I read an article recently where Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google, was discussing the history of Google and how some of the great products they launched were the result of "a few developers just banging something out in a few weeks". He also said, that those days were over. That Google had gotten too big for that to work any longer. That was somewhat depressing to me. Sort of like throwing in the towel on just getting things done quickly.
As our company Billtrust continues to grow, we struggle with that as well. Certainly, not on the magnitude that Google does, but I can feel it creeping in. In the beginning, I would sit down with our CTO, Jim Eichmann, and we would basically split up the work and say what is the most important things we should be building right now. Long term planning was not even discussed, we didn't even know if we would be around long term. Then we started hiring developers, and we added them to the mix of what's the most important thing they should be working on.
But as you continue to grow, you start to think longer term. You have product roadmaps. You have customer advisory councils. You make contractual commitments to customers. And while you're working on important things, you really lose the ability to do quick trajectory changes to get projects done.
I think to keep things exciting for your team, you occasionally just need to give them some latitude to "go off the roadmap" every once in a while. A product roadmap, for those that don't know, is simply a schedule of new products, or new product releases, that are planned for the next 6 to 60 months. Bigger companies need to plan for longer periods of time because resource allocation is incredibly complex, customers need to know, and sales people need to know what they're selling.
But sometimes things come up, that you deep down know are a good idea, that just need to get done. We were having a conference call last week with our Customer Advisory Council, a group of 8 influential customers that help guide our product roadmap. One of our customers was asking about when we were going to build an online user forum because the exchange of ideas between customers on the Council has been awesome. We hemmed and hawed, talked about out plans to build into a future version of one of our products, but gave them no firm commitment since it wasn't within the next 12 months on our product roadmap. Then one of our customers said "Why don't you just used LinkedIn?"
This was so blindingly obvious the right way to go, that we just had to do it. It's not going to be exactly what we want because it won't be integrated into our product suite, but who cares. We can roll it out in like 10 minutes and start giving customers value. So the hell with the roadmap. So two days later we went live with the new LinkedIn Billtrust User Forum. If you're a customer of Billtrust, you can access it by Clicking Here.
The User Forum wasn't on our short term road map but sometimes you just have to throw out the roadmap and do the right thing.