By Dennis Chow
The VP of product management at a leading restaurant point of sale software company developed a thorough process to ensure its roadmaps are on the right track.
When I joined TouchBistro in late 2017, our mobile restaurant point of sale software company had already risen to the top of its industry with 500+ new restaurants per month adopting our software. The company had raised more than $100 million in venture capital and was poised for our next phase of growth. One of my tasks was to build a robust product team capable of accelerating the company’s already tremendous success and to operationalize the way that team interacted with the rest of the company. To do that, we had to clearly define a process for how TouchBistro would determine its product roadmap each quarter
The process of how our roadmapping sessions have evolved is one of the things I’m particularly proud of in terms of what we’ve accomplished as a product team. We’ve even had requests from other folks in the organization who want us to live stream these sessions.
The roadmapping process we have at TouchBistro starts with understanding the goals of the company. We get this from the leadership team, and it might be high-level goals such as customer acquisition or revenue targets. From there it’s a regular check in with that leadership team to find out how to prioritize all of these goals. Understanding how the goals are weighted forms the basis of evaluating features for inclusion in the roadmap.
We put together a business case on a page with sections describing the customer problem, market problem, and from there what we see as the potential solution. It’s a methodology drawn from The Lean Startup approach. We’ll ask questions such as:
This method puts our product managers through that discipline of looking at any given feature request and to critically evaluate those against the goals of the organization. Every quarter our product managers come up with a handful of these opportunities that they want to present and include in the roadmap. There’s almost a bit of a Shark Tank action that happens within the sanctity of the product group, where a product manager will stand up in front of his or her peers and present each opportunity to be put forth under the microscope for scrutiny. The intention is to have his or her assumptions challenged.
This is where leveraging the assistance of our data analytics guru really helps to put some of the numbers behind each opportunity. As a group we critically evaluate each of these opportunities, and we collectively decide which ones move forward and merit prioritization.
This is a roadmap that defines what gets done for the next quarter, that gets subsequently shared and approved by our leadership group. We present it for approval to the board; then from there I initiate a roadshow going across the departments and informing them of the big problems we’re aiming to solve for the next quarter.
Yes, the process is a lot of work, and the team is quite exhausted after the evenings when we do this. Once every quarter the product managers understand there’s an expectation that you’ll be having dinner in the office with your colleagues, and we’re going to be presenting our opportunities. So once every quarter we’re working through the night.
The important thing that I try to foster is to create that safe space for the product team to have a very spirited debate. We have to set the groundwork and set the expectation that if one of your colleagues is challenging you, he or she is challenging the idea, not the person presenting the idea. That has absolutely been a learning process as a group. We’ve gone through several of these now, and the team is feeling much more comfortable, and they’re able to make that distinction between challenging an idea and not the individual. I think with any high-functioning team, you want that space for a healthy debate, but then once the alignment is there and you’re locked in, then you are 100 percent supporting your teammates. In the end, to the rest of the organization, you’re singing from the same song sheet.
LEAN STARTUP PRINCIPLES
DENNIS CHOW is the VP of product management at TouchBistro, a mobile restaurant point of sale software company based in Toronto with 15,000+ customers in 100+ countries. Prior to TouchBistro, Chow held product leadership positions at Nexonia, Intuit, Pivotal Payments, Sears Canada, TELUS Communications, and Rogers Communications.