Product ManagementSteveJ

Politics and your next release

by Steve Johnson

A desire not to butt into other people’s business is at least eighty percent of all human ‘wisdom’… and the other twenty percent isn’t very important.—Robert A. Heinlein, author

You’ve planned a new release, pulling together ideas from the market and from the company. You think you’ve got a really strong plan but as soon as it’s announced, the complaining begins. “Where’s my pet project?” “When are we going to fix security?” “But I promised this feature to a prospect!” “Waa waa waa!”

Never forget, a product release is always political. To be successful, every release needs something to appease each of your internal stakeholders.


Now I know many product managers want each release to be purely focused on the needs of the market but prioritization inherently has a political aspect. Prioritizing explicitly says one thing is more important than another. Someone is going to be disappointed since there are so many who want their idea at the top of your list. After all, there are many folks in your company who think they know exactly what the product should be.

Here’s one solution.

Every product release should contain at least one big thing for each of the product stakeholders.

  • Strategic feature: one that aligns your company vision or portfolio strategy
  • Buyer-oriented feature: a new capability that appeals to buyers (and their sales people).
  • User-oriented feature: one that improves the usability or adds a new capability. After all, people who pay maintenance or monthly fees expect some of their money to go to new stuff, not just for support.
  • Architectural feature: one that makes the product easier to maintain for our internal teams. Sometimes this is about fixing clumsy code or improving security or reducing some annoying defects. Or adding capabilities and diagnostics to make the product easier to implement, service, or support.

(Ideally one or more features would also mess with the competition.)

These four items are the ones you emphasize in your roadmap and your internal communication.

4 features

One development team said they needed nine months to fix all sorts of internals and address years of technical debt. But rather than just “going dark” for a year, the product manager blocked out the major areas that needed to be addressed and roadmapped them. They allocated time and money for new stuff as well as the internals. They met the internal needs and also their political needs.

One thing for vision (and for executives), one for buyers (and sales people), one for customers (and your support organization), and one for maintenance (and development). It’s a good release.

One of my favorite sayings is, “Nothing seems hard to people who don’t do it.” [Tweet this]

Prioritizing is one of these. One sentence from an executive results in months of work for the product team. Not every idea can be the number one priority. Build a release plan that has something for each of your major stakeholders and you’ll get better buy-in to your plan.

About the author

Steve Johnson is a recognized thought leader and storyteller within the technology product management community. At Under10 Consulting, he helps product teams implement product management in an agile world. Sign up for his inspirational newsletter.