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The Do’s and Don’ts of Product Roadmaps

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You wouldn’t start a cross-country drive without a roadmap (or GPS), and neither should you attempt product development without one.

A product roadmap is what connects the near-term product changes to the mid-term strategic milestones and the long-term vision. It communicates the sequencing of priorities and helps you plan all your product-based initiatives.

But many leaders are confused about what goes into a product roadmap. Ultimately, there is no right answer: different types of roadmaps suit different companies.

They can show lots of detail or very little; they can be intentionally scrappy or highly organized with color-coding, iconography, team associations, and more. We’ve seen them printed on ten-foot-wide poster paper and contained on a simple Google Sheet.

While there is no “best way of making a roadmap,� there are a few do’s and don’ts that can guide you in crafting your roadmap document.

The Do’s of Building a Roadmap

Let’s start with the do’s.

  • Do clearly categorize specific roadmap initiatives. Based on our experience, we’ve realized that all product development activities can be placed into one of three categories: innovation (making progress towards the vision), iteration (getting better results from what you’ve already built), and operation (maintaining your product and running your business). If possible, on top of categorizing each initiative, communicate the allocation target for each category to remind the audience of the level of investment that was agreed upon.
  • Do paint a picture far enough in the future that it helps other teams to plan accordingly. For example, marketing may need to start working on communication plans for a large product release well in advance.
  • Do clarify the rationale behind the work you’re planning on doing. The problems you are solving, the value you are attempting to create, and the key outcomes you are trying to deliver are often more important than the features you currently intend to build.
  • Do leave room for plans to shift. Development timelines are notoriously difficult to predict in advance. As you experiment and validate assumptions through customer discovery, you will want to be able to react to what you learn, and the roadmap should allow for that.

The Don’ts of Building a Roadmap

And now, the don’ts, which are just as important as the do’s.

  • Don’t try to predict development plans so far ahead that you’ll almost certainly change them before you get there. Offering this false precision is a common way to erode trust between the product and the rest of the company.
  • Don’t worry about providing the same level of fidelity for every team. It’s okay for the roadmap to have a “ragged edgeâ€� in which some items are better understood than others, or some teams’ plans extend farther into the future than others.
  • Don’t make commitments that are unnecessary or that are unlikely to actually be met. Generally speaking, it’s better to avoid feature-date pairs unless there’s a specific business reason the date is as important as what actually ships.
  • Don’t get in the habit of playing roadmap Tetris to force as much in as possible. It’s far better to under-commit and over-deliver than vice versa, and you’ll need some buffer to accommodate the ripple effects when development doesn’t go according to plan or critical feedback comes in.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Communicating the Roadmap

Building the roadmap is only the first step. After that, you need to share it with all the stakeholders. Here are some do’s and don’ts for how to most effectively communicate your roadmap.

  • Do share it with your executives first, because if you get buy-in from leaders in the organization, they can help build agreement and excitement about its contents with the rest of the employees.
  • Don’t present it to the whole company at once. Each major group within the company will have different needs and concerns. By presenting to each group separately, you can best address these needs and concerns and help everyone get what they need out of the presentation. We recommend having separate meetings for each of the following groups:
    • Engineering, QA, Architecture
    • Sales and marketing
    • Account management, customer success, and customer support
    • Everyone else not in those groups (HR, finance, etc.)
  • Don’t be boring. Your presentation-quality matters tremendously, and it’s your job to make your presentation engaging. Use charts and other visuals.
  • Do create a system for answering questions and getting feedback. Some of this can be done in the presentation meetings. However, some people don’t feel comfortable asking questions or offering feedback in front of others, so also consider conducting anonymous surveys after the presentations.

One More Do and Don’t

We’ll leave you with one final do and one final don’t.

Do dedicate the time and resources to creating a roadmap. It’s one of the most important documents guiding your company’s actions and initiatives.

But don’t stress about making a “perfect� roadmap. The best roadmaps evolve and develop with the company and serve to spark the right conversations about priorities.

Whether you opt to build a highly detailed, organized roadmap with color-coding and more, or a broader, intentionally rough one, following these do’s, and don’ts will help ensure that you craft and effectively share your roadmap.

For more advice on product roadmaps, you can find Build What Matters on Amazon.

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The Problem With Defining Bad Algorithms in Software Development

Increasingly, our lives are run by algorithms. When we run to Google for search for the answer to a question that’s been plaguing us, we’re tapping into an algorithm that will find us the best possible result. When we open Facebook or Twitter for a rundown of all the latest news and updates from our friends, we’re relying on an algorithm to show us the most relevant content. We can even use algorithms to make predictions, evaluate data, and help us make better decisions in our jobs.

