Over the past several years, a trend of increased transparency has swept over the software industry. Today we see SaaS companies communicating more openly about outages and data breaches. We see more software companies sharing salary and revenue numbers publicly. We even see companies reporting on diversity and inclusion trends within their organizations. And now we’re beginning to see this same trend extend into the Product and Engineering organizations of many businesses, as more companies are opting to publicly share their product roadmaps.
There’s no doubt that every team and company is different, and how you approach transparency at your organization is entirely up to you. We’re definitely not here to advocate for or against sharing your organization’s salaries. But we do believe it’s important to acknowledge this ongoing shift toward a more transparent business world, and to consider how a more open product and release process can be a very positive transformation for your organization.
With that said, we know firsthand from hundreds of customer calls that the idea of publicly sharing a product roadmap can be a big change—or in some cases even a paradigm shift—for many businesses. And so the purpose of this article is to not only do a deeper dive on some of the pros and cons of publicly sharing your product roadmap, but also provide some additional perspectives to consider when you and your team face the decision of whether or not sharing roadmap information publicly is the right decision for you. Should you decide that it is, we've also included some tips for helping you determine what to share and when, as this is a topic that we receive a lot of questions on and are particularly passionate about.
A theme that will be front and center throughout this piece is the importance of establishing trust and loyalty with your customers. And both product management (PM) and product marketing (PMM) teams should never forget they have an unparalleled opportunity to build this high level of trust and loyalty with their users. One of the easiest and most direct ways to do this? Through being more transparent about what’s being worked on, and the value they’re consistently delivering, across their user base. In our experience, this is a guaranteed way to turn users of your product into champions of your product.
With that in mind, let's dig in!
Transparency builds trust. One of the many ways this has become evident is the wave of companies dramatically improving the way they communicate with customers during software outages. Today, consumers expect a product or service will be transparent about issues they’re having.
However, don’t get stuck in the trap of only being transparent when you’re experiencing problems or downtime. Being forthcoming with your customers about what you’re building and when you’re planning to release something new not only builds just as much trust, it's also a lot more enjoyable—for both parties!
A study from consulting firm Label Insight found that 94% of consumers prefer brands that practice transparency. In another study from Spiceworks, 84% of IT purchasers said they need to trust a tech brand before making a purchase. And further drawing a direct correlation between trust and loyalty among consumers, a MarketingCharts report shows 75% of people will continue to purchase from a brand they trust.
The value of transparency is clear: it improves your relationships with customers. Opening up your product roadmap, even if it’s just a sneak peek into near term work, gives customers continued confidence in the value you're providing them, making them that much more invested in (and excited about) not only the direction of your product, but also the overall success of your business.
If potential buyers have visibility into which features are planned, and which features are currently in development, it could influence their decision to purchase your product over a competitive product. That’s right: public roadmaps actually help drive sales.
For example, if a potential customer is comparing your product against a competing product, and your product has a feature “coming soon” that the competing product doesn’t have, it could very well tip the scale in your favor enough to make the sale. But the benefits don't stop there! Providing access to your roadmap can also help reduce customer churn up the road, as this same potential customer can ensure your overall product vision maps to their future needs as a business.
In a similar vein, being transparent about your roadmap also helps customers plan and prioritize their own work. For example, let’s assume your team is in the middle of redesigning your product's admin user interface. By including this work on your public roadmap, admins can ensure they have enough time to prepare for these changes, develop any change management models required, and prioritize internal projects necessary to support the upcoming change... all well before the change actually reaches them. No one likes to be caught off guard, and something like a UI refresh might require some users to make slight changes to their normal, everyday workflow. Especially for B2B tools, it’s imperative that your customers are aware of, and prepared for, these types of changes well before they ship.
You’re likely to prioritize a feature in order to solve a common pain point for a group of customers. As you do this, it’s a huge missed opportunity not to share this information with the very people that you know will be most excited about it. Perhaps more importantly, sharing this information with the appropriate cohort provides them with an opportunity to give you feedback along the way. The best PMs know that the difference between shipping something good and shipping something great comes down to how much customer feedback you've gotten, and a public roadmap is the perfect conduit for eliciting this feedback from the users who care the most.
