Creating a great product is a journey, not a destination. As your company grows, your product and features will also need to evolve to match your changing customer base, industry needs, compliance requirements, etc.
In this guide, we draw on Lightspeed's nearly two decades of investment experience, as well as, extensive interviews with founders to help you navigate the journey and challenges of product development. And while there are several structured steps we recommend taking in your product build process, the key concept to remember is the most successful founders, regardless of industry, all share a common characteristic; they are obsessed with talking to and learning from customers. Gather feedback, do so often, and don't be afraid to iterate.
Product-market fit (PMF) is a measure of how well your product satisfies the needs of a specific market. Finding PMF requires building a prototype, gathering feedback from potential users, and iterating on your product quickly. Attaining PMF is crucial for securing funding and your company’s overall success.
What is Product-Market Fit?
PMF is the degree to which your product addresses a customer’s needs. It can be broken down into three components:
- The What: Your product - what are you offering?
- The Who: Your target customer - whose problem are you trying to solve?
- The How: Your strategy - how will you bring this product to the right market?
A key indicator of PMF is a customer’s willingness to pay. Customers will only purchase products that solve a critical need for their business. If a customer can live with the problem you are targeting, you will never be able to capture new or existing budget.
Common Signs That You Lack PMF
- Long sales cycles with the buying decision getting “delayed” for other priorities
- Losing deals consistently to a competitor or the status quo (ex. continuing a manual process)
- A declining or lack of user engagement with your core use case
- Users that are not willing to upgrade from a free product to access paid features
Why Some Companies Fail at Finding PMF
- Not talking to enough potential users and understanding how their incentives govern their behavior
- Creating something people wanted — as measured by engagement — but not something they needed
- Failing to use feedback to iterate your way to a more compelling product
Why Does PMF Matter
Attaining PMF early-on allows you to demonstrate problem/opportunity validation, an understanding of market pace and dynamics, and a potential roadmap for scaling revenue. While these metrics will depend on your industry verticals, achieving PMF translates to meeting the qualitative and quantitative milestones you need to secure future funding.
Below is a chart that outlines the general PMF process:
PMF is an ever evolving target that is influenced by many factors, such as the competitive landscape, economic climate, and advancements in technology. The main goal should be to identify an initial use case that a customer can’t live without.
Focus on One Great Use Case
You need to be a “must have” vs. a “nice to have”. Choosing the wrong first use case will set you back months and potentially sink the company.
Study Your Competition
Deeply understanding your competition improves your ability to develop a compelling feature set, sell to customers, and raise future financing.
Talk to as Many Potential Customers as Possible
Every founder we interviewed regrets not having spoken with more customers. Before you build, talk to dozens, if not hundreds, of potential customers. Aim for 90% conviction that your product will succeed before you begin development.
Understand the Difference Between Your User and Buyer
The economic buyer has very different motivations from your end user. Be wary of over indexing on user enthusiasm and ensure there is budget for your product.
Beware of Feedback From Friends
Friends may not give the critical and potentially harsh feedback you need to improve your product.
Identifying Your First Use Case
Identifying a strong first use case is crucial to achieving PMF. While you should consider all the potential problems and use cases in your industry, it's more effective to find a single, killer use case that will make customers 100% happy, rather than multiple use cases that only make them 80% happy.
Steps to Identifying First Use Case
- Define your target problem
- Research your competitors
- Conduct customer interviews
- Build a product hypothesis
- Identify your personas
- Develop your prototype
Define Your Target Problem
Start your PMF journey by interviewing as many people as possible. This is the best way to identify a potential problem that warrants a solution. As you speak with your professional network, use your best judgement and expertise to identify the right problem set for your MVP.
Research Your Competitors
Mapping the competitive landscape will help inform your first use case and hone in on your problem. Unless you start a category-defining company, there are likely direct or closely adjacent competitors. Here are a few questions to define your industry and competitor set:
- What competitors pop up when you “google” the problem?
- How are similar products positioned in the current market?
- What paper/analog processes are you competing with?
