A Unique Approach to Roadmap Planning & Communication
Navya Rehani Gupta, "The product avocado at a high level shows the entire roadmap planning process that we follow every single quarter. Let's start with the skin of the avocado. So the skin of the avocado is your product vision, and always grounds everybody around our why. So whenever we start any roadmap planning conversation, whether it's the planning or the actual communication of, we always reiterate the product vision, it defines the why or what we built."
avocado, roadmap, guacamole, product, created, approach, company, team, pm, opportunities, customer, feedback, align, built, outcomes, process, avoid, adding, business, top
Welcome to Product Voices, a podcast where we share valuable insights and useful resources to help us all be great in product management. Visit the show's website to access the resources discussed on the show, find more information on our fabulous guests, or to submit your product management question to be answered on our special q&a episodes. That's all at productvoices.com. And be sure to subscribe to the podcast on your favorite platform. Now, here's our host, JJ Rorie, CEO of Great Product Management.
Hello and welcome to Product Voices. Roadmaps. Always a hot topic in product management. How to best use roadmaps? What should they represent? Who should be involved in creating them? With whom should we share them? Where should they be communicated? There aren't that many teams and organizations frankly, that have really mastered the creation and use of roadmaps to its fullest potential.
My guest today has built a really unique approach to roadmap planning and communication. So I'm excited for her to share more. And to learn more. I'm going to I'm going to plant the seed... product avocado. Can't wait to learn what that means.
So my guess is Navya Rehani Gupta. She is the Chief Product Officer at Peek.com responsible for scaling the industry leading Peek Pro platform known as Shopify for the experiences economy, with over $2 billion dollars in bookings. Peek.com helps consumers book fun activities such as boat rentals, cooking classes, and provides experienced operators with powerful software tools to grow their businesses. Prior to Peek, Navya built new business lines at StyleSeat, the world's largest marketplace for beauty services. And she has also managed large scale products at Uber, Disney, and Goldman Sachs. She holds an electronics engineering degree from the University of Sheffield in the UK, a master's in computer science from Stanford, and an MBA from NYU Stern. Navya, thank you so much for joining me.
Thank you for having me, JJ.
I'm excited about this conversation. I can't wait to hear more, you've told me a little bit about this. And now I'm gonna learn more, and the whole audience is gonna learn more. Okay. So let's set the stage. Tell me about your experience in roadmap planning and communication of roadmaps and specifically anything that has led you to this approach maybe that you weren't seeing in other methods or something that kind of led you down the path that we're going to talk about today.
Yeah, so having built products in many different industries, across Fortune 500 companies and high growth startups, I had experience in many different types of approaches to roadmap planning across the spectrum of good, bad and ugly. So when I joined Peek, you know, around six years ago, as their first product leader, first product executive, I knew the importance of building the right process. I knew if I got this process, right, it would be an essential part of building a winning product strategy. But more importantly, it would anchor the pace at which the company grows.
So broadly speaking, there were four types of issues that I had encountered in my career that I wanted to avoid. Typically, when I talked through these four types of issues, I get a ton of nodding heads in the room. So I'm assuming the audience listening today will have a similar reaction. And I created a quick little acronym today to talk about these common issues. I'm calling it TCDC. I know I'm not that creative, but hopefully, it'll help you follow through these four things. And that stands for top down, committee based, disconnected and then the fourth one is creating feel good trapped.
So let's talk through each of these issues. The first one is being to top down. So when I was a junior PM, in many, many cases, I was handed my roadmap by senior management, and it totally helped me build my execution chops early on in my career. But when I was creating my own process, at peak, I knew it should be something that moves the needle for company outcomes. And I knew that I wanted to build a product team that's truly empowered. So top down was a big no no for me.
The second one is around committee based decision making. So this approach typically involves the pm speaking to different stakeholders and setting up a multi hour meeting to allow these stakeholders to actively advocate for this their requests. Needless to say, this creates the loudest voice winds kind of setting, and simply forces a committee based thinking so I personally hate long meetings and do everything that I can do to avoid setting them up. So again, committee based approach wasn't right for me.
Third one is product being disconnected with the rest of the company. So this disconnect can be for real, where PMs aren't optimizing for outcomes that are most important for the company. But this disconnect can also be perceived because of the lack of proper evangelize. lesion by the pm or around their approach and not being able to tie their short term efforts with the long term term organizational goals. So that's fairly common.
