Product Roadmap or Priority List


#1

Hi,

I know that roadmaps and priorities can be traps for companies when it comes to new features and deadlines for delivery, especially with new areas of technology and data science.

I am making this request because almost every feature request ends with a response that says something along the lines of: “we have plans for this”.

Its nice to see the community be engaged by Sense and see the dialogue around new features and capabilities but it would also be great if we could understand what Sense is working on now vs later.

For Example: The home.sense.com portal says that realtime usage and data detection is coming. A support ticket identified that device detection has a higher engineering priority than the web based new features. This makes “sense” (harhar) and I’m cool with that. Its just frustrating to not have a prioritized list of what can we expect to see this year vs not.

I think that everyone understands that Sense is a start-up and resources are not infinite but many of the best companies that engage their communities give hints or a list of what to expect next version or what has already been suggested.

Digital Ocean uses UserVoice and that provides clear statuses of each feature they want to implement and the community can vote for priority there much easier than in the forums here.

Untangle uses their bug tracker since at the core they are an open source project and anyone who signs-up for access to their dev tool can see the features currently being worked on in the sprints. Anyone with an account can put features and ideas into the development backlog. I have a couple of items in there that are low on the priority list but at least I can see the current status.

Ubiquiti has a group of Beta users that have access to an early access store for new hardware and beta forums for testing new features and soliciting feedback for new products in their community. (UBNT does not release roadmaps or feature promises but you can see what is the priority based on the beta forums)

The above are just ideas and examples of successful community engagement and feature priority lists.

Based on looking at the forums here there are many community members who would be happy to help do more to advance Sense and its capabilities through some types of support and testing. Maybe there is a success path in more directly engaging with them on what is the current development/feature pipelines, current company ideas, and a consolidated list of feature requests/development priorities.

Hope this is useful and helpful to you.


#2

Thanks for the feedback, Greg. I’d love to hear from others on this as well.

So…in short, it’s a hard thing to do for the reasons you note. Features get delayed or shifted in priority for a lot of reasons, mostly uninteresting ones, but we’d hate to promise something that just ends up not being feasible for whatever reason. I’ve been on the other side of that as a consumer, and it’s not fun, especially when a roadmap feature ends up being the reason you purchased a product (for any music tech people reading, just think of what Elektron is dealing with regarding the Digitakt and Overbridge). That said, I have been trying to be as transparent as possible in my responses to feature request threads. I could do a better job of that, certainly, and this thread gives some great food for thought. I like the ideas about engaging the community more. We do have community-based Beta testing, but perhaps that could be augmented for wider engagement (if not in actual testing, then in sharing what is in testing).

I’ll also add that Sense isn’t just a new product, but we’re a new product in a very, very new field. We have a large and growing team of data scientists and engineers, but much of their time is taken up with the less flashy/new features and is about the core of Sense: device detection (that, as you note from your Support issue, frequently takes precadence).

This is probably not a satisfying response, but this a great thread and I’m curious to hear from others as well.


#3

+1 (or is it +2?) to both the UserVoice and Ubiquiti examples. I use UserVoice both as a consumer for products I own and for products/services our company sells. I love seeing the desires of end users and whether or not they align with internal goals. Though if it is a huge misalignment it could cause some angst. :slight_smile:

Ubiquiti is a great example of a company that does a lot of things very right with regards to customer interaction when it comes to early SW/HW releases.

I’m generally a fan of roadmaps, but as a PM in a software company I also appreciate the associated risks. It opens you up to a very sensitive balancing act and can alter the perception of a company’s ability to execute. It stinks if you miss dates or cut features for reasons beyond your control and for reasons you cannot publicize. I think as long as there’s a huge warning saying all ship time frames are estimates and subject to be shifted or flat out eliminated in order to prioritize resources it’s ok. The list could have what Sense considers must-haves and stretch goals on a quarterly basis looking out maybe 2-3 quarters.

The other thing to consider is what it would be used for.

  • Getting existing customers to calm down that $ShinyUnicornFunction they really want is coming.

  • Building the “trust” of potential customers and maybe getting them to buy-in sooner than waiting for $ShinyUnicornFunction to ship before buying.

  • Other

I guess there has be to be a win for both the consumer and the company to start divulging future plans.


#4

Thanks for the input, Brian. You state the challenges well.

