17 October 2021

Product Roadmap

Product Roadmap definition

  • The product roadmap is the strategic communication tool in a product manager’s arsenal.
    • Product managers work with internal teams and stakeholders to build a crystal-clear roadmap that clearly communicates deliverables and the expectations for where the product is going and why.
    • The product roadmap is important for product managers to create alignment around a plan that builds trust and confidence among stakeholders.
  • A product roadmap is a visual communication tool that aligns a company around a high-level product strategy.
    • Depending on the type of organization, product roadmaps can include upcoming features and technical considerations, and often demonstrate how a product will evolve over time.
    • Roadmaps communicate the intention of what customer and business outcomes a plan will achieve within a period of time.
  • The product roadmap is also a coordination tool :
    • It gives stakeholders and team members the information they need to be able to focus their goals and priorities.
    • Roadmaps bring visibility to all the moving pieces that help product teams coordinate their efforts; pieces like scope and resource allocation (and the why behind those decisions).
    • The roadmap is the asset that communicates how those pieces form the strategy, in a way that can be understood by each and every stakeholder.
  • “A product roadmap is about communicating the why.
    • It’s about the ultimate destination (the vision) and the major steps that the team intends to take along the way (goals to be reached, problems to be solved).
    • A roadmap should not delve deeply into the what and the when.
    • It should stay at the why level.
    • It should inspire your teams to then develop a release plan, a delivery plan or a project plan for how to deliver that vision.”
    • Bruce McCarthy

Product Roadmap purpose

  • Roadmaps help create alignment and excitement around a product strategy.
    • A product roadmap is the perfect tool if you want to create product strategy literacy across your organization (and it’s the perfect tool for demonstrating to your stakeholders that you have a firm grasp on that strategic wheel!).
    • When your teams have this foundational understanding of what matters to the business and to customers, their internal compass for making tactical decisions will be grounded in that high-level plan and direction.
  • This visibility works to the product manager’s advantage from top to bottom.
    • A great product roadmap gives executives and other stakeholders complete visibility into what’s happening, changing or progressing within the strategy.
    • It’s meant to create confidence, so your stakeholders can feel good about the progress that the company is making towards solving the customer problems that will yield the biggest business impact.
  • Roadmaps facilitate cross-functional team collaboration and clarity around priorities.
    • The process of product prioritization is as complex as roadmapping. It requires an ongoing, collaborative dialogue between teams and stakeholders.
    • Having a product roadmap encourages teams to narrow down the focus of the problems that can be solved using the available resources―a prioritization exercise in and of itself.
  • A product roadmap is a powerful channel of communication.
    • These ongoing conversations―about the why, how and who of the work to be done―create a culture of alignment and deep understanding of the vision and direction for the product.

