"What is your product roadmap?"
It's one of the biggest questions you get at an enterprise software company, and rightfully so. It's also a critical query fielded by electronics OEMs.
Customers have their wish lists. Analysts need to place you in the competitive landscape. And you have to keep innovating. The entire company could be at stake if you get this wrong. So how do you prioritize features or enhancements to build?
Throughout my career, I've used a three-part framework: customers, innovation, and market opportunity. These are collectively exhaustive. Think about them as 'X', 'Y' and 'Z' axes in three-dimensional space.
Setting product roadmap priorities is an art, not a science, and the art is in balancing your priorities along these three dimensions within each product release. This takes vision and leadership, grounded in a broad and deep understanding your products, your customers, and your market.
Dimension X: Customers
Along the 'X' axis, we have customers. Listening to them is critical, but you have to listen for the patterns in what they're asking for and not get too bogged down in specifics. It's up to you to figure out what makes sense and will appeal to the broadest audience. You'll notice the iPhone only comes in a few sizes and colors. They could easily have built it in more, but they're not trying to be all things to all people.
Figuring out this dimension gets easier as your customer base grows. Early in the product lifecycle, it's more artistic in the sense that you're using your own intuition. Later, you can have customer communities where people suggest ideas and vote on them. These communities and their votes can help guide your thinking.
What gets the most votes should have high priority for development, with the caveat that although every customer may have a vote, not all votes count the same. You have to apply judgement and consider the realities of the business.
If two customers who are each paying a $100,000 annual subscription fee both want a particular feature, their vote should probably count more than one customer paying $50,000. But if ten customers paying $50,000 want something, you have to listen to that as well. It's democratic, in the way the House of Representatives is democratic. Some states have more representation than others. But ultimately, what is best for the entire country (or company) over the long term must also be considered.
Dimension Y: Innovation
You simply can't rely on the customer for innovation. Turn of the century automotive pioneer Henry Ford is credited with saying, "If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse." Like Ford, it's your job to see what the customer cannot.
Your company and product leadership always have to be scanning the market for developing technological innovations. You should go to tradeshows, monitor the funding landscape and look at new technology that may not even be in your space to see if it's applicable to your product. Talk to suppliers, and look at deals you've lost, and why you've lost them. Then think creatively about new technology that's out there.