Why a Risk-Driven Product Roadmap
20 January, 2021
Today’s advertising budgets are distinctly divided between traditional and digital advertising channels. Until recently, the largest companies across different industries were spending most of their advertising money on traditional advertising. They would typically run ads on TV and print media, luring people to visit physical stores. Despite the rocketing popularity of digital media, the business outcomes of digital advertising were nearly impossible to measure if they occurred offline (for example, in physical retail stores).
Seeing such a gap in measurement, we took on the challenge of building a product that would allow advertisers to measure outcomes of digital ads in the physical stores and optimize advertising to meet their needs. As a PM, I was presented with a broad, vaguely defined problem with many open questions and risks.
Being aware of the ambiguity of the problem and the fact that no similar product existed before, I decided to become an enemy of my product and act as a devil’s advocate. I had to be in readiness for risks and uncertainties the development of this product would bring along.
As we learned about the problem space, we identified three main risks that a product must address to create a capability to link physical transactions in stores with digital impressions. For this to happen, the product would have to come up with answers to three main premises:
- An advertiser needs to share data. Advertisers would need to see the value in sharing their offline transactional data with the advertising platform. The default assumption is that no one would share anything unless they see the value. We showcased how existing value propositions for measuring and optimizing online conversions can be replicated in the new world of measuring offline transactions.
- Matching the offline transaction with the impression of seeing an ad. In the digital realm, matching conversions to impressions has a series of well-known solutions, such as cookies. Surprisingly -- and contrary to our initial assumption -- we learned that offline transactions could also carry similar tokens leading to a high quality of identity matching.
- Traditional businesses need to spend money on digital advertising. Many businesses set separate budgets for traditional and digital advertising and create corresponding groups accountable for offline outcomes versus online. In this setup, groups responsible for the offline results are not incentified to spend on digital channels. We built multiple experiments proving the value of blurring the lines between offline and online channels by creating robust omnichannel advertising strategies.
Finding a scalable solution for a diverse set of advertisers was impossible without expertise in multiple areas of advertising, marketing and retail technologies, and broad industry knowledge. As no single person had sufficient expertise, I pulled together a large cross-functional team. It included experts in measurement, enterprise hardware, software business, partnership, etc., and they all added their specific domain knowledge and instigated rapid thought exchange.
After identifying the most significant risks and forming the team, I built a product roadmap around those risks. We started by identifying the quickest way to solve the first risk, then move to the second, etc. We were learning about the problem space on the fly and continually iterated on the product definition.
Because the risk was central to our endeavor, we based the product roadmap on risk resolution as its milestones.
- Identify the right cross-functional partners. PMs typically mobilize partners at the intersection of Product, Design, and Engineering. In this particular case, it was far more critical to bring other partners on board, for example, from Sales, Enterprise, and Technical Partnerships. Being able to inspire and lead them and have them feed the team with their domain knowledge was vital to scale and rapidly accelerate development.
- Don’t take anything for granted. Regardless of what you have been told or what you assume, time to learn and understand. Many of our assumptions turned out to be incorrect, which is often the case when building a trailblazing product.
- As a PM, you are the best person to act as an enemy of your product, challenge, and question everything. If you choose to move along the safe passage, you are for sure to miss imminent risks typical for pioneering products.
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