How a user-driven roadmap influences what a digital product ultimately becomes
Congratulations! You have a digital product.
You’ve determined the right Product/Market Fit, you’ve assembled a lean, efficient development team, and you’ve launched a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) to validate your idea. Users are adopting your product and providing feedback.
Sure, you need to refine and polish it a bit, maybe add a feature here and there. But the product is basically done, and all you need to do is sit back and reap the rewards, right?
Once again, we hate to be the burster of bubbles, but you’re not done. When it comes to building an innovative product, you’re just getting started. In fact, you may never be done.
This is the point where many digital products and companies took a turn from what they initially had planned to the innovative, user-specific products we see today. Match.com, for example, started life as an online classified advertising platform, and now is one of the top online dating services.
What happened to Match.com? How did their product change so much? The answer, simply put, is that’s where their users took them.
It sounds counterintuitive, but companies are not completely in charge of what their digital products ultimately become. The smart companies understand that a successful product launch results in the emergence of a user group, whom companies have a vested interest in serving by offering new, innovative experiences.
To fuel that innovation, companies should follow a user-driven roadmap that ultimately leads them to create a product that meets a specific need and enhances their customers’ lives in a compelling way.
As its name suggests, a user-driven roadmap is a strategic, high-level document that captures the vision and objectives of the product, guiding its development and evolution over time. It serves as a reference for making decisions about what features to add to a product or how to change its functionality.
One of the primary sources of input for the user-driven roadmap is — you guessed it — users. Through their feedback and usage behavior, they provide valuable information that can be used to create and revise the roadmap.
The beginnings of the user-driven roadmap are actually put in place before the MVP is developed, with the business objectives, purpose and vision for the product as the first guideposts. Starting with some core functions, developers build an MVP as the means of generating user feedback. By getting the product in the hands of users as quickly as possible, developers essentially make them part of the product development team.
Once the MVP is launched, users begin providing feedback on the product through how they adopt the product and how they actually use it in real-life situations. This provides clues on how the product should evolve, what features should be added, and what’s most important to users.
As noted above, specific user groups may also emerge, gravitating to the product in greater numbers than other users. This is what happened to Match.com, when people began using what had been a classified advertising product for online dating. Serving this user group demanded that certain features and functions be added. Match had to respond, or risk losing the users they had cultivated.
Iteration is central to the MVP and creating a user-driven roadmap. The MVP is an efficient means of testing a product and determining market fit based on user activation, acquisition, retention, referral, and revenue.
It is the process of taking the core components, testing them through the MVP, and iteratively adding features based on user feedback. With each iteration, the features are tested to determine, whether they add the value, broaden utility, and generally make the product better more useful to the user group. The features are changed, refined, added, or eliminated, and tested again.
The way people use products and the emergence of new user groups can happen quickly, or it can happen gradually over a long period of time. For that reason, the iterative process — and the learning that results from it — never stops.
Creating a Platform
Users are a key influence in creating the product’s roadmap, but they are not the only factor. As a company, you don’t want to simply do everything users seem to demand. You have your own business objectives to take into account. Your digital product has to support those business objectives in addition to serving the user groups.
That requires first having a clear vision of your business and the objectives you want the product to support, then prioritizing the user-driven changes you want to make. Those two axis, the user feedback and your business objectives, are what make up the roadmap that will guide you in the continual development process of the product.
Through this process, you’re evolving your product into a platform that can adjust to the changing needs of customers and the changing dynamics of your industry and business strategy. The technology will stay largely the same, but the way people use it, will change over time.
It’s an old saying, but developing a digital product is a journey, not a destination. Business objectives, market dynamics, and user needs are constantly changing at unpredictable rates. Maintaining user loyalty and adoption requires a commitment to continual innovation.
Every journey requires a map. A user-driven roadmap — based on obtaining and listening to user feedback — is a crucial element to making data-centered decisions to create increasingly better user experiences.
In addition to listening to user feedback, creating an effective roadmap also requires the ability to understand it. There is a difference between what users say they want and what they will actually use. The ability to read the subtext of user feedback and acting on that information can mean the difference between delivering a product that loses users, and one that delivers real value while meeting business objectives.