But as we grow more reliant on algorithms, some experts are speculating about the ethical nature of algorithms, and whether we should be applying stricter or more thoughtful ethical standards to these powerful technological tools.

Ethics in technology is an important subject, but it’s much harder to apply ethics to algorithms than it appears on the surface.

The Basics of Algorithms

Let’s start with a basic explanation of what algorithms are, for the uninitiated. Algorithms are basically sets of rules that a machine can apply to achieve some kind of function. For example, let’s say you have a list of 100 different names, and you want to alphabetize them. There are many different sorting algorithms you could use to accomplish this; each one provides a different set of instructions for how to sort these names, with all of them attempting to achieve the end result of a perfectly alphabetized list of 100 names. For example, one algorithm might look at each name individually and place it where it belongs in the list, compared to other names that have already been evaluated. Another algorithm might look for names that start with A, then names that start with B, and so on.

Algorithms can be used for tasks ranging from simple to complex. For example, they can be used to evaluate the position of names in alphabetical order, but they can also be used to evaluate the trustworthiness of a website based on the number, quality, and nature of links pointing to it, as is the case with Google search, hence why sites like Link.Build focus so much on that one aspect of the algorithm. 

How can these algorithms be “bad� if they’re just tools to achieve a result?

New Ethical Problems With Algorithms

There are several ethical problems that have arisen with algorithms in recent years:

Addiction and repetition. First, we can consider the fact that many algorithms are intentionally engineered to keep people using a specific product for as long as possible. This is perhaps best demonstrated on social media, where algorithms are designed to keep users engaged; with the help of the right algorithm, users can be shown exactly the right types of content in exactly the right order to get them to like, comment, share, and otherwise react. This keeps them using the app for a longer period of time, enabling the social media company to make more money from the user via advertising. But the side effect of this is that each user who falls victim to the algorithm’s whims will be losing time almost unconsciously. In extreme cases, social media users can get addicted to the app, the same way they could get addicted to any drug designed to encourage thoughtless, repetitive use.

Negativity bias. We also need to consider the role of negativity bias as it applies to algorithms. Human beings are negative creatures; we tend to be more affected by a negative event than a positive event, even if they’re a similar magnitude. For example, losing $10 is associated with stronger feelings than winning $10, even though it’s the same amount of money. Algorithms that provide content to people, in search or social media, tend to be focused on giving them content that keeps them engaged—but in many cases, this means bombarding them with bad news and outrageous stories. This can end up increasing stress and decreasing quality of life for these users.

Polarization and extremism. Algorithms in social media and search also have a tendency to push people to extremes. Over time, an algorithm can learn your philosophical and political leanings; from there, it will almost exclusively show you content you already agree with, and recommend you to visit sites and join groups that agree with you. From there, it will try to push you to new types of content you haven’t discovered, and types of content it thinks you might also agree with. It doesn’t take long before you’re deep into an extremist echo chamber. This gets even hairier when you add cultural biases that can creep into code, especially as companies tend to outsource their software development to other regions with differing cultures. 

Bias and equality. Many experts have criticized the nature of algorithms for their innate capacity to be biased, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Algorithms coded by a specific demographic tend to favor that demographic, and on a large enough scale, bad coding could end up harming an entire segment of the population unintentionally.

Reducing evaluations to objective outcomes. Algorithms are also problematic for their capacity to reduce complex, nuanced, and somewhat subjective issues to objective and binary determinations. For example, in one school district, 2 percent of teachers were laid off based on the evaluations of an algorithm. The algorithm determined performance based on improvements in standardized test scores; accordingly, there were amazing teachers, with perfect records and rave reviews from both kids and parents, who were let go because they didn’t meet the algorithm’s standards.

Lack of transparency. As a consumer, you don’t typically see the mechanisms responsible for algorithmically generating your content or results. You aren’t given a description of the algorithm that chooses which websites to rank in your search results or which posts to list first in your social media newsfeed. This lack of transparency can feasibly make every other ethical issue with algorithms worse, since you’ll never really know what’s there.

Why Ethics Are Hard to Apply

Of course, ethical standards are hard to apply to algorithms, and for several main reasons:

The impartial nature of algorithms. Algorithms are sets of rules that are executed impartially. Even advanced algorithms that make use of machine learning are still engineered to follow a simple set of instructions, or achieve a simple goal. There’s no nefarious or questionable motivation to be had; they simply do what they’re told.

Giving us what we want. In many cases, algorithms are simply designed to give us what we want. If we react more to negative news than positive news, or if we engage more with extremist perspectives than moderate ones, why should we blame the algorithms responsible for leading us there?

