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Inside Buffer

Building in the Open: Introducing Buffer’s Transparent Product Roadmap

Buffer is known for being transparent in radical ways. We share the diversity of our team. We share our cultural evolutions and learnings. We share our salaries.

We keep sharing because we keep learning so much along the way! So many of you participate in discussions and help us shape the Buffer path. And we’re inspired when we hear that our story might have helped you shape yours!

So you might imagine my reaction when I saw this blog post from Trello: Going Public! Roadmapping With a Public Trello Board. It reminded me of Trello’s own public roadmap and some others, too. (Thanks, Trello, for leading the way and highlighting others who are sharing their product plans!)

I thought, ‘We should do that!’

roadmap button

We already have an amazing amount of ideas from the community in our UserVoice forum. We’re regularly sharing prototypes made with InVision. We speak with customers all the time. Why not share our feature roadmap!

So I shared Trello’s blog post and idea of a Buffer transparent product roadmap with a few teammates.

As I spoke with various folks around the company—Hannah (one of our newest Onboarding Heroes for Buffer for Business), Hailley (PR Crafter), Joel and Leo, other product types—I found a common thread.

Our quarterly goal documents are great, but they’re quite scattered around. And with so many product teams, it can be a chore to get a high level answer to simple questions like,  ‘What’s the latest?’ or ‘What’s up next?’

We shared a roadmap Trello board with the team, and it seems to be really helping us!

Introducing the Buffer transparent product roadmap

So today we wanted to open it up and share it with you as well. Now we can build in the open, with all of you alongside!

introducing roadmap
You might be asking, ‘Isn’t this sort of risky? Telling everyone—even your competition—what you’re working on?’

Great question! We’re definitely opening ourselves up a bit here. Thing is, we believe this could be better for everyone in the long term, not just Buffer. Let me explain.

Why build in the open?

Building in the open could positively impact:

  • The Buffer team. It encourages us to think more long term and be more deliberate about what we build, hopefully resulting in us building more value for you.
  • The Buffer community. We hope you’ll feel more closely connected to the features we’re building, how they’ll work, what they could do to make your social media life easier and more successful. Also, you’ll be able to tell us if we’re off track!
  • Our competition. Yes, even our competitors could be better off. And that’s a good thing! Maybe they’ll see something we’re working on and fill the need a little differently. Or they’ll be inspired to build a similar feature. For us, this is more than OK. It’s not a zero sum game, after all. There’s plenty of opportunity for everyone to be successful! All in all, we think this could raise the bar for all of us, and challenge Buffer to build the best, most valuable features possible.
  • The marketing community at large. If by building in the open we all learn together, we hope that some of the challenges facing our community will be addressed just a little more quickly.
  • Our collective audience. Better tools in the hands of marketers have the potential to make better marketing. And in doing so make consumers better off.
  • The startup and business community. Buffer was once a couple of founders working from a bedroom, and we still have a lot to learn. By sharing our failures and successes, we’d love to play a small part in helping people fulfill their dreams and start a company, or grow an existing company in a more effective way.

What building in public has taught us already

Here are a few examples of what we’re learning so far.

Lesson One: Embrace the power of prototyping

A prototype is a great conversation starter!

In the process of building a new reporting feature for Buffer for Business, we needed some feedback and shared this wireframe in an email to the community.

I was amazed to hop into InVision the next morning to see all of these comments! Big hat tip to InVision here for making it dead simple for anyone to click on the design and leave their comment right in line! (Each pink dot represents a customer conversation)

invision feedback

Lesson Two: Let the community connect

Feedback has a beautiful way of compounding!

Take a look at how the Buffer community interacts here:

Lesson Three: Look at the forest, not just each tree

It’s so helpful to be guided by the community to the highest priority features. Take a look at early voting on these few items. There’s great momentum around creating unique content for each network!

Want to cast some votes yourself? Take a quick second to log in to Trello (you can use a Google account and not even need to create a new password!).

Trello voting

Lesson Four: Keep drinking from the firehose!

We’re fortunate to have ideas coming to happiness heroes, to UserVoice, to our Customer Development team, to InVision prototypes, and more. How can we actually make use of it all? Well, I have to say, it can be a tough task!

Sometimes we can incorporate it into the feature under construction. Sometimes it’s stored away for a future version. Sometimes it simply adds to our level of empathy and understanding of our community.

One thing’s constant: How grateful we are for the time and thought that you’ve taken to share with us.

We still have a long way to go here, but my hope is that we keep asking, keep sharing, and keep having this conversation.

Lesson Five: Strive for a higher standard

We’re communicating this publicly, so the stakes are higher.

On one hand, if we change direction we’ll want to communicate even more with you. We’re committed to doing our best in this.

On the other hand, we’re fully aware that the ‘Next Up’ column will be something that you may build plans around.

We don’t want to let you down! So we’ll need to increase our discipline early in the process to be sure we’re quite committed to something before publishing it on the roadmap.

A few potential challenges of transparent building

As with many things, we have some challenges on this path too! Here’s a little view into three of those.

Challenge One: Startup projects need freedom

We have three startup projects underway at the moment: Pablo, Respond and Content Library.

They’re all early in their lives, and early in their search for what entrepreneurs call product-market fit.

