Janna Bastow on LOL time horizons, failure symptoms, and the most relevant topics for PMs in 2023
Product State Q&A
Janna Bastow is the Co-Founder and CEO of ProdPad. Janna also organizes ProductTank events around the world, including Mind The Product, a global community of product managers.
EC: We recently had a laugh when a peer joked that ‘Later’ might as well be ‘LOL’ on a Now/Next/Later roadmap. That said, there is always a ‘Later’ to keep in mind. How can product leaders align their product strategies and roadmaps, and avoid planning for fantasy?
JB: Absolutely! You hit the nail on the head with the whole ‘Later’ thing. Yeah, we all have a good chuckle when someone jokes about it being ‘LOL’ on the roadmap, but in all seriousness — it's an important part of the process.
Here's the deal, having a ‘Later’ on the roadmap is like having a compass. It helps point the team in the right direction and keeps us all focused on the ultimate goal of the product. But, the key is not to get all Captain Ahab about it. You know, ‘moby dicking’ on the details that we can't even see yet because it's just too far off on the horizon.
Instead, think of ‘Later’ as a time horizon, like a distant land you can see on the horizon but not yet reached. Keep these ideas on the radar; put them in this last column, and as you get closer, break them down into smaller pieces so you can better understand the problems and opportunities ahead.
This way, you'll be able to keep your team focused on what's achievable and not get caught up in fantasy land. And before you know it, you'll be leading your team to a successful product launch with a clear vision and purpose.
EC: What are some of the symptoms you see in product teams that fail to build the right things?
JB: Ah, the age-old question of ‘are we building the right things?’ is a tough one, but when you see certain symptoms, you know things aren't going as planned.
First of all, when a product team is struggling to build the right things, you'll often see a lack of focus and direction. The team is all over the place, working on things that don't align with the overall product vision and goals. They might even be working on things that are completely unrelated to the product, and that's never a good sign.
Another symptom is a lack of customer feedback and validation. A good product team should be constantly seeking out feedback from customers and using it to inform their work. But, when a team is failing to build the right things, they're often working in a vacuum, without any real input from the people who'll actually use the product.
You'll also see a bunch of internal politics, teams fighting over resources and priorities, and people working on features they think are important rather than the features customers or stakeholders see value in.
Finally, there's often a lack of metrics to measure the success of their work. Product teams that fail to build the right things tend to rely on gut feelings and subjective opinions, rather than hard data and metrics to inform their work.
All in all, when a product team is struggling to build the right things, it's a clear indication that something is not working. So keep an eye out for these symptoms, and nip them in the bud to stay on track with delivering a successful product.
EC: What are emerging themes / topics you think should become a focus point for product managers this year?
JB: Good question! It's always a fun exercise to think about what's new and exciting in our world. And this year, there are a few things that I think are worth paying attention to.
First things first, let's talk about customer discovery. This is something that's always important, but in these leaner times when customers start to get finicky, it's more important than ever to really get to know your customers, understand their pain points and figure out how you can help. It's the foundation of any good product, and it's what separates the successful products from the not-so-successful ones.
Another thing that's obviously starting to become a big deal is AI, machine learning and all that jazz. We're seeing a lot of people and companies start to use this tech in different ways and it's a good idea to start thinking about how you can use AI in your product to make it stand out. You don't want to jump on the bandwagon just because it's trendy, but you should definitely be thinking about how it can benefit your customers and your business.... or how you might be about to be disrupted if you miss this opportunity.
And finally, something that I think is important for everyone on the product team to focus on, is making sure everyone is on the same page. Alignment counts for so much when you're faced with trying to make the best decisions in with the fewest resources. Product people are going to have to work harder than ever to use data, discovery, and storytelling to uncover the best direction to go and to bring their team along on the journey with them, in tight step. Those that nail this will outperform those who don't run such a tight ship.
“When a team is failing to build the right things, they're often working in a vacuum, without any real input from the people who'll actually use the product.”
Thanks for reading! Subscribe for free.