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Audio: Data-Driven Product Roadmaps: How to Know Which Data to Use (Part 1)
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Data-Driven Product Roadmaps: How to Know Which Data to Use (Part 1)

25 September 2020, by Jomiro Eming

This is part one of a three-part series. Make sure you check out part two and three as well!

COVID-19 has had a major impact on companies around the world, and as a result many of them have been forced into survival mode. This has inevitably impacted how they think about their product roadmaps, and the gut instinct for many has been to save money wherever possible. Dimitra Retsina, CPO (a.i.) at ReceiptBank, however, has found that relying on gut feeling alone — especially during such uncertainty – won’t benefit your company in the long run. Instead, she relies on data to inform her decisions.

Here’s how she approaches working with data to build out sustainable roadmaps during this transition into what she calls ‘phase two of COVID-19’.

Dimitra has been working in product strategy for a number of years, and her approach to product operations has always incorporated data.

While she acknowledges that ideas and instincts always play a role in guiding decisions, she’s found that — especially in times of uncertainty — relying on organisational data is the key to building sustainable product strategy, even more so on scaleups.

Going into the second phase of COVID-19, businesses that have survived are re-assessing where their development efforts should go. Now, Dimitra says, it’s more important than ever to think rationally about where you invest your time and resources, and back that up with concrete evidence:

“In terms of growth opportunities going forward, it’s about being much more critical of where you invest, where your development efforts go, and how you optimise acquiring customers now, based on how they themselves have adapted. It’s very different from before.”

However, knowing where to find useful information, and then actually transforming it into something that you can understand, communicate and apply to product strategy is hard.

In Dimitra’s experience, by following a structured approach to finding, collecting, and combining data, this process can be simplified a lot. Here’s her step-by-step process for working with data that aligns your product strategy in a logical way:

  • Know which data to use
  • Collect this data efficiently
  • Combine the parts that make sense, to produce insights that inform your decisions on product strategy, investments and roadmap prioritisation

In part 1, she unpacks why it’s so important to know which data to use before diving into your product roadmap, and where to source this information.

Know which data to use

When you find yourself in an uncertain situation, and you have to make hard calls that will impact your company’s and/or team’s future course of action, Dimitra says it is key to find the right data to help you.

Dimitra starts by looking at three parts of the business in particular — although every company will have its own requirements, these three are ones that she’s found most companies can rely on for useful product data. They are: Product Financials, Product Usage, and Effort Investments.

People involved in these areas have a pulse on where the business is at, and Dimitra says that working with these insights equips her well to make smart decisions. This is what each one looks like in more detail:

Your finance team has data on how each product contributes to revenue and cost

This is first place Dimitra looks for data. In her opinion, it’s a fundamental part of any product roadmap: Having data about how profitable her product portfolio has been in the past will inform her next move in a more constrained economic climate.

“Things like the Annual Recurring Revenue (ARR) and cost per product”, she explains, “are needed to understand the profitability of the things that you’re working on. That’s a key insight that any CPO needs to have.”

Your users can tell you what to focus on to maximise value

Simply put, you need to understand who your users are, and how they interact with your product.

When resources are limited, Dimitra says that she can’t afford to guess; she needs to deliver on things she can point to — things that users want — in order to maximise the value she delivers through her product.

This data gives practical context to the finance data you collect: “Combining your user base data with financial insights makes it easier for you to prioritise where you need to be doing product improvements. It helps you improve what you have already released, and understand if it actually delivered what it set out to deliver.”

Practical ways to do this includes actively engaging users through feedback surveys, interviews, etc – whichever medium allows you to access them most easily for qualitative research. You could also consider using user behavior tracking tools for quantitative research. Dimitra has found apps like Amplitude and Mixpanel particularly useful for this.

Looking into where you’re investing can help you act on business priorities

Finally, Dimitra looks at where the company has been investing its engineering efforts. This is because, in her experience, this forms a large part of the connective tissue between what your business spends and where your productivity is being focused — both of which are crucial to understand when you’re faced with making tradeoffs:

“By categorising the type of engineering investment you’re making, you’re able to know whether you are paying off technical debt or sales debt, whether it’s a growth investment, or whether you’re keeping your lights on. That’s important if you want to know whether you’re focused on the things you said you set out to do for the desired business impact,”

And she says that investments are a dynamic data set, in that businesses change where they invest their resources in response to their conditions. In other words, this data acts as both a health check and a yardstick against which Dimitra measures the other two data sets:

“It’s a very good indication as to whether you’re doing the things you should be doing. It starts firing up really valuable conversations: Do we actually have a scalable product? Do we have a good product-market fit? It’s a really interesting perspective to understand what it is that the company is doing.”

Having this sense of clarity is vital when deciding on next steps. As mentioned, Dimitra has found that you absolutely cannot afford to guess when it comes to where your company is at, or where it should be going, when your decisions will have knock-on effects in the long-run and as the world moves into phase two of COVID-19.

In the next article, she shares some tips on how you can approach collecting this data from these different stakeholders, and then combining it effectively.

Read part two here and part three!


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