Product Roadmap planning

  • Product roadmap planning is hard—but with a bit of focus and ruthless prioritization, you can manage most of the problems and difficulties that come with the process.
    • Narrow down the priorities you intend to tackle for a period of time, define priority-based goals that focus on outcomes and solutions (not feature delivery dates), and define the measures of success you’ll implement (metrics and KPIs).
    • Roadmap planning starts with those pieces.
      • Commit to doing them right and communicating them with your teams, and you’ll be on the right path towards roadmapping success.
  • 1. Generate the goal, or goals, for a specific period of time
    • Like we said earlier, you’re ideally planning a roadmap for the next few months or quarters.
      • Rarely do product managers know what’s going to happen a year from now (market changes, discovery of new user needs), so planning for a one year timeline doesn’t make sense.
      • You only need the details of the who, what and how for the month and quarter, focused on working towards achieving a high-level goal or two (for agile teams and startups, even that time frame can be a stretch!).
    • How do you determine what the product goals for a quarter should be?
      • No matter where you’re at in your company’s lifecycle—whether you’re a scrappy 20-person startup or a 2,000-person multi-product portfolio enterprise—it all starts with the product vision.
      • It’s what Roman Pichler calls: “The reason for creating the product.”.
      • Everything you do should be aligned with that unique positioning for your product; the outcomes that vision aims to create for current and potential users.
    • What are your business goals?
      • Know if your company’s priorities are to push acquisition metrics forward (to expand in the market and acquire new customers) or to satisfy current users (reduce churn and improve retention).
      • When you know the business goals, you can craft your product goals and KPIs towards that direction.
    • This is where a framework like Porter’s Five Forces or a SWOT analysis can help determine what goals to focus on.
      • What are the areas of focus that might make the product more competitive over time?
  • 2. Identify the problems that can be solved
    • Once you know what the business goals are, and have a product strategy rooted in measuring and improving metrics related to those goals, it’s time to move into the problem discovery phase.
      • What are the user problems that you can solve in order to impact those metrics you defined?
        • Look for the problems that will create the biggest impact on the business goals.
        • And you can remove a lot of the noise by focusing on the signals in these channels:
          • Customer feedback:
            • You need to talk to your users frequently.
            • We can’t repeat this enough! Feature requests coming from sales, CS/CX messages are useful, and meeting with those teams can be informative towards understanding user problems, but you as a product manager need to be deeply embedded in user conversations.
            • Look for the big problems that can be potentially solved within the block of time you’ve defined for the roadmap.
            • Use a model like Ash Maurya’s lean canvas) or the Jobs to be done frameworkto conceptualize and segment your understanding of customer problems and needs.
          • Usage data:
            • This is where you find out exactly how your users are interacting with your product and features.
            • Look for the problems, barriers and common trends in the behavior that can be potentially solved for.
          • Product competitive analysis:
            • Keeping a pulse on the problem areas your competitors are solving is important, even if you’re not aggressively going after them.
            • That involves experiencing your competitors’ products to gain a more comprehensive frame of reference for where your product stands in the market versus the competition.
            • Do a deep analysis, measure the experiences, and benchmark them against your product.
              • This depth of research and problem discovery during the product roadmap planning phase is crucial to generating the right problems you’ll commit to solving over a period of time.
              • This research is the evidence you’ll use to justify why certain features and initiatives should be on the roadmap during alignment discussions.
  • 3. Align with your internal teams and stakeholders
    • Your product roadmap planning needs to be collaborative from start to finish.
      • To loosely quote Teresa Torres, champion of the Continuous Discovery mindset, any team invested in solving customer problems should come together to brainstorm the possible paths that can be taken to achieve an outcome (paths = potential product goals for any given quarter).
    • Customer facing teams are key touchpoints for product managers during the product roadmap planning process.
      • Think about it this way: having a good pulse-check on the needs expressed by customers is critical to ensuring you’re making market-driven decisions.
        • Over 70% of the Pragmatic Institute’s 2019 survey respondents said that they spend less than 5 hours a month processing customer feedback.
        • And most product managers don’t have the time to do ongoing, comprehensive user research, which is a big hurdle towards identifying the problems worth solving.
    • “It’s in the interest of the product manager to demonstrate to their teams how they came about the decision-making using all this research,” Bobby adds, “This creates faith and trust in us, the product team, that we’ve actually done our homework and looked into all the factors, data and feedback that could weigh in on the decision-making process.”
      • How can you build those relationships with your teams during the product roadmap planning phase?
        • It starts with having ongoing and regular conversations with customers and customer-facing teams.
        • These conversations can be weekly or quarterly, depending on how much gut checking you have to do during your planning process.
        • Be curious about their input on a proposed solution: when you talk to them, try to identify the trends in the issues and feature requests so you can ground your plans in real feedback.
    • The best way to build those relationships during the product roadmap planning phase is to zero in on the biggest problems that can be solved the fastest.
      • Remember that roadmap alignment should be a regular, ongoing exercise.
      • It should start from the early days of roadmap drafting and strategy planning.
    • Product roadmap planning is not about saying: Here’s what I’m thinking about and I’m just keeping you in the loop.
      • But instead, it’s about bringing these teams into more participatory conversations.
        • Lead your customer-facing team touchpoints with questions like:
          • What problems do you feel are urgent?
          • Can you walk me why you feel that way?
          • What evidence are you basing that on?
          • What do think is the impact of acting on/not acting on this piece of feedback
  • 4. Define metrics of success and KPIs for the initiatives in the product roadmap
    • What’s the best way to quantify the impact of the goals to be reached and problems to be solved within a period of time?
      • By ensuring that your roadmap is connected to well-defined KPIs.
      • Your roadmap should illustrate, or be informed, by the answers to the questions:
        • What will our long-term impact be?
        • How will we measure if this impact has been achieved?
        • What’s the process for updating and communicating the progress of this impact?
    • One popular method that helps product teams answer these questions is Objectives and Key Results (OKRs).
      • OKRs are a great goal-setting framework because they take a high-level vision and break it into manageable objectives.
      • OKR Objectives are time-bound and actionable, as well as inspirational (it inspires the team to “roll up their sleeves” and act independently to execute the objective).
      • Key Results, on the other hand, take the qualitative aspect of objectives and turn it into quantifiable milestones.
  • 5. How to prioritize the product roadmap
    • To borrow some of Marty Cagan’s words, author of INSPIRED: How to Create Tech Products Customers Love , great product decisions come from the deep understanding of the user’s needs combined with an equally deep understanding of what’s possible to achieve with the resources the company has.
    • This is where a prioritization framework comes in handy during the product roadmap planning phase.
      • Start by asking the questions: What initiatives will create the most impact?
      • What’s the most urgent thing that needs to be tackled?
      • What’s our scope of resources (time, effort, technology)?
      • Then, move into ways to quantify those answers so you can use that to make those prioritization decisions.
    • There are two weighted-score methods we like that can help you benchmark potential epics or features against your product goals.
      • RICE.
        • RICE stands for Reach, Impact, Confidence and Effort.
          • It’s a simple weighted score method for quantifying the potential value of features, project ideas and initiatives.
          • A RICE score helps product managers quantify the estimated value of a feature or project idea so they’re easier to sort when it’s time to decide the order they should be worked on.
          • Sean McBride, who co-developed RICE prioritization as a PM at Intercom, walked us through how to best use this prioritization method (read it here).
      • Value vs Effort.
        • A popular, easy-to-communicate way to begin prioritizing ideas is to compare the value gained from an idea against the effort required to complete it.
        • By using a standard ranking scale from 1 to 5, decisions can be made quickly and easily by a product manager or team.
        • Check out our breakdown of the factors that define value and effort.