I think it’s also worth keeping in mind that we have a pretty broad user base, so what works for Ubiquiti or Digital Ocean may not work for us. A lot of our users definitely “get” how roadmaps are living documents and subject to change, but I can see some major frustrations for users who are less familiar with the hw/sw lifecycle, despite any disclaimers. It’s a very delicate balance, for sure.

In any case, this conversation is spurring ideas. I think some further transparency is a fantastic idea…it’s just a matter of figuring out the degree.


#5

Being someone who’s a member of both the Ubiquiti and Sense community I would love to see where the future lies. Being a new market space, like you said, most customers are more than likely going to do research before buying. I looked at one other player in this space and I wanted to see the key differentiators. Going beyond the current specs/features on a website, if you can see that a company is truly focused on constantly elevating their product I am more inclined to pick that product over the next one. I love my Ubiquiti products because of that. In the greater technology space it’s nice to know that you are constantly going to have a product with new life breathed into it without having to buy the latest and greatest…or a competitors product to get features that you don’t see happening with the current product.

I think what has been said so far is spot on for the argument for and against, but one thing I would like to chime in on is the remark you said about having a broad user base. First and foremost, I would say Sense is a tech company that attracts people who are either interested in understanding of how their everyday lives plays out in numbers or just enjoy tech and gadgets. Either user is going to probably going to be active in this community or want to go beyond just installing the product and waiting for it to “save them money”. I don’t see adoption by the masses with this still being such a new segment, so I think the user base would be fairly similar to a Ubiquiti or others discussed due to the fact they probably want to be more involved at this point. I’m sure we all would like to see the several hundred dollar piece of electronic continue to improve and a roadmap or, like Ubiquiti does, an indicator of the suggestion’s consideration status (new idea, future consideration, accepted, implemented, etc.) would show current owners to not ditch the product and show prospective buyers to get into a product that won’t be an overpriced power meter down the road:


#6

Good feedback, I too would like to see a system in place like this. Cool idea.


#7

Thanks for the post, Jeff. But you might actually be surprised at the size of our user base who do want/expect to just install Sense and stay passive. I see it quite a bit over on our other social media outlets. That doesn’t preclude the possibility of some insight into what’s in alpha/beta, but it does complicate it. Know that I’m really making an effort towards greater transparency here, but even at a startup, the ship can be tough to steer.

We already have this Product Wishlist subforum where wishlist items can be ‘liked’ and those likes do give us some insight into what our users want, in a similar way that UserVoice, Feature Upvote, or the variety of other services that serve similar functions. I try and update these Wishlist posts when I can, but it’s an imperfect system w/o the status notes that these other services provide.


#8

Hey @RyanAtSense, I’ve spent my 35-year career in product development and product management (different industry). I’d simply like to offer the encouragement that comes from years of the trade-offs:

You’re managing three sets of promises at the same time:

  1. Promise to your customers (the value proposition)
  2. Promise to the investors/owners (the business case)
  3. Promise to your employees (the company culture)

Generally speaking, you’re going to find these in occasional tension. Don’t let the tension be disheartening. It’s part of the game.

I really like the idea that you made a call to priorities the ML portion of your work. That means you have a clear view of the first promise. This will be your sustainable competitive advantage if you get it right and keep organizational speed.

Keep up the good work.

Paul


#9

Thanks for the feedback, Paul. It is definitely a challenge to manage all 3, as you know. But we’re working hard at it.


#10

A few ideas relating to this:

  • It might be helpful to have the ability to rate features vs just liking them, features with the most likes might impact a greater portion of the customer base/maybe those posts got greater visibility, but that doesn’t necessarily correlate to the features with the highest value proposition. Just a thought.
  • The features wish list is some what long and confusing (you kind of have to open every post because the titles don’t always describe the feature), it would be nice if the posts could be grouped into sections/tagged (e.g. mobile app, web app, device detection, hardware, community, etc.)

On a side note, I personally find that VSTS/TFS works great for backlog/feature management and it has the ability to integrate with services such as UserVoice - you guys could create a query or custom view to show customers (or other stakeholders) the status, notes, etc. for features/feature requests and bugs while still keeping other information only visible to employees and development teams.


#11

I strongly agree with this. Perhaps Sense could do an online poll every 3 or 6 mo. about the importance of different features that could be on the roadmap, or something like that.