- Your product solves a job to be done, how else are customers solving that job?
Note: If you are in a new market, you can still conduct this analysis using adjacent industries.
How to Assess Competitors
To get the information you need to narrow down your use case, you must go beyond a competitor's product features highlighted in their marketing. Research your potential competitors through multiple channels, then create a SWOT analysis table or use a competitive analysis template to visualize the pros and cons of each company.
Here is a customer analysis template as a starting point.
Conducting Customer Interviews
Customer interviews are in-depth discussions with subject matter experts about how they work and what is broken with current solutions. They are critical in finding the ideal initial use case for your product. Talk to as many potential customers as possible; 50-100+ is the prevailing recommendation.
In addition to the guidance below, this question bank template can help you kickoff your interviews.
The best interviews provide qualitative and quantitative insights into customer behavior. It’s a skill that takes some practice and preparation, and requires open questioning, close listening, and adaptability. If you’re not prepared, you may struggle to get the information you need to strengthen your research and, ultimately, your product.
Customer Interview Do’s and Dont's
- Focus on pain points: Explore what they do today and how it's broken
- Study current and past behaviors: The best predictor of future actions are recent behaviors.
- Talk to MANY of the right people: Identify your ideal customer, buyer, and user personas. This will hone their ear.
- Have one primary interviewer: Choose the most capable person to run all interviews. This will hone their ear.
- Demonstrate expertise: The deepest feedback comes from mutual respect and understanding. Prove your credibility.
- Ask what they want: Requests without context lack value.
- Ask what they would do "if": People are bad at predicting their future behaviors.
- Talk to the wrong people: Buyer and user perspectives may differ. Ensure you are incorporating feedback correctly.
- Outsource interviews: Founders have the most context to correctly utilize interview data.
- Assume you have credibility: People rarely do prior research and will not know why you are worth their time and attention.
Customer Task Demos
Customer task demos are a type of customer interview that allows you to gather deeper insights into customer behavior. Have anyone in the potential field you’re targeting conduct their analog or digital tasks, observe their process and create a flowchart of how they get work done. This flowchart can help you identify where potential customers struggle or get stuck, providing valuable information that can be used to improve your product.
When creating customer flowcharts, it's important to use a consistent format that will help you simplify and clarify your potential customers' pain points.
Building Your Product Hypothesis
Now that you have your target problem and competition in mind, you need to have a product hypothesis that, over time, can be validated. A well-articulated product hypothesis clarifies your thinking and holds you intellectually accountable when interpreting and prioritizing feedback. While your product strategy will evolve, the underlying thesis is your north star.
Product Hypothesis Format
Due to [state the underlying change you are addressing], [state problem]. This causes [pain point]. An ideal solution [state benefits], unlike alternative products, which do a good job at [solving X] but not in [solving Y]. The ideal solution will [job-to-be done].
Due to the advances in modern data center hardware, current software solutions are bottlenecked by CPU coordination and are unable to take advantage of the performance of SDD. This causes critical workloads to run slowly with higher cost and complexity. An ideal solution provides the scalability and reliability of current event streaming platforms, unlike Kafka, which is good at scaling but has poor throughput and performance as message size increases. The ideal solution will provide superior steam processing performance with the same reliability across all critical systems.
Identify Your Personas
Personas are archetypes that represent the key traits of your target customer, user, and buyer. Personas serve as filters for decision-making. Every aspect of your business should ladder up to your personas, including:
- Product: strategy, roadmap, and feature prioritization
- Go-to-market: distribution channels, pricing models, marketing, and PR strategy
- Hiring: employee skillsets, location, and retention strategy
Personas are developed through an initial product hypothesis, followed by research, customer interviews, and design partnerships. Personas will and should evolve as you search for PMF.
In addition to the example persona's below, here is a helpful template to help you outline your 3 ideal personas.
Ideal Customer Persona
Ideal customer personas (ICP) represent the company, not user or buyer, level traits that signal a potential fit for your product.