Product Roadmap formats

  • There are countless ways you can bring a roadmap to life.
    • From post-its on a whiteboard, Excel spreadsheets and powerpoint slides, all the way to a flexible roadmap tool like Roadmunk.
  • The challenging nature of product development work extends to the process of choosing the right tool stack for strategic planning.
    • To learn about which tool best suits your individual team’s needs
  • The no-dates product roadmap:
    • The no-dates roadmap offers more flexibility than roadmaps built on timelines.
    • They’re helpful for companies whose priorities are constantly shifting.
    • This is usually the case when your product is still in its earliest stages—when you’re processing new information on a week-to-week or even day-to-day basis.
  • The hybrid product roadmap:
    • This type of product roadmap includes dates—but not hard dates.
      • For example, a company might create a product roadmap that is organized by month or quarter.
    • This style of roadmap allows you to plan into the future while maintaining flexibility. Items here are plotted by month, and designated as either Current, Near-Term, or Future.
    • By time-boxing projects according to months, you create a loose projection that’s helpful but not constraining.
  • The timeline product roadmap:
    • The name is self-explanatory: it’s a roadmap plotted on a timeline.
    • A complex timeline product roadmap really isn’t helpful or necessary until you’re juggling multiple departments, dependencies and deadlines.
  • It’s common to see twitter hot takes and Medium articles that downplay the role of dates in the roadmap (all with valid reasons related to agility!).
    • But usage data from the product managers who use Roadmunk suggests that dates are a key factor in roadmapping: 89% of roadmap views built in Roadmunk have at least some representation of time, whether it’s a detailed timeline or broader time buckets displayed in a swimlane.
    • A timeline product roadmap gives a visual structure to the many, many, many moving parts that have to work together to ensure product success.
    • They also show the product’s long-term vision—since some departments must plan a year or more in advance.

Roadmap components

  • Identify dependencies early on.
    • Nothing exists in a vacuum among product teams, especially between departments like product, engineering and design.
    • Every project, team and initiative is related to one another, so it’s important to define those dependencies early on in the roadmapping process. feature-dependencies
  • Mark milestones.
    • If your team is following the OKR method for measuring the progress of your business goals, then having milestones on your roadmap can bring visibility to that progress.
    • Milestones are a great way to spotlight your organization’s goals, major releases, trade shows and achievements.
    • By visualizing a goal or key result on a roadmap, milestones help your team rally behind it and understand what it takes to get there.
  • Track progress.
    • What do you hope to change in the lives of your users?
    • How quickly?
    • By tracking the progress of your objectives, key results and goals, you keep a pulse on how close you are to solving the customer problems that will bring you closer to fulfilling your vision.

See more PMI-ACP exam and PMI-ACP Tools and Techniques flashcards

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *