How Productboard helps us prioritize features and build great roadmaps

by christophe havard|

Jira, we need to talk

Like many software companies, Jira holds a central place in our heart. It’s a great tool to handle tickets, do backlog management and follow technical releases.

Here at SonarSource, we used JIRA for many purposes:

  • For engineering tickets
  • To collect our own ideas of features to build next
  • To specify features we want to implement
  • To gather inputs from users, customers

You can imagine how, with time, information became scattered. How difficult it was for us to have a view of the big picture out of hundreds of entries. How difficult it was to identify problems, instead of delivering solutions.

Let’s face it: every field of work has its own suite of tools (accounting, finance, lawyers, etc). Jira is a tool for developers, by developers. And we needed a tool for product managers, by product managers.

What is a tool for PMs though? Glad you ask.

The job of a PM consists of answering the ultimate question: “Which features will we build next?”

To answer that, the ideal PM tool has to help:

  • Gather inputs from all different sources 
  • Prioritize one feature over another
  • Communicate the big picture effectively to the rest of the company to make sure we are all going in the same direction.
  • Communicate the plans outside of the company

And finally, after evaluating several tools (Aha, craft.io, Roadmunk, Monday.com), we found it: the tool to rule all the tools. Here was Productboard.

Gathering user’s interest

Change never comes alone. What I mean by this is that a change of tool often comes with a change of mindset. One could argue that the tool has to adapt to the way of working. That might be true in an ideal world. But in reality, making Productboard our daily focus was the best opportunity to learn and grow in how we envision product management at SonarSource. 

Let’s take a look at how it’s built: 

Productboard principles

The interface is built around four axes, each one with a different purpose.

With Insights, we started to gather your input from all our different channels: our Community forum, our internal dogfooding forum, our support tickets and even feedback from our sales team.

When we were trying to use Jira for product management, too many channels meant that what mattered most was lost in the flow of information. With Productboard, we have the ability to aggregate all those voices under a single feature and we value how it brings us a unified vision of them.

One other strength of this tool is the ability to share a single cross-domain, cross-product feature through several views. Let me show you an example: our integration of SonarCloud security analysis with GitHub Code Scanning Alerts. 

With Jira, we created multiple projects over time. One per product, one per analyzer, etc. To create a feature, we had to carefully choose the right project to be sure it reflects the meaning of the feature. Whereas with Productboard, this feature could be seen as a SonarCloud feature, but also as part of the DevOps Platforms domain, or as part of the Security Domain, etc.

A great side effect of this is the ability to link to this single feature all the inputs we gathered during our research phase.

SonarCloud Productboard user insights

An opportunity to grow

One interesting paradigm shift we faced was regarding features. Instead of viewing them as a set of tasks aggregated under a bigger task (an “epic” in the product management lingo), we started to think of them as user needs first, then features. Which makes a lot of sense when you think about it. To be a product-first company shouldn’t hide the user’s perspective.

Jira to Productboard

Productboard also provides a complex system of scoring each feature (by importance, number of user’s insights linked, etc) to help us prioritize. Each PM has their own dedicated view for that, according to product or domain. 

With Jira’s task-focused interface we found ourselves jumping too quickly to specific implementations and their details, rather than stepping back and thinking of what the motivation was behind the initial user request.

Communication enhanced

One very important part of the PM job is to be able to rally the whole company around a common objective. And the roadmap view of Productboard does it perfectly. It allows stakeholders to visualize the objectives we are contributing to improve, crossed with the domain or the theme concerned and the expected time range.

Productboard features in time

SonarCloud productboard internal roadmap

We could say that it helped us get to the next level on two distinct points: 

  • The user research part of the PM job (“does this feature make sense to users?”)
  • The communication to the rest of the company about “what’s in the pipe?”

Take the SonarCloud Portal for example. Instead of looking at a list of forum topics, we now have a board of cards representing each feature to come, already released or even the ones where we want more feedback. Pretty neat right?

SonarCloud Productboard public roadmap

Don't be fooled, it’s more than just window dressing. One who is interested in a particular feature has the ability to vote and leave a comment about how it would make sense.

On the other side of the screen, when an input is received, it’s automatically tagged and dispatched to the right PM’s inbox. It allows us to immediately answer questions like “How important is it for users?” or “Is the need also linked to another feature?”.

Opening our hearts for Productboard

You got it, Jira still holds a central place in our hearts. At the same time we have become convinced that Productboard is the right tool for product management. It has helped us reach the next level. Features and Roadmap views have become the browser tabs we spend most time in. 

Yes, some parts could be enhanced and we still have a lot to leverage. For example, we know we are not using the scoring system at scale (some of us do, but it’s still not a standard use). It would be convenient to be able to create “views” of roadmaps (when we play with filters for example) instead of creating multiple roadmaps that we have to maintain. But we are confident that the tool will keep evolving in the right direction and so will our use of it. 

One last thing : If you ever wanted to join an amazing team of PMs, please take a look at our job offers.