As we search for their place in the market, sometimes we might need to make bigger changes with less advance warning. That can be tough with a published roadmap.

How will we keep this up-to-date and and helpful, while still giving the teams freedom to find the best path? We’ll be working on that!

Challenge Two: It takes time and effort to share all of this!

Beyond today, who will maintain the transparent roadmap? How frequently will it need to be updated?

And how does the feedback we’ll receive work in tune with UserVoice, comments on InVision prototypes, and all the ideas from our customer happiness conversations? How much time will it take to incorporate those thoughts into 5 product teams and 2 mobile engineering teams?

We don’t know the answers to all of these questions, but I’m keen to embrace a good portion of it in hopes that all the context will help me be the best product leader I can be for Buffer—and for you, the community.

Challenge Three: Communicating with clarity

The roadmap is intentionally very high level, with just a short phrase to describe each potential feature or change.

Is that enough for you to know what it is and whether it’ll be helpful or not? I’m not sure!

Our fantastic design team is eager to add context here by showing their design process, including early prototypes. That sounds like a great addition to me, but I’m not 100% confident we’re sharing enough!

If you’d be up for helping out by providing any feedback or thoughts as we get going here, we’d all really appreciate it.

How the Roadmap Works

If you’re intrigued by all of this and want to be part of how Buffer evolves, thank you! It means so much that you’d take time and energy from your own life and work to share in this story with us.

Here are a few places to get involved:

  1. The Roadmap. Please add your votes and comments for any features that you’re eager to use! (You can log into Trello through an existing Google account and not even need to create a new password!).
  2. Our UserVoice forum: Want to add your thoughts or suggest another idea? This is the place!
  3. Beta groups: We form beta groups around new features from time to time. Typically we’ll invite you to join while inside Buffer. Please take us up on that if you’re keen!

Over to you!

roadmap button

We’re looking forward to you joining us on the journey. Please jump in and let us know what you think as we build in the open!

And by the way, here’s a quick rundown of friends who helped shape our transparent roadmap:

  • Joel shared the idea of making an “introduction lane” to help newcomers know what to expect.
  • Steve helped sort out some design elements.
  • Niel, Dan, Sunil and Joel suggested turning the voting feature on.
  • Dave, Steve, James, Tyler and Lorenz got excited about sharing early designs in the card. More is on the way!
  • Hannah and Amy were some of the first to share the board with customers for feedback.
  • Kevan incorporated it into a recent email to our Buffer for Business community. (We like to keep them in the loop as early as possible so they can best serve their team and clients!)
  • Sylvia

    Jim, thanks for sharing about your next big move into transparent business! You guys are pioneers~

    What if there’s a feature that’s requested via popular vote but ultimately isn’t feasible, wouldn’t make sense to build, etc..? I wonder how that would be evaluated within your team and how it would be addressed to the public :)

    • Hello there, Sylvia!

      Thanks so much for jumping in to say such kind things!

      Great question you’ve got today. If a feature has a lot of votes and we’re feeling like it could be a good fit for Buffer, we typically take it through a bit of a research phase called Discovery. If we come to a conclusion that we shouldn’t proceed, we’d want to come back to the folks who requested it and explain as much as possible. We’re just feeling out the ideal scenario here, so please keep in touch as the story unfolds, Sylvia!

  • Vinodh David

    Hey Jim, I am curious why you guys didn’t use the planned or in progress feature in uservoice itself. Why a trello board?

    • Great question, Vinodh! We plan on updating the status feature in UserVoice, too. And it’s a great place to collect input, too! This just felt like an easier way to navigate a high level view. We’ll, see how things go, maybe it’ll make sense to consolidate in the future…

  • Andrea Pacini

    Hi Jim. This is another initiative that shows that you guys are miles ahead of most companies. I love the fact that not only do you understand that this move can also help your competition, but you also welcome it as a way for everyone to be better off. I thought about this the first time when I read Reinventing Organizations, where the author says exactly that great companies don’t have competition, because their goal is not to beat the competition, but rather to make the world a better place. As you said, there are many opportunities for everyone to be successful. Well done!

    • Wow, what kind words Andrea! Appreciate you sharing this reminder from Reinventing Organizations. :)

  • Juan Sebastián Suárez Valencia

    You are INSANE. I LOVE your strategy <3

  • My goodness, you are the BEST place to work. I simply love your work and your culture.

  • Latoya Herd Wigfield

    Excellent post!!! Again you are as a company, not only evolving the professional community, but are even raising the bar for yourselves and challenging the buffer community to raise the expectation again! Thanks for sharing!!!

  • Michael Jenkins

    I love Buffer’s commitment to transparency. It makes for a unique but inviting work place. I have used Trello in the past and it is an excellent way to organize group projects in my opinion. The approach you are taking it, blew me out of the water. That is the first time that I have heard a company putting ALL their cards on the table for anyone to see. I am very interested in seeing how this works out for you. I look forward to a follow up article in the future on how this has worked. Keep up the great work and thinking outside of the box!

  • Good points Jim .. Do you have plans to become transparent in E-mails also someday too? I saw in somewhere they keep logs of e-mail answered and unanswered. Also do you have plans to publish how you vote out some candidate.. We have seen the core values post but obviously those values are measured somehow right? Anyways keep doing the great work you guys are doing on building and adopting next generation company culture.

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