Ideal User Persona
User personas represent the individuals who will engage with your product. Their motivations may align in some areas with the company and buyer, but they also have unique characteristics. If you build only for the company and buyer, your user engagement will suffer.
In a PLG motion, the user is king, and their adoption and enthusiasm will strongly influence the buyer. In a top-down enterprise sales motion, the user may not strongly influence the initial buying decision, but their engagement will strongly impact renewals and expansions.
Ideal Buyer Persona
Buyer personas represent the decision maker who will ultimately approve the budget for your product. Founders commonly assume user enthusiasm directly translates into buyer approval, which is rarely the case. Ensure you understand the motivations and decision-making criteria of your buyer.
Prototypes are an essential part of the product development process, as they give initial product ideas a tangible form. They are critical for achieving product-market fit, validating your product, and determining whether it will be worth paying for. Many companies spend months developing a product only to find that nobody wants it at launch, or that they could have built something better if they had pivoted to a different product earlier in the process.
Developing a prototype allows you to gather feedback from stakeholders and users, build momentum for your upcoming launch, and effectively communicate your vision to design partners. It also helps you avoid wasting time and resources on building a product that won't succeed.
Different Kinds of Prototypes
When creating prototypes, there are always tradeoffs to consider. The more effort you put into a prototype, the longer it will take to get feedback, but the quality of that feedback is usually higher. To maximize the benefits of prototyping, aim to create the lowest-fidelity prototype possible that will still provide reliable answers to validate your hypothesis. This will allow you to get feedback quickly and make informed decisions about the direction of your product.
App: A beta version of your product where you invite users to test it with services like TestFlight.
No-code: A mock version of your product without any programming using tools like Zapier, Airtable, or Webflow.
Low-fidelity: A version of your product idea using sketches or wireframes.
High-fidelity: A working mock-up of your envisioned product using Figma, Adobe XD, and other design tools. This will allow you to walk through a more detailed representation of your product.
Human Turk (Wizard-of-Oz or man behind the curtain): A manual or behind-the-scenes implementation of your software.
To illustrate the Wizard of Oz approach, consider a service that converts excel sheets into Google Sheets. In this case, the Wizard of Oz approach would involve having users sign up for the platform and upload their excel sheets. You would then manually convert those spreadsheets into Google Sheets, simulating the functionality of your proposed product. The potential customer would only interact with the updated Google Sheets, giving you valuable feedback on their experience with the product. This allows you to validate your hypothesis and gather feedback without spending the time and resources required to fully develop the product.
MVP (Minimal Viable Product): A more robust prototype made for market use. This will be the minimal version of your product that you believe to be useful.
Customer prospecting and engagement is a numbers game. Seed companies lack a known brand and can’t rely on inbound interest. It’s critical to build a scalable process to identify, engage, and manage hundreds of customer touch points. Avoid the common founder mistake of trying to brute force your pipeline through manual processes.
Make Your Network Work for You
Now is the time to call in all the favors you earned over the years. Be persistent in asking your 1st-, 2nd-, and 3rd-degree connections for introductions to potential customers and design partners.
Automate Your Email Outreach
Don’t work out of spreadsheets. Use modern sales automation platforms to remove the operational overhead of high-volume outreach.
Many founders find their initial customers and design partners through technical blogging, podcasting, and speaking. Creating compelling content for your target audience can drive meaningful inbound leads.
Demo as You Go
As you engage prospects, demo your product and solicit feedback. Even if you only have a prototype, capturing sentiment from demos can inform your product and go to market strategy.
Filter Feedback Through Your Personas
Buyers and users have different motivations. Make sure you know which you are talking to and filter feedback through their persona’s unique perspective.
Customer Engagement & Validation
At this point, you should know what will work in the market and who this product is for. Now it's time to test this thesis with customers. It's vital that in this stage of your company development, you're soliciting feedback from customer leads that are core to your market. The potential downside of not doing this is receiving feedback that sends you in the wrong direction.
There are three ways for you to prospect for feedback: referrals, inbound leads, and email campaigns.
Early adopters are taking a risk engaging with you and your product. Having a shared network connection lends credibility and may overcome their risk aversion.