And then the fourth one in tcdc. C stands for creating feelgood traps. Again, this is something that plagues many companies. I've seen in companies where charismatic PMS will stand up and convince the rest of the company about the proposed direction. By constantly reiterating Hey, we're adding value, this is going to make us money without drawing attention to the opportunity cost. So building a feature that will drive a million dollars in revenue is still a $3 million mistake if another feature will drive $4 million growth, right. So that in a nutshell, was what led me to the new approach. It's dc, dc. When I did my listening tour with the employees in the company, when I first started, I saw the potential in the product. And it became clear to me that if I nailed the right process for planning and communication peak would become unstoppable. So that's what led me to product avocado.
I love it. I love it. And, and one of the things I love about you, I've known you for several years now. And one of the things I love about you and I know your teams do as well as how you can condense complex things down to simple approaches in simple language. And I love this. I love this acronym. TCDC. And so tell me about how you took that these these four things that you wanted to avoid? And you know, tell me about the product avocado approach? What is it? And you know, some of the the elements of it and and how how you took what you didn't want to do. And built this, this avocado approach?
Yeah, and you're really kind, JJ. TCDC wasn't that creative.
Well, creative is, you know, sometimes creative gets, you know, adds to complexity, let's just call it what it is. I love it.
But I promise the avocado story is actually better. So it might even leave you hungry. So let's talk about Okay.
I might need some avocado toast.
So almost six years ago, I was sitting in at Peek San Francisco office ready to give a presentation to the company on product. And I knew I wanted to provide a 30,000 view on the why behind roadmap planning. I also wanted to cover the how. So I started creating these concentric circles on a slide to showcase my thinking. And that's when somebody walked past my desk and said, oh, cool, nice avocado really fits the California cliche, I think he might have been eating avocado toast at that time, too. Just to add to that. That's how Peek's product avocado was born.
The product avocado at a high level shows the entire roadmap planning process that we follow every single quarter. So let's start with the elements. Let's start with the skin of the avocado. So the skin of the avocado is your product vision, and always grounds everybody around our why. So whenever we start any roadmap planning conversation, whether it's the planning or the actual communication of, we always reiterate the product vision, it defines the why or what we built. So that's the first one. The next layer of the avocado is product goals. So these need to be 100% aligned with the company goals at every single time. Again, it's a forcing function as a product team to pause what we're doing and say, Hey, what's most important for the company, these calls can change every single quarter based on what's most important, it could be around expansion to a new vertical, it could be around retention, reducing churn, it could be technical in nature, it could be as a priority to make specific infrastructure investments to unblock a new customer segment. So it could really vary. So it's important as an executive team to align on these top level two to four goals, but also align how much investment do we want to put towards each area. So example, priority could be expansion and retention 40% investment on expansion 60% on retention. So I do this process around setting this up with the executive team every single quarter. It aligns us at a top level on the intended outcome that we want to get to for each of these areas, and the value we want to create before we even start the roadmap planning process. So that was the next layer. So we talked about the vision we talked about the goals. The next layer is actually the most fun part of the process. And that's called product opportunities. The recommendation of what we actually build is entirely bottoms up driven. Each product team spends about a week every quarter to align on a prioritized recommendation of top opportunities that will drive the maximum impact towards these top down goals, they look at different aspects. They look at customer insights. They quantify business and customer benefit for each proposed opportunity. They ask themselves, what will the business achieve? What will the customers achieve? They look at market trends, competitive intelligence, recommend key differentiators for the business. They individually work with stakeholders upfront to align on their priorities, work with engineering on early fit, visibility feedback, as well. And after all this research in the week, they provide a one to end recommendation of these opportunities, but also clearly articulate what we will not do. Similarly, while the pm team is working on their recommendation, the engineering leads do a very similar assessment of top engineering opportunities to make the infrastructure scalable. So that in a nutshell, are the ingredients of the guacamole, we, you know, we create a shared source of truth to outline the vision, we talk about intended outcomes for the product team that are aligned with the company goals, top opportunities to align everybody on what we're going to focus on what we're not going to focus on. And then comes the seed of the avocado, right. And that seed is your your release plan your backlog. And that's probably the least interesting part of the avocado. Right? I know, you know, many people actually say the seed has health benefits, too. But ultimately, the roadmap planning process doesn't start with the seed, you have to start with the skin of the avocado and then you get to the seed at the very end.
