
 

That created a solid foundation that our good relationship between the three departments only solidified. It furthermore braced our efforts to develop a common set of themes that should be included in the roadmap for the next fiscal year. Then we created a matrix for each theme that represented a customer persona. The roadmap gradually started to take shape; we created themes that we validated with our leadership and formulated a roadmap centered around these themes and aligned with the company strategy.
 

We then reviewed this roadmap with our leadership. This review provided us with a lot of useful feedback on the sequencing of the priorities and helped us prepare for pitching it to the executive team.
 

A couple of weeks ago, we had an opportunity to pitch it to the executive team, which was a huge success. The executive team was very happy with the roadmap, and had only minor feedback on sequencing of some of the items. The feedback we got through the back channels and taking to our leadership was most valuable and helped us with the final tweaks.
 

Lessons learned

  • Positioning Design as a first-class partner within the EPD trio was crucial. We didn’t have any roadmap items that were marked as design items or UX improvements. Almost all of our roadmap priorities were cutting across EPD functions. We could argue that each one of these priorities would move the needle for the business, make the product and codebase better, and improve user experience. The cross-cutting approach made our roadmap complete and more robust.
  • I am glad that my peers agreed to incorporate Design all across the roadmap instead of giving us a cut of the roadmap (say 20% UX improvements). Otherwise, it would be likely that UX-specific items would eventually drop off the tail end of the roadmap.
  • Feedback from both our leadership and the executive team was crucial. They shot many holes through our thinking, enabling us to develop the most detailed and thoughtful version of the roadmap possible, and setting us up for success executing on it in the year to come.

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