In this case, a public roadmap not only ensures you're more closely aligned with your customers and their needs, but simultaneously provides you with more confidence that you’re heading in the right direction as you work. It also brings your customers along for the ride, and provides an additional touch point for them to feel like they’re an active part of your process and an engaged participant in the future of the product itself. It's the ultimate win/win.
Customers want to know what you’re working on and what innovations they can be looking forward to. They purchased your product to help their own business succeed, and presumably the things you're working on will be features and enhancements that make their job that much more efficient and their life that much better. A public roadmap not only provides your PM and PMM teams with a direct channel to accomplish this, but in doing so keeps users continually excited, engaged, and gives them a reason to regularly return for more. After all, who doesn't want to be the first to know about and try new features?
It’s human nature that the closer we get to something, the more we care and the more invested we become. A public roadmap is the perfect tool to ensure your users feel as connected as possible to your product, the team behind the product, and the countless updates, enhancements, and improvements you plan to make.
Product investments are all about prioritization and focus. A good product roadmap gives your users a sense of the competing priorities you’re working to deliver, and helps them understand why one thing might have been prioritized over another. It’s impossible to satisfy every customer, but it is possible to communicate transparently about your priorities so that everyone can better understand the trade-offs behind your decisions.
Likewise, internal teams such as Sales, Support, and Customer Success all lobby for Product and Engineering resources to focus on different things. Because each of your customer-facing teams is in regular contact with various customers through a variety of different channels, each team is getting consistent feedback from a different group of customers on what you should build (or fix) next. As a result, the Support team will often advocate for fixing more bugs, Sales will usually ask that new features be prioritized, and so on.
A public roadmap not only arms your users with the necessary information they need to understand where your Product and Engineering resources are being spent and why, but also arms your customer-facing teams with the perfect resource to reference when customers have questions about what has been prioritized and what hasn't. Again, it’s impossible to satisfy everyone, but providing this level of transparency builds trust across your organization and ensures your users, as well as your customer-facing teams, are always on the same page about the product and roadmap decisions being made.
As a final note, it’s important to know that customers will often ask to see your roadmap, and this is something your teams should be expecting and prepared for. As customers get used to higher levels of transparency, they will begin to see visibility into your roadmap as tablestakes. With this in mind, why not make it easy for the various teams across your business to confidently answer this question when asked? Using a public roadmap is the easiest way to ensure your users, as well as your customer-facing teams, remain aligned with your business' priorities at all times.
If you’re focusing on your competitors, you’re focused on the wrong thing. It’s widely known that acquiring new customers is more expensive than keeping existing customers. Every moment you’re not focused on your customers, you’re off target. Specifically, if you stay focused on building the best possible product and delivering the best possible user experience, it will be your competitors that will be worried about you, and not the other way around.
As we discussed above, showing your customers you care about their feedback by actively keeping them up-to-speed on your product development process will result in greater trust between you and them, and higher loyalty and retention over the long term. All good relationships are built on a foundation of trust.
At the end of the day, there are a number of ways your competitors can find out what you’re building and planning if they really want to. Don’t get distracted by what your competitors might be thinking. Execute your vision the best you can, and give your customers every reason to be invested in and excited about this vision along the way. If you're fully invested in their happiness, success, and patronage, they'll continue to reward you with their business. Regardless of what the competition may be doing.
Product Managers are notoriously fearful of communicating specific "launch dates" to customers, and given their role, it’s fair for them to be concerned. Likewise, customer-facing roles should be aware that communicating hard dates to customers is always a risky move. If you ever must communicate a date, leave yourself a sizable buffer (we’d recommend at least two weeks). As a general rule, it's always better to under promise and over deliver!
