One of your biggest jobs as a product manager is to translate what feels like a million inputs flying in from across the company into one cohesive product roadmap. Just one.
In the day-to-day battle to meet release plans, manage customer feedback, prioritize features, it can be hard to sit down and decide what you should actually build next.
To help you with this, we want to share a useful product management template and technique with you today: The Product Tree Game.
The output of a recent product tree session
The Product Tree game is a feature prioritization technique developed by our friends at Innovation Games – and we’re sharing it with you today because it’s a really fun and engaging way to figure out your priorities as a team.
All you have to do is set aside part of the day, grab a bunch of Post Its and Sharpies, get a group of stakeholders together. The Product Tree game helps you visualize the growth of your product in a non-linear way. Playing this game helps you discuss what you want to build without tying anyone down in release dates and project planning details.
Compared to other brainstorming and ideation techniques, we’ve found it to be very productive because it gets everyone actively involved. So here’s an easy how-to guide on running your own session. Enjoy!
Product Tree Game: How it works
The Product Tree is what you’ll use to run your session. It consists of four elements:
- The trunk represents the core features already in your products.
- The branches are feature branches. Optionally, you can increase the thickness of branches that are more important.
- The leaves are individual features that the workshop participants will place on the branches. The closer the leaves are to the trunk, the closer they are to being delivered.
- The roots represent the infrastructure that supports your product. As with any tree, the bigger it gets, the more support it needs from its roots – so remember your technology as you expand your feature list.
This is our product tree template – download it for free (A0 .zip file)
You can choose a specific tree shape depending on the kind of product you want to build. A fast-growing oak with a massive canopy vs. a slender and focused pine? Up to you.
To get started though, we recommend you use our handy product tree product management template.
Step 2: Prepare your leaves
Print out all the features you already have in your product, or want to add to your product. Or, write them down on post-it notes. Also make sure to have plenty of empty post-it notes at hand for adding new ideas!
P.S.: We love using these leaf-shaped post-its for this exercise!
Step 3: Get your group together
Anyone can play this game. The more kinds of stakeholders you involve, the richer the output. It becomes especially interesting if you get customers involved in placing new features on the branches according to which they would most like to see in your product.
If you have more than 10 people joining in, prepare multiple sets of trees and leaves – ideally, you will have 4-10 people working on one single tree. This includes one observer per tree, whose role it is to ask the participants to clarify what they mean if there’s anything ambiguous on the tree.
Step 4: Prune your product tree
Who thought pruning could be so much fun?!
Now the fun begins – like green-thumbed gardeners, get cracking on pruning the tree!
Here are some pointers on how to have a productive and fun session:
- Personalize the tree to stimulate creativity. For instance, participants can add their own little markers to their ideas, or draw hearts around the features they really love.
- Remember that significance of where leaves are placed. The closer the leaves are to the trunk, the more near-term they are. Leaves closest to the trunk are existing features, while leaves on the outer edges of your canopy represent the long-term future.
- Don’t hesitate to use lines to show links or dependencies between features.
- Don’t worry too much if the tree becomes unbalanced, usually, the group participants or the observer will bring this up naturally.
- Take pictures of the development of the tree(s) – this is useful for the review process.
Step 5: Present and review internally
At the end of the session, present your tree (or multiple trees if you worked in groups). Encourage everyone to ask questions and discuss. Often, more ideas will come up during this process, or leaves will be shuffled around.
Once you’re all packed up, take your product tree and the pictures you took and compare them against your current product roadmap. Useful questions to ask are:
- Which “prepared features” got pruned? Especially if you’re working directly with customers, you might find that a much-loved feature is actually dispensable in the eyes of the user.
- Do the trees retain their general shape? If you’re seeing an obvious imbalance – such as lots of leaves on one branch – this could be a signal that your users aren’t aware of (perception problem) or interested in (product/market fit problem) a whole feature set in your product.
- Are you growing your product fast enough? If there are a lot of leaves close to the trunk, you may not be releasing new features fast enough; whereas lots of leaves on the outside shows that they’re looking for great things in the future.
- What does your root system need to look like? If your customers are changing aspects of your infrastructure, it’s likely of critical significance to them to establish trust in the longevity of your product.
This brings us to the end of this how-to. For more on how to use this information when you’re creating a product roadmap, keep an eye out for a follow-up post coming soon!
Tried it? Loved it? Hated it? Leave us a comment below, or tweet us about it on @ProdPad!
Ready? Here’s what you’ll need
- Product Tree – download our simple product management template (big = good)
- Prepared feature cards or post-its (clearly legible = good)
- Blank post-it notes (leaves = good)
- Sharpies (colors = good)
- Other artwork / stickers / markers (creative = good)
Update: Want more useful exercises like this? You should get our Handy Guide for Product People. We ship it all over the world! Get it for free.