This is so cool. So I by the way, I did actually plant an avocado seed. I don't know if you've ever done that before, but you like stick a toothpick in the seed and then you put it in water. And then it takes about 100,000 years and then you have you know, a little green sprout. Yeah, it's not worth it. Just go buy the avocado.
Okay. It's so cool. So how has the organization received it? What feedback have you gotten?
Yes, I have to say the reception now is great. Everybody loves the avocado. But it has required education over time. It has required bringing people are long in the art and science of product management. So when I first created the avocado slide, you know, the team was like, okay, you know, that's cool. I get it. But again, what are we building? You know, and so that was the image of question after the avocado was showed. But over the years, we have invested in making this framework a success and educating people on this on the importance of this process. The process, as I said, takes three weeks. But it's very collaborative throughout, and people in the company are involved in it. And we recently for x the product team, I think I mentioned to you over the last six months after rcyc.
So I was curious how this avocado that was created many years ago with a smaller team would resonate among new product managers, new engineers, you know, new leaders at the company. And I was obviously open to making any changes from learning from new people and their experience of the new team members. But the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. And you know, what I hear is the avocado is the is the most streamlined roadmap planning process that anybody has gone through in their career. So I figured it was worth the conversation here. But I think what works most for most people is again, like referencing back to tcdc. You know, people have run into the those issues in the past and the avocado avoids all each one of them. And of course, as a biased person from California, like who doesn't like avocado, right?
Yeah, absolutely. You know, what I like about this is that you've basically turned it into a story and the approach is now pardon the pun, approachable to everyone, right. But I also love what you just said, it's, you're also defining what good looks like and what we want to avoid in the tcdc. Right. And I think that's really important. I think sometimes we get so kind of entrenched in these somewhat complex processes, and things that we do in product management and in business that we forget about what good looks like, and you've made it fun and apparent to what you believe good looks like which I think is really cool. It sounds like it could be something that people would embrace a lot of times strategic planning and roadmap planning and it's like a you know, you roll your eyes at it, but I can imagine this not being the case that they actually enjoy this.
Yeah, it's most people do like avocados of the haven't found many avocado haters over the years.
Yeah, exactly. Exactly. So you picked a good fruit to do this. It is a fruit right? I think it's a fruit I think it's It's oddly a fruit like I think it's a it seems like a vegetable but I actually think it's a fruit so we'll have to do some research on that.
I'm gonna call it fruit otherwise avoided I call it a vegetable anyway.
Okay, yeah, there you go. So so whatever, what we'll figure that out after the episode, okay. So you mentioned that you you've done some You know, some evolving, you've taken some feedback. So what updates, if any, Have you have you made over overtime on the process?
Yeah, so many, many changes over over the years as we do opportunity sizing. So one example would be as we're looking at opportunities, we now use different multipliers when we're quantifying revenue impact for revenue versus expansion, because it's always more important to keep a current customer versus you know, acquiring a brand new one. We've also made changes in how we present this information, when we're doing the review of the one to N opportunity. The PMS obviously do a lot of diligence. But then they write down the why the why now the tech feasibility, they call specific relevance to the top down goals as well, which is why we're able to avoid long meetings because we have, you know, an artifact that's created that summarizes all this work. And as part of shipping the roadmap to the teams, we include very specific details, it could be an overwhelming amount of information, to broadcast to the company and explain how the guacamole is made.
So we touch on a few things, we remind everybody on our vision strategy, we talk about the product avocado framework, every single time, we actually ask for volunteers in the audience, because people who have been here, you know, like stand up and this, they present the avocado just to, you know this to change the scene every single time. We talk through the top down goals and outcomes that drove this recommendation, why certain features are prioritized above everything else. And then we also include early scope ideas for each features to get ahead of the questions that people might have. And a recent addition has been to add roadmap, talking points, because the one of the feedback that I got from the team members was this list is great. But when I'm talking to a customer, how should I actually talk about these features. So we shipped these talking points with the roadmap every single quarter. And it's all been a part of taking the feedback seriously and improving the process based on what we've heard. But the biggest change, you know, these were small iterations. But the biggest change over time has been around resource implications of roadmap planning.