With that said, you actually don’t have to communicate any specific dates on your roadmap at all. Let’s be honest, priorities change, bugs come up, scope creep happens, and at the end of the day, specific deadlines are hard to hit. Especially in the SaaS world.
Instead of giving specific dates on your roadmap, provide general timelines. For example, you can bucket roadmap items into categories such as:
Any of the above options give customers a general sense of what you’re focused on now, what you’re thinking about in the near future, and what's on deck after that. For example, here at LaunchNotes this is how we’ve chosen to communicate our roadmap: Product Updates.
Lastly, if plans change, that’s ok. Everyone in the SaaS world understands the way things work. The most important thing is to communicate whatever change(s) may occur and to be transparent with your users as to why. If you're open and honest about your priorities, especially if and when things shift, customers will be more understanding and patient. Embrace these opportunities as yet one more chance to build trust with your customers.
Firstly, we encourage you to embrace this reaction. Feedback is a gift from customers who are engaged and care about your product!
The most important thing is that you have a system (and/or a team) in place for customers to inquire about/voice concerns with/give feedback on your roadmap. For companies large enough to have a team monitoring and responding to this feedback, we suggest ensuring your Support or Customer Success teams handle this process. But even if you can’t afford to have an entire team on it, there are many ways to automate the collection of this feedback in a way that makes your customers feel genuinely heard.
Moreover, if customers are constantly asking questions about a certain item on your roadmap, that’s a clear signal they value what you’re building and that you’re on the right path. It also presents a perfect opportunity to create a cohort of users that you can engage with further for user research, feedback, beta testing, or anything that might improve the feature as you built it. As discussed above, this is a win/win for both parties!
At the end of the day, one of the advantages of sharing a roadmap publicly is to elicit a response from customers, and if you do get a strong signal, we encourage you to embrace it. A vocal user base is a strong sign of how invested and engaged they are with your product. A public roadmap makes this process possible.
The nature of cloud software, specifically for Agile teams, is one in which products are expected to be constantly changing, updating, and improving. In fact, the first principle in the agile manifesto is:
“Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.”
But Agile software development is also rooted in continual customer feedback, and as such a public roadmap is a perfect artifact through which you can elicit and collect customer feedback—feedback that can flow into what's being worked on every sprint.
Furthermore, a good public roadmap should not only show what’s being planned and what's in development, but also showcase what’s already shipped. In other words, you can satisfy two parts of the Agile manifesto in a single place.
Finally, a running list of recently shipped features exhibits to your customers (and potential customers) that your team has momentum. Even if it's not always 100% accurate because of how fast your team is moving, showing off considerable momentum in and of itself is a powerful and important indicator to the rest of the world.
No matter what you do, or what you prioritize (or deprioritize) on your roadmap, you will never be able to satisfy everyone. But when users reach out to complain and/or inquire about why something hasn't been prioritized, treat this as an amazing learning opportunity. Engage in open conversations with each of these customers to understand why they’re not happy with the things on your roadmap and what they want to see prioritized instead. As a PM or PMM, these are amazing data points for you to have.
The first thing you need to consider is what type of change you’re introducing. Is it a small bug fix release? Or a huge GTM effort unveiling a brand new feature? For example, are you simply changing the styling of a button, or are you introducing a game-changing update?
Some small releases probably don’t need to be added to your roadmap, but it’s always good to ensure they’re captured and communicated in your changelog tool. Even small changes can be jarring to power users, and it’s important to ensure they’re aware if you’re going to make any change to what they’re accustomed to in their day-to-day work.
On the other hand, a go-to-market launch will almost always require some form of communication strategy and plan. These types of changes should absolutely be added to your roadmap. Not only to make the customer base as a whole aware, but also to get them excited!
Breaking this down one step further, let’s take a look at the three SaaS prioritization tiers we defined in The Ultimate Product Launch Plan for New Product Marketers:
Even small changes can impact a lot of people. It’s important to consider who will be impacted, and how.