- Warm leads are more productive: 1st- and 2nd-degree connections will be most motivated to engage and provide in-depth feedback. Start by deeply mining your personal and professional networks.
- Be aggressive: Get your network to work for you. Push your investors and advisors for connections and develop a repeatable engagement process.
Tip: When tapping into your network, make it easy for people to help by suggesting target introductions and drafting messages they can forward. You can also use our Customer Referral Template to get started.
Here is a helpful template to organize your referral leads.
Don't underestimate the effectiveness of inbound acquisition channels in building awareness with your target audiences. Many enterprise founders used content as their initial early adopter engagement strategy. Technical blogs, speaking engagements, podcasts, etc., can generate highly engaged users who are likely to provide detailed feedback. Creating awareness of the problem you are solving can attract customer interest.
- Materialize capitalized on finding leads through popular websites like Hackers News that have ingrained audiences who would be interested in their product.
- Materialize's 1st Hacker News Post
- Redpanda frequently wrote blog posts and technical deep dives, creating brand association and building credibility and appeal within their industry — the first 15 or 20 blogs they had on their website were highly technical and valuable to their target audience.
- Redpanda’s 1st Blog
- Panther’s 1st Blog
- Materialize used niche distribution channels to reach the right users. Specific podcasts with smaller but targeted audiences can be a great way to find customers.
- Materialize’s 1st Podcast
- Fiddler used their white paper, a primary content piece for building credibility, to show they have industry expertise with design partners and researchers.
- Fiddler.ai’s White Paper
Company Conferences/ Events
- Fiddler also hosted events like their AI Summit to leverage well-known speakers' and panelists' reputations to develop warm leads. One of them turned into their first design partner.
- Fiddler’s 1st Explainable AI Summit
Outreach via email campaigns is another opportunity for you to receive feedback from target customers. Even the best email campaigns have relatively low conversion rates. Ensure you understand industry benchmarks and adjust your campaigns to achieve continuous improvement across the funnel.
Email campaigns are a numbers game; automate your email sequences through a software platform.
- Personalized emails improve click-through rates by 14% and conversion rates by 10%
- Personalize the email sequence based on the user or buyer persona
- Email > LinkedIn message
When reaching out to initial prospects, plan a 6-7 email sequence. If prospects do not respond, add them into a marketing sequence for company updates: key hires, funding announcements, product releases, etc.
For a deep dive on email sequences, check out the * Outreach.io Email Sequence Guide.
Choosing the Right Tech Stack
You should develop a tech stack that helps you keep track of your potential customers, take notes, and follow up with them for potential design partner opportunities.
Customer Research & Identification
- Must-have tool to research companies and identify specific people to email.
- Linkedin Sales Navigator: Most popular and easy-to-use platform
Email Campaign Automation
- Both platforms below have email automation features. You may choose to use GEM for candidate and customer outreach.
- Outreach.io: Sales-focused platform
- Gem (discount): Recruiting-focused platform
- Email and contact information databases.
- ZoomInfo: Full suite of customer contact tools
- Hunter: Email-focused platform
- Choose a system that allows you to manage your pipeline effectively and is lightweight to implement.
- Airtable: Free templates to manage your initial process
- Hubspot (discount): Lightweight sales, marketing, content, and customer service CRM
- Salesforce (discount): Best for managing customers at scale; implementation is complex so use a consultant in our network
Recording & Note Taking
- Record and save transcripts of all early customer and user interviews.
- Otter.ai: Affordable and easy-to-use transcription platform
- Gong: Analyzes your customer-facing interactions across phone, email, and web conferencing to deliver your team the insights they need to close more deals
Think of each interaction with potential customers as a flowchart rather than a funnel. If a customer is not ready to move to the next stage of providing feedback on the prototype or becoming a design partner, track them for future surveys, product updates, and customer testimonials.
Making sure your product aligns with your product hypothesis and communicating your ideas clearly is a critical part of the feedback journey. If the customer doesn't understand how this will solve their problem, you may not get the feedback you need. Product demos are useful because:
- It forces the team to grapple with the proposed customer value from the customer's perspective.
