Product Marketing in an Agile Environment – Recap from ProductCamp Boston

Reprinted from Gail Ferreira’s B2B Solution Marketing Insights Blog with changes

agileEd note: My biggest takeaway from this discussion was that marketing/product marketing needs to contribute strategically to the roadmap (even in an agile environment).  The roadmap needs to work not only to support customers and prospects but also marketing launches and timeframes (which of course also support customers and prospects as well).  -Steve Robins

ProductCamp Boston 2013 was again another great event!  From a discussion facilitated by Steve Robins, I wanted to share some insights on “Product Marketing in an Agile Environment”.

Agile processes do impact marketing, particularly when product roadmaps don’t proceed as anticipated.  For example, using Steve’s company as an example, he noted that:  

  • Marketing activities don’t necessarily correspond to the roadmap
  • Agile product development processes typically have a series of themes, and portion of each theme ends up in monthly feature releases.  Customers then choose what version they want to adopt, so it’s not SaaS.
  • These themes, and all marketing efforts to promote the product, are in support of 1) Customer needs (new and prospective customers), 2) Corporate image/brand/awareness (including the financial community), and 3) Creating industry thought leadership.  It’d sure be great if they all aligned each step of the way!

So how does Marketing handle a launch when features slip from a release, especially when those features were an important part of an upcoming announcement? One marketer present was concerned, though, about delaying announcement as new customers would not find out about the upcoming features unless the features are announced and discussed externally by marketing.

Many suggestions were proposed and discussed for defining the announcement scope, particularly given potentially the wavering inclusion of particular features, including to:

  1. Vary the scope of a launch, rather than just delaying all announcement activities.  An example may be to delay just the outreach to Analysts or the involvement of customers.
  2. Be clear about the various segments of the target audience, and who is impacted by the missing features:
    • Existing customers (who may upgrade)
    • Prospective customers you want to attract
    • Industry thought leadership
    • Corporate awareness/branding, such as for financial reasons – investors, financial analysts
  3. Include communications of features – as proof points and to enable customers to know about and use features. Another marketer present gave an example from Salary.com where the details made the messaging in an announcement come alive!
  4. Distinguish between product releases (upon which there is an announcement) and the product roadmap, which is the development plan.  Typically the dev plan is subdivided into a series of themes – enabling agile developers to continue to work and further enhance a particular theme over a series of releases.
  5. Think about 6-7 major themes.  Roadmaps may emphasize different themes in varying proportions over a series of announcements.  Some themes may create more interest during announcements, thereby creating the challenge of how to still create excitement if an “exciting” feature drops out of a release.  Without that features, maybe the announcement is reduced to a blog or an email to existing customers, and analyst discussions instead focus on the roadmap with the continuous series of releases as proof points.
  6. Continuously evolve the marketing plan to track the agile delivery.  The messaging should track the overall roadmap and themes, with the announcement plans continuously evolving as needed, rather than just reacting to the latest set of features for delivery.
  7. Plan jointly.  It is critical that Product Management (PM), Development, and Product Marketing (PMM) jointly plan and decide trade-offs in the roadmap, particularly since delivery timeframes are typically affected. The goal is to be customer-focused – meeting customer needs to the fullest extent possible.  Some themes may progress faster or more completely than others over a series of releases.  This joint planning is not just informative, but should involve all members to jointly refine the launch objectives and to hopefully empower customers to be interested in buying more, or be more loyal.
  8. Highlight a product’s themes – they are more compelling than individual features, which are likely too detailed for discussion).  All themes should become part of the marketing communications plan as they not only create interest but also represent the strategic direction.  These themes are supported by the features as the proof points of the strategy, so it is less credible when those features aren’t sufficiently complete yet.
  9. Try a hybrid of scope and timeframe-driven deliveries – this could be optimal.  For more predictability of delivery, the delivery timeframe could be driven by critical features (~30% of the new features) along with whatever other items can be delivered in the timeframe that is set for the critical features.
  10. Find the right balance between iterative and risk.  Less mature organizations may be more iterative on preparing messages.  Larger organizations, however, may have less tolerance for changes and perceive a greater risk when unauthentic messages are expressed.

Additional insights from a few examples of roadmaps vs announcements scope were offered:

  • Windows 8.  How much is Microsoft stumbling or will Microsoft pull off the over-arching goals? Is it time to pull the meat out of the fire, or will leaving it there result in its falling in?
  • From an attendee formerly at Monster:  PMM was brought to the table to finalize the roll-out, which required strategic rationalization, and enabled them to make a splash
  • Colin Turner offered that there is no cookie cutter approach for agile, and many things need to be taken into account.  PMM doesn’t control the schedule, but it should be part of the schedule planning.
  • Scott (from Enforce) asked how much should PMM be involved in scrum meetings?  Bug reviews? The general consensus was that PMM should be at feature reviews but not necessarily each scrum or bug review.

Thus roadmaps and the desired themes were seen to be the responsibility of the Product Manager, supported by clarity/consistency with Development, but Product Marketing still needs to be included and influence the roadmap to ensure the ability to deliver effective messages and meet corporate objectives.  Having effective messaging enables lead gen to drive the highest value for the company. The result is an agile and responsive development processes, but also agile and iterative messaging.  Product Marketing should favorably impact the following by being included:

  • Keeping delivery timeframes at the forefront of feature discussions
  • Creating messaging that can be optimized for product delivery changes
  • Obtaining collective buy-in by all those involved, not just a mantra to “get back on track”
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