So since our team grew by 4x, I needed to find a way to build in flexibility to reallocate resources between the different product teams to maximize outcomes and in my past life, it's created this process actually creates friction, because PMS get so attached to their proposed roadmaps and then they get disappointed when another initiative gets stuck around higher so I added a new step and that's called guacamole seasoning. So after we aligned on top opportunities for each team, me and the head of engineering we do the seasoning process. It's described as the final step of making the guacamole by adding salt or pepper to make the guac perfect and the team actually loves the step it creates debates around the right ingredients there apparently strong views and adding peas to guacamole or cilantro. It's made the necessary step of resource reallocation a lot of fun.
I am 100% on Team No Cilantro. I've got the I've got the cilantro gene. Have you heard that? That there's an actual gene that people have that makes them hate cilantro?
Oh, what about peas? Peas are okay?
Ah, I don't know about peas. I don't like peas in my avocado. Or excuse me my guacamole. But have you ever had pineapple in your guacamole?
Oh, no. I would be Team No Pineapple.
No pineapple. I know. And it does sound sacrilege. But I'm telling you there's this - it's no longer there. But this little place called Cafe Frida in Manhattan and they had the best guacamole and they put they put a little sweet pineapple and so Okay, now I'm really hungry.
So thinking about this approach, and again, I just love it. I love it. I love the simplicity of it, the importance of it, the the fun of it. I just think it's great. But what do you think the biggest impact has been of using this approach in Peek?
Yeah, so the biggest impact has been driving towards the best outcomes both because of organizational buyer buy in and team empowerment. So in a sense, it takes the lessons from the tcdc issues that I spoke about at the start of the podcast. And it creates that planning and communication playbook to avoid these pitfalls. Because this process is not top down. The PM team knows that with great power comes great responsibility. So they feel empowered to come up with a well thought through recommendation. It's not committee based because of which we get organization by and the whole company understands the avocado how the guacamole is made. So they're better incentivize to give feedback. I always start every product conversation reminding people that feedback is a gift. And I reiterate that how each feedback has a role to play in the Overall guacamole baking.
The third is the disconnect, you know there isn't a disconnect, the whole team is aligned and how these priorities are shaped because the which doesn't leave people guessing right? And that organizational buy in has a huge impact, because ultimately, those people in the team are evangelizing the product direction and roadmap to the customers, and it avoids the feel good traps. So with clear articulation of what we're not going to do, we're all aligned on the direction of the company and what the opportunity costs are.
That's great. Do you have things that you think still need to be done or improved upon with approach?
There's always things to improve. So of two main areas that I'm thinking about. The first one is this approach is very thorough and works for a b2b product. The drivers for the b2b customers are typically around business growth, reliability, usability, and as peak focuses towards a consumer marketplace, we would need to cater to more of an emotional customer on the b2c side rather than a rational one. And customers that are typically who find value and convenience and personalization, for example. So to achieve the best outcomes in the b2c world, we need to learn by doing and experimenting so the avocado needs to create room for a hypothesis driven learning through experimentation model.
I do think many of the principles of the avocado will translate but the roadmap communication will be around the hypotheses and the prior lessons rather than the quantified business and customer value that we use today. So that's number one. The second one is you know, this end to end process takes three weeks every quarter, I do see the benefit of moving to a process where we're all aligning on top opportunities throughout the quarter, which makes the process streamline but also forces continuous conversations around priorities. So as I say feedback as a gift, it's so I'm confident that it'd be do a v2 of this podcast today, I will have a lot more lessons to share.
I love that and I definitely will take you up on that and have you back because you're one of my favorite guests. And we're gonna need to learn how they how the avocado is doing. And if we've put peas or pineapple or anything else in our in our guacamole since we last talked.
Navya Rehani Gupta, CEO of Peek.com, thank you so much for joining me, this has been a tremendous conversation. Thank you for sharing your approach and your insights with the audience.
Thank you, JJ.
And thank you all for joining us on Product Voices. Hope to see you on the next episode.
Thank you for listening to Product Voices hosted by JJ Rorie. To find more information on our guests resources discussed during the episode or to submit a question for our q&a episodes, visit the show's website productvoices.com And be sure to subscribe to the podcast on your favorite platform.
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