- It makes it very clear what is the purpose and scope of the proposed product. (Every product launch, intended feature, or proposed internal initiative is an experiment to some degree, whether you like it or not.)
- It becomes a syncing mechanism for various stakeholders to gain conviction together before putting too much capital at risk.
- It lets you keep abreast of many new product iterations and initiatives with sufficient clarity and detail.
The type of product demo you do will depend on the customer and your prototype. If you have a more developed prototype, some customers may want a walk through of every feature to form thorough understanding of its value. Others, may want to ask more questions. Product demos are organic and requires that you to adapt to the needs of your customer. Researching your customers motivators before your product demo will help you connect best with that customer and gain you the most valuable feedback.
Product Demo Tips
- Record, record, record.
- Your goal is to identify design partners and future paying customer targets; make sure you write down potential signals of who would be excellent design partner prospects and why.
- If this is a previous customer you've spoken with or did a potential customer Task Flow conversation with, make sure you re-iterate the problem you both discussed. That will contextualize the meeting and ensure you are both on the same page.
It’s critical to understand the perspectives and motivations of your target personas and use that to interpret the feedback they give. The buyer and user may have different and/or competing priorities. Before the customer interview, ensure you understand who you are talking to and how they make decisions. For example:
- In a PLG motion, the user is king. Once adoption occurs, internal advocates heavily influence the buyer → interview more users.
- In a direct sales motion, the buyer is king. You must satisfy their requirements to make a sale → interview more buyers.
Buyers Care About
- Organization-wide impact
- Cost savings & switching costs
- Adoption & usage
- Risk & compliance
Users Care About
- Solving their workflow problem
- Improvements in efficiency
- Avoiding making their role redundant
- Getting promoted
Materialize was struggling to find product-market fit for their software solution. They spent a lot of time gathering feedback from technical teams, but it soon became clear that these teams were not the initial buyers or advocates of the product. They were trying to create a solution that would put the assumed users out of a job, so their feedback was not helpful.Realizing their mistake, Materialize decided to pivot and interview more buyers instead. These buyers were able to provide the feedback they needed to improve their product and find a better product-market fit.
Materialize Buyer vs. User Example
Design Partners are passionate early adopters who will spend meaningful time using your early product and giving in-depth feedback that will shape your product roadmap. The right design partner can transform your product and accelerate your achievement of PMF.
Carefully Choose Your Design Partners
Design Partnerships will shape your early product and serve as critical customer references. The “big” logo may not be the “right” logo. Ensure you work with both the right company and the best individual within that company. Customer interviews who were excited by your idea are a great place to start.
Asking for money is the best way to validate a design partners conviction. Don’t optimize for price, but charge something to ensure alignment.
Deliver Value Both Ways
Provide tangible value to each design partner. This could be in their ability to shape the product, helping them learn about founding a company, or giving them clout as an early adopter. Discuss their goals and build that into the plan.
Develop Marketing Materials
Customer references, white papers, and use of the design partner’s logo will help get the next round of customers. Get a commitment to collaborate on marketing materials.
Design Partnerships (DPs) are collaborative relationships between you and early adopters who provide deep and ongoing feedback on your early product. Unlike regular early customers, design partners are involved in the development process from the outset, providing insights and feedback that helps shape your product.
If you’re like most founders, you’ve put a lot time and effort into coming up with your product idea. DPs can provide in-depth early feedback you need to improve product features and succeed.
Targeting Design Partners
To make sure you’re collecting much-needed feedback, you should target 4-8 design partners. It’s important to carefully find and select potential candidates using research methods like the following:
- Inviting the most engaged customer interviewees
- Generating inbound interest from technical blogs, participating in podcasts, and sharing your perspective on other social media channels
- Cold outreach to target ICPs
Tip: Use the Sales Tech Stack we mentioned in our Prospecting Customers to find and track potential DPs.
