Any experienced product developer will tell you that a bold vision and strategic planning are not enough to bring your envisioned product to life . That approach focuses too heavily on the destination; overlooking the critical journey of how to get there. And for that, we turn to a roadmap.
A product roadmap is the bridge between your long-term goals and short-term struggles; and today, we’ll dive further into the concept of roadmapping and why it can take you on a journey to your next product.
What is a Roadmap?
The concept of a roadmap is commonplace, especially if you’ve even been involved in a long road trip like the one from Toronto to Montreal depicted below.
Note, it does not say a specific time of arrival; rather a window. That is because there are several stops along the way; and given any number of variables at those stops, it’s difficult to say with certainty how long each of those stops will take. After all, what if there’s a huge line for the bathroom?
However, the roadmap does help answer some critical questions:
- Which is the fastest route?
- Will you stop along the way; and if so, where?
- How do you know you’re moving in the right direction?
The prerequisite for gaining any benefit of a roadmap is a destination; and when talking about product development, that destination is the product. And the roadmap is how you ensure that journey ends up where it needs to be while addressing strategic objectives along the way.
The Importance of Roadmaps for Product Development
The same that applies to road trips apply to product development
The value of a good roadmap applies equally to road trips as it does to product development. And while there are numerous frameworks for creating one, as long as it keeps you on course and gives you a better understanding of where you’re going and why.
An incredible tool for implementing product strategy and aligning stakeholders on a shared vision; a product roadmap provides not only the journey the product will take but how that strategy will be executed, communicating the product’s evolution by mapping its major releases onto a timeline.
Roadmapping in Action
That’s exactly what was done for our engagement with one of our clients. The client was in the process of executing an important digital transformation initiative when they began to voice some concerns:
- How would the journey look like, and how can we communicate to executives that the teams are moving in the right direction?
- How would the product evolve in the future?
- How would the three teams work together to deliver integrated business goals; what were their dependencies?
- Executives were unclear what the individual teams were trying to achieve, how much was done, and what was next
- What would be in the releases and when would they take place?
- Which release to focus on now and why?
- Which features to prioritize and what associated user stories to use for the first release
What they were missing was a connection between the vision and execution, and the solution for that is nothing but a good roadmap to plan out its major releases.
An exercise was done to identify the milestones along the way, and eventually, they were able to create their first roadmap in the following format.
The items or business goals in these three columns were strategically placed to inform the team of the goals to focus on NOW and which ones to focus on later. This format helped them emphasize the order of things with business goals rather than their due dates. It also allowed product owners to prioritize features and associated user stories, which helped them to achieve the goals mentioned in the NOW column.
Multiple sessions were conducted with all stakeholders, and we helped them understand the purpose of a roadmap that would help them overcome the challenges they had identified.
After that, the following structure was produced. This structure identified the releases for the NOW column business objectives:
- The results of the roadmapping exercise above were as follows:
- Aligned the vision with business goals and objectives. Even though everyone already had this information, it was not presented in such a way that could be understood by all of them.
- Identified and agreed on the KPIs on the business objectives.
- Identified the features from all the teams involved (presented with different colors) to achieve those objectives.
- Identified what the journey will look like by mapping out releases.
- Identified which features need to be delivered for each release goal.
- Understood what the user stories are associated with the identified features for each release. Not all user stories needed to be considered for the release goal.
- Introduced goal-oriented thinking instead of just delivering outputs through user stories.
- By following the format of NOW, NEXT, LATER for the roadmap, the program could communicate better with the key stakeholders and was able to establish transparency.
The roadmap was able to solve the challenges the client was facing and also help them identify what to focus on.
Roadmapping During COVID-19
As mentioned before, the concept of road mapping is not only applied for product development or a road trip. It’s frequently used by governments as well.
Here’s an example of what Ontario followed as part of the province reopening during the pandemic:
The Roadmap to Reopen is a three-step plan to safely and cautiously reopen the province and gradually lift public health measures.
The plan is based on:
- The province-wide vaccination rate
- Improvements in key public health and healthcare indicators
There is no specific date involved in the plan, but it does highlight goals to achieve. As the Ontario Premier, Doug Ford, clearly mentioned in one of his interviews:
“Roadmap is a plan about how we are going to reopen the province, not when.”
Build Your Own Roadmap
It should be clear at this point how crucial a roadmap is for any serious product development effort. Which is why I want to leave you with exactly how to create your own:Identify and articulate product vision
- Identify business objectives/outcomes to achieve along with metrics
- Focus on goals and benefits, not on timelines
- Collaborate with all stakeholders for alignment
- Consider rough estimates to check the feasibility of the goal
- Review it regularly and adjust as required
By creating a roadmap, you have better communication and easily identifiable goals that help you achieve the product you have envisioned.