For example, say you’re deprecating an API endpoint. While that API endpoint might only be used by a few of your Enterprise customers, the impact should still be considered extremely high, as those customers are going to have to update their integrations prior to the API deprecation taking place so that their integrations don’t break. This work is going to take time, planning, and resources on their side. So you’ll want to let them know about the change ASAP.
If a change only impacts a few customers, it may not be necessary to add it to your roadmap. It really depends on the situation. However, you’ll still want to make sure the impacted customers are aware of the change before it goes out. In this case, it might be a good time to leverage your Customer Success team to engage the impacted customers, or consider adding this to your roadmap as an upcoming item.
For example, say you’re launching some changes to a content management tool that will break a couple of customers' websites due to how they’ve customized their pages. Since this only impacts a few customers, it probably doesn’t make sense to include on your roadmap, but you will want to get in touch with those customers and help them determine a solution ahead of the change.
Knowing when to add an upcoming change or feature to your roadmap can be tricky. It really depends on a lot of factors including the first two points we raised above. Every team and company will find their own level of comfort related to the best time to add something to their roadmap.
In general, our recommendation is that you usually think about (and try to communicate) things that are anywhere from 3-6 months out. Quarterly roadmaps are great because teams usually do quarterly planning. And let’s be honest, most company's plans end up changing quarterly. So it's a nice "in between" time frame that isn't too little, but isn't too much.
That said, it’s perfectly fine if you add something to your roadmap 2-4 weeks out (at which point you know it’s imminent).
LaunchNotes is a great way to give customers a high level overview of what’s being planned, what’s actively in development, and what’s been shipped. What sets it apart is its ability to not only give customers a window into your product roadmap, but also effortlessly communicate each update on your roadmap to the relevant customers who want or need to know.
Check out LaunchNotes.
Trello is a super flexible project and task management tool, as well as a great collaboration tool. But it's flexible nature also makes it a popular roadmapping tool, and the Trello team has not only done a great job making it a breeze for teams to not only create their roadmaps, but also share them publicly for anyone to access.
Check out Trello.
ProdPad helps teams collect feedback, plan product features, and share roadmaps with customers. They focus on enabling teams to create simple and lean roadmaps.
Check out ProdPad.
Similar to ProdPad, ProductBoard enables software teams to prioritize features around feedback and share roadmaps with customers. ProductBoard emphasizes the importance of customer feedback by making it simple for the entire team to track insights.
Check out ProductBoard.
ProductPlan helps teams align around the product strategy by making planning and roadmapping a collaborative effort. Product managers love ProductPlan as it helps them think through the business drivers behind each feature.
Check out ProductPlan.
If there’s one thing to take away from this piece, it’s that transparency can and will help you build trust with each and every customer. And the benefits of using a public roadmap to help do this has countless benefits: building deeper customer relationships, increasing customer loyalty (and LTV!), exciting users about the value you’re consistently delivering for them, empowering customers to feel like they can have an active voice in your roadmap and company vision… The list goes on.
There's no doubt that, even with the most thorough public roadmap, it will be impossible to please every customer, as each company and use case has different needs, requirements, challenges, and so on. But hopefully, as we've outlined in this piece, the benefits of publicly sharing your roadmap far outweigh the drawbacks.
If you’re not already sharing at least some sort of your roadmap with customers, dip your toe in the water with a super light-weight version. See how you like it, and measure how it’s received. If you choose to keep going this route, don't forget to define an owner to the roadmap so that it's regularly updated. Needless to say, an outdated roadmap is helpful to no one and frustrating for everyone!
Lastly, never forget that it’s more expensive to acquire new customers than it is to keep current ones. So we'd encourage you to lean in, embrace transparency, and begin leveraging a public roadmap today to keep your users excited, engaged, and aligned with your business' priorities. In the end it will pay off handsomely, for you and them.
Have questions or concerns with publicly sharing your roadmap that aren't addressed above? Strongly agree or disagree with anything we’ve said here? Just want to talk shop? We’d love to hear from! Drop us a line at hey [at] launchnotes.io any time.
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