Assessing Design Partners
Once you have identified some potential partners, you want to assess them and ensure you have a strong understanding of their motivations, ensuring everyone is aligned and focused on achieving success.
Here are some questions you should ask when deciding on design partners:
- Does the company fit your initial ideal customer and user persona?
- Is your contact closest to your problem/solution?
- Does this candidate have enough time to give meaningful feedback?
- Can they make a future purchasing decision (ideal, but not mandatory)?
After identifying and assessing your potential partners, it's essential to establish clear expectations and a strong value exchange so that everyone can get the most out of this relationship.
Design partners should expect to:
- Commit to a 2-3 month engagement with your company.
- Attend regular meetings — weekly or bi-weekly for 30-45 mins.
- Pay a certain amount for your product; however, the cost is less material than the commitment it indicates.
- Commit to future white paper or PR quote (this is ideal, but not mandatory).
- Implement the solution in production with users (in dev environment; it may be ok for some products).
Develop a partnership agreement that outlines your mutual responsibilities and expectations, the amount of time required from each partner, and how you will communicate progress will help you move forward in shaping your MVP.
Design Partner Best Practices
Working with a design partner can be a great way to get your business off the ground—but it's not always easy. You can set yourself up for success in partnership by making sure the partnership is mutually beneficial, communicating clearly and often, and being open-minded while using your best judgment when hearing feedback.
1. The DP Value Exchange
Have a clear and mutually beneficial value exchange with your design partners. While you can expect to conduct weekly feedback meetings with your partner over the course of 2-3 months to nail your PMF, the design partner can expect their feedback will deeply influence the product direction to solve their specific needs, get a steep discount on the purchase price, and be able to see under the hood of your product development process (this is often a big deal for typical DPs).
2. Communicate Effectively
Working with a partner means you'll need to get clear about what you want and what your goals are.
It's also important to be responsive; if your partner sends you an email, make sure you reply promptly. The more you communicate, the easier it will be to work together and progress on the MVP. Similarly, when working with someone else, it's important to respect their time as much as you would respect your own. This means being punctual for meetings and not canceling plans at the last minute. If you appreciate your partner's time, they'll be more likely to reciprocate.
3. Use Your Best Judgment
A proactive collaboration informs what is prioritized and feasible. A good design partner will be on the cutting edge of new ideas and push you out of your comfort zone. That will result in amazing, energizing new ideas. However, as the leader, you need to assess and communicate whether the presented ideas can be executed. Knowing the feedback's technological, operational, and cultural impact on your company and product when conducting these conversations will help here.
Founders are inundated with feedback from customers, employees, investors, advisors, and more. All startups struggle to contextualize and prioritize feedback. Do you listen to your largest customer’s feature requests, strive for feature parity with a competitor, or develop an entirely new product line?
At the seed stage, agility is more important than accuracy. Your ability to learn and adapt over short timelines is a competitive advantage over later stage competitors. Continually iterate your product strategy to focus on the improving business outcomes for your customers.
Codify Your Vision and Strategy
Trust your product intuition. By writing down your vision and strategy, you will have a north start to follow as you make decisions.
Focus on the Next 3-6 Months
Its impossible to “future proof” your product roadmap. Expect to learn from customers and update your product roadmap frequently.
Never Stop Talking to Customers
While obvious, it’s easy for founders to get pulled into fundraising, hiring, running the business, and selling to new customers. Prioritize spending time with existing customers to learn who your product is being used and where it can improve.
Define Business Value, Not Just Features, in Your Roadmap
At the Seed stage, it is vital to have an integrated product roadmap that draws on your company mission, strategy, and market research. Customers don’t care about features, they are buying a solution to their problem. If you can not articulate the business value of a feature, it’s unlikely your customers will understand it either. Start by identifying business outcomes, then prioritize features.
Typical Development Timeline for Seed
- Company mission: 10+ years
- Product strategy: 1-2 years
- Product roadmap: Revisit every 3-6 months and/or as you gain customer feedback
Product Strategy & Roadmap
At this point, you've spoken with dozens of potential customers, collected feedback, and developed relationships with some of your advocates to become design partners. Now you have to communicate your product vision and strategy to the team using a product roadmap. A product roadmap is a tool to set a timeline of designated features you want to include in your product's release.