AI and blind spots. Many algorithms improve themselves with the help of machine learning and AI, so there’s a considerable gap between what human engineers designed and what’s currently operating. This makes transparency more difficult, and leads to major blind posts regarding what algorithms can really do.

Ambiguous intentionality. Bias can be programmed into algorithms and source code intentionally or unintentionally, but how can you prove one over the other? It’s almost impossible to demonstrate intentionality,

Subtle changes. Most algorithms are constantly evolving, tweaking themselves to better serve customers or decision makers. This makes it hard to pin down specific issues in the present, and even harder to predict how these issues might change in the future.

As algorithms become more complex and more embedded in our lives, ethics related to their development and use are going to become more important. Soon, we’ll have algorithms responsible for driving our cars and providing us with medical recommendations; if these algorithms aren’t fine-tuned to perfection, they could have devastating consequences far beyond things like social media addiction or job loss.

Algorithm ethics are a tricky obstacle to overcome, but in time, we will develop the tools, philosophies, and possibly even the laws necessary to overcome it. In the meantime, we need to work to be more aware of the tools we’re using every day, and push to learn more about the advanced technologies we’re already starting to take for granted.

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Presentation Management – A Solution that Spans Industries

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Presentation management is key to unlocking value in the business content. Your company is already creating blog posts, sales graphs and marketing collateral. That content is visualized with presentation management. Here is Presentation Management, a solution that spans industries.

You’ll want all of your content managed and located in once place, so it can quickly and easily be reused on the spot in a presentation environment.

Presentation management is also a critical component of the modern-day sales funnel, which relies on maximizing that content and dispersing it to partners and potential customers. But what types of companies benefit the most from presentation management? Any company that wants to reuse the content and deploy it to increase sales and productivity.

Many industries consistently use presentation management to introduce new products, announce added services and make sales.

To create the content, a number of different employees across departments must weigh-in.

There’s often a level of compliance to make sure the content is on-brand, on-message, and compliant.

Most importantly, is the sales team on the front lines. They rely on marketing to create, update and distribute that content.

Presentation management is a foundation for your business. It lets you get the most value out of your content because you’re constantly reusing it.

Industries that benefit most from presentation management

Pharmaceuticals 

Pharma companies need to be compliant with a ton of content that eventually makes its way into presentation decks.

The searchable, visual slide library benefits the pharma world so well. With nothing more than a keyword, sales reps, and medical science liaisons (MSLs) can find the slide they need immediately.

Controlled permissions are useful too, ensuring the content is accessible to the correct users. Pharma companies seek out the “message compliance” feature most because it keeps content in the correct, compliance-approved order.

Tourism and Hospitality 

Whether you’re running a chain of beach motels at the Jersey Shore, or you’re the marketing chief for a chain of luxury hotels, the best way to sell your services is through rich images of sandy shores and sunsets.

Promotional videos showing sun-kissed visitors enjoying the fine-dining and ocean-blue pools also do the trick. Selling a vacation goes beyond amenities.

Prospects want to experience your resorts, and presentation management takes them there. At a moment’s notice, sales reps can bring up an image of a beautiful vacation oasis. These images will immediately stir a visceral reaction, and will make the sales prospect say to themselves – I need to go there!

With presentation management, the rep can toggle from the beautiful image to pricing at just the right time, and close the sale.

Finance 

Due to high regulation, financial firms cannot risk any compliance issues.

Financial institutions need presentation management so they can be sure that specific content is always followed by the proper disclosures.

Since finance is so reliant on real-time research, analysis, and market numbers — presentation management feeds instant data into slides so presenters know they will be up to date and current at any given moment.

Financial data can be fed into formatted slides, in real-time. The broker, then, presents a client’s portfolio over coffee. Or, if there’s a swing in the market, your presentations can be updated and published out to your users almost instantly, in real-time.

Finally, through audits and reports, presentation management also allows compliance and legal to see who-did-what-when. This provides a trail of breadcrumbs throughout the content creation process.

Media

To sell ads, media companies make compelling sizzle reels that evoke emotion from buyers.

The media can also showcase the most up-to-date audience numbers that show how many people are watching their programs. Having all assets at the ready and fresh is one reason why presentation management is so ideal.

You want your slide library up to date and accessible a the perfect repository for gigabytes worth of video.

Automatic data feeds updates all content with the timeliest Nielson and comScore ratings, providing your reps with exactly what they want at any given moment — to sell ad space.

Conclusion

If you rely on a presentation to sell your product or service then presentation management will help you sell better.

Pharma, tourism, finance, and media industries take advantage because it guarantees sales reps in the field share the most-up-to-date, best-performing content.

Apply presentation management to your business and watch your sales teams flourish.

Image Credit: Tobias Bjorkli; Pexels

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