Now that 2016 is here and roadmaps season is in its peak, it is a good opportunity to write about a 'Product Roadmap Road trip' I once did.
I was raveling to present my product's roadmap to some of my biggest customers due to their requests, and my wish to collect feedback. I was trying to make as many meetings as possible in one week of travel. Challenging yet important and even fun.
The things you learn just from sitting in the same room with your customers and not just being "a phone call away" (like it is sometime easy for us to claim) are amazing! Once you get out of your desk office ("comfort zone" you might say), you get the sense of the real world and how things actually look out there. I'm trying to do this as much as I can but still every time it strikes me with new surprise.
You can actually see how your customers work and you get a chance to really listen to them. No buffering, no filtering, no "bottom-lining", no generalization of things from any mediators. You get to hear it straight from the source.
This is most important in my view. With such direct conversation you figure out and clarify important things like prioritization of needs, workflows and use-cases, plans and vision.
In my road trip I obviously presented my product's roadmap but also tried to do 3 other things:
Listen to the customers speak - just let them express what they think and how they see things from their point of view. I teased them with questions (open-ended ones like "where do you see this product in 5 years?" or specific ones like "what are the top 3 things you'd keep, and what would be the 3 you'd change in the product as you use it") and with some mockups or new features up my sleeve.
See their systems and the way they work with them - there is sometimes no other option to actually SEE the systems or applications except on customer's premise. A demo worth 1000 PowerPoint decks and 2000 phone calls... (By the way, just like I love to see something working in the works, customers like to see the same thing so I try to bring demos with me or at least solid mockups).
Do some white-boarding or brainstorming sessions - though usually it is not the main purpose of the meeting, I find it beneficial for me and obviously for my customers to brainstorm and even whiteboard a bit around a certain problem or concept they have. As a Product Manager, with knowledge around the technical aspects, commercial aspects, market understanding, competitors landscape and more, it is a great chance for both of us to explore something a bit more in depth. It helps me get better understanding about the customers challenges, their workflows and their thought processes - Exactly what a product manager needs in order to push the product forward.
So every chance I have, I go out there, to the field, to meet my customers. It was always proven to be beneficial.
Go and Explore!