To create an effective roadmap, you need to have a clear understanding of your company mission, product strategy, and how those two things will inform your product roadmapping process.
At its core, your company mission should reflect your product's or service's overarching goal — what you are trying to achieve and how you want to impact the world. This mission should be a guiding light for all decisions related to product development, including prioritizing features. It should encompass your company's purpose, values, and goals and serve as a north star for your product vision.
Box’s Mission: Help businesses and individuals securely store, manage, and share their files and collaborate with others.
Your product strategy is a more tactical set of guidelines that dictate how you will prioritize features and plan product releases. To create your strategy, you need to take into account factors such as customer feedback, market trends, the long-term vision for your product, and the day-to-day details of your release plan.
Your product strategy unifies stakeholders within the company around a central goal and serves as a feature prioritization filter that guides the product roadmap. To complete your product strategy, ask yourself the following questions:
- Who do we serve?
- What problems are we addressing?
- How are we planning to address those problems?
- What are the key business outcomes we will provide?
Use your company mission to answer these questions and adapt the mission to your customer, market, and goals. Ultimately, you want your product strategy to describe how the product will achieve the mission.
Product roadmaps are tactical plans for product development and outline a set of features to build within a given period. This will help you understand how your product will fit into the larger market landscape and what impact you hope to make. It will also provide tactical guidance to cross-functional teams, forces decisions about prioritization and resourcing, and aligns stakeholders across the company.
Now, Next, Later Framework
Many founders struggle with making product roadmaps both strategic and executable. All startups change rapidly, and it's easy to lose track of individual tasks and how they fit into the broader product strategy.
The Now, Next, Later framework is an easy way to prioritize and visualize both short-term tasks and long-term strategic bets.
- Now: Top priority tasks in the next 1-2 sprints (2 to 4 weeks)
- Next: Opportunities within the next quarter
- Later: Potential long-term bets after 1 quarter
As you complete tasks and gather customer feedback, you should continually revisit your Now, Next, Later framework.
Building Your Integrated Roadmap
Many companies miss the connective tissue between the product roadmap and product strategy. The roadmap will define the chronology of product development, and the strategy represents the business impact.
Visualizing the strategy and roadmap together is a powerful way to force prioritization around business outcomes instead of features. Focusing on more than 3-4 business outcomes is rarely possible.
Grouping features by business value has three main benefits:
- Forced thinking of business outcome vs. “cool” features.
- Easier feature prioritization; if it does not fit into the business outcome, it’s not prioritized.
- Sales enablement; you can showcase your business outcomes to potential customers for ongoing feedback on market excitement.
Here is a template to help you create an integrated roadmap.
Once you have your integrated roadmap, take a step back and assess your overall product strategy. This involves thinking about your target customer segments, how you will reach them, and what resources or partnerships you may need to develop and grow your product successfully. To ensure that you'll work towards your key priorities to help you achieve your business goals, use our integrated product roadmap template.
Box customers had a crucial pain point; as document volume and complexity grew, controlling permissions and access to sensitive information became unfeasible. The product team took customers' feedback and identified a new roadmap priority, improving security and provisioning capabilities. They began by defining the core business outcome they wanted to address (the why): intelligent & automated security. Customers wanted to avoid manually managing the complexity of document-level permissions but needed to ensure they were protecting sensitive data. Features were evaluated and prioritized using this business outcome as a filter (the what). They identified two critical components to add in their roadmap's "Now" section: auto-classifying content and applying policies at the document level and Integrating single sign-on.The new roadmap was previewed to customers for feedback before development began. Once they saw the customer's enthusiasm, they prioritized the new features.
Tools & Templates
Customer Interview Question Bank
List of suggested questions when running a customer interview for product market fit.
Ideal Persona Template
Template for outlining your ideal personas for PMF interviews.
Customer Referrals Template
A template to help gather and organize customer referral leads.