Creating a product roadmap is not easy. Every company seems to have a different approach, and most miss at least one of the critical components that make a roadmap successful. Here is my step by step guide to creating the three roadmaps you need to deliver your company’s objectives.
What is a Roadmap?
A roadmap is used by product managers to communicate their strategy. It should explain what you are going to do and why you are going to do it. A great roadmap should achieve the following:
- Provide an adaptable plan of what you intend to do to develop your product in the future and why you think this is a good idea.
- Communicate this plan to the team and your stakeholders to ensure everyone understands what they are working towards.
- Enable effective allocation of time and money by making business and product objectives explicit.
- Form the basis for future prioritisation and trade-off discussions.
Roadmaps are all about strategy so you should avoid talking about how you plan to build things—the how should be in your product backlog.
Key Components of a Roadmap
There’s a lot of advice out there about what to include in your roadmap, but since the purpose of a roadmap is clear communication I recommend you keep it simple and focus primarily on the following three key components:
What are you trying to achieve? It sounds like a simple question, but without clear objectives, you are most likely doing work for the sake of work. The aim of your work should be to achieve something for your company, and the objectives make this clear. Depending on the roadmap level, these may be business, product or release objectives.
How will you know when you have achieved your objective? It’s critical that you have measures of success which describes the value
you will get by delivering the objective. Without this, it becomes impossible to prioritise one activity against another or understand if the cost to achieve the objective is worth the investment.
- Increase annual revenue to $1,000,000
- Increase monthly active users by 5%
- Reduce the dropout rate on the payments page by 10%
What will you do first, and what will you do next? You don’t need to list specific dates on your roadmap, (I try and avoid this). But you do need a way to clearly show priority because, most likely, you can’t do everything you want to do at once.
Some ways to show priority are:
Types of Roadmap
Your product roadmap shouldn’t exist in isolation. It is the crucial link between your company’s business strategy and the features your team’s release.
Tthere are three levels, and at each level, there should be a roadmap with objectives, measures and priorities. Here’s how to build these roadmaps.
The first step is to understand your company’s goals and strategic bets. Without this, you cannot build an effective product roadmap. Some companies will have a clear business roadmap (or strategy) already. If not, you will need to work with the senior stakeholders in your company to create one. To do this, you should:
- Meet with your senior stakeholders 1-1 to understand their objectives for the year and how they plan to do to achieve them.
- Frame the objectives with measures and list the different ways they plan to achieve them. I like to refer to these possible ways to reach the objective as bets and assign them a measure of success as well.
- Set up time with your leadership teams to prioritise the objectives and bets for the next few months
- Share the objectives and bets that you will prioritise before the meeting. Make sure everyone understands them; people don’t like surprises.
- Use prioritisation techniques like the Kano model, MoSCoW or Weighted Scoring to order the objectives.
- Use the same prioritisation approach to order the bets against the objectives you have.
Once you have created your Business Roadmap, it’s time to create your Product Roadmap.
Now you know the company’s objectives and strategic bets, you may realise there are multiple products or features which could contribute to achieving them.
Here is what you should do next:
- List all the potential product initiatives that could deliver the highest priority strategic bet and prioritise.
- Validate each of the product initiatives using customer and market research. (there is a whole post on this in itself!)
- Once the product ideas are validated, re-prioritise the product initiatives based on how likely you’ll achieve the strategic bets defined in your business roadmap.
At this point in the roadmap process, it can be easy to be overwhelmed. There usually are so many things you can do, and it can feel like you need to validate them all. Don’t try and plan to far in advance, focus on what will help you now and next, knowing that you may have to validate more product initiatives in the future.
Now you have a prioritised list of product initiatives you need to turn the highest priority initiative into something deliverable. To do this, you need a release roadmap.
- Work with the delivery team to break down the product initiative into a set of user goals or jobs to be done.
- Build a user story map to identify and prioritise the features needed to achieve the user goal or job.
- Scope the MVP for your first release based on your user research.
The user stories that make up your MVP in the release roadmap will form your product backlog. Depending on the way your delivery team works, you may need to estimate the backlog and calculate the team’s velocity to understand when the features will be released.
Bringing it together
Business Roadmap = High-level objectives your company wants to achieve and the strategic bets you will try to reach them.
Product Roadmap = The product initiatives that will help the company deliver its strategic bets.
Release Roadmap = The features that will deliver the customer goals necessary to affect your product initiative.
Getting to where you’re going
Product roadmaps are critical to your success. Trying to create a great product without a roadmap is like going on a road trip without a map: if you’re lucky, you might eventually get to your destination, but it’s more likely you’ll get lost along the way.
To conclude, heres a few tips to help you get to where you want to go:
- Avoid dates, focus on outcomes. Building products is unpredictable so use priority instead of timeframes e.g Now, Next and Later.
- Put your roadmap in a public place so everyone in your business can see your priorities
- Set up a recurring meeting with your team to review the roadmap often (I recommend once a month)
- Avoid analysis paralysis and ship often. When you ship the product you will learn something new and can adjust your roadmap accordingly.
- Make sure your roadmap is balanced with long term projects and small wins.
- Lastly, remember a good roadmap needs to be adaptable to change!