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Six Tips To Creating The Perfect Product Roadmap

 

As product managers, it’s our job to bring products to market that both customers love and drive success for the business. Without a clear product roadmap it can be easy to fall into a routine of managing a backlog each week and forgetting about the bigger picture.

A product roadmap outlines a clear plan for how a product will evolve and communicates how short-term efforts support long-term goals. What is the vision? What are our metrics for success? How are we going to get there? These are just a few questions answered in this shared source of truth.

Revisiting and reviewing the roadmap periodically – every 6 or 12 months depending on the product and business – will provide context for everyday activities and allow you to be responsive in the market.

Here are our six tips for creating an effective product road map in 2022.

 

Table of Contents

Start With A Clear Product Vision

Where are we going and how are we going to get there?

Having a clear vision of where you’re headed as a team, what you’re creating, why you’re building it and who for, is fundamental for everyone involved.

From the executive team to QA peeps, having clear alignment on direction and what success looks like will provide the contextual setting for all to make better decisions through synchronised collaboration and thinking.

The product vision should be about why your product exists. What is the outcome you seek for your customers/users?

This is a popular template that may be helpful.

For … [TARGET CUSTOMER]
Who… [TARGET CUSTOMERS NEEDS]
The… [PRODUCT NAME]
Is a … [PRODUCT CATEGORY]
That… [PRODUCT BENEFIT/REASON TO BUY]
Unlike…[COMPETITORS]
Our product… [DIFFERENTIATION

Outcomes Not Outputs

The end game is outcomes, not outputs. There may be an idea for a great feature, but does that feature create a business outcome or solve a customer problem?

Always consider: “If we solve that problem, what’s the outcome we would expect to see?”

A North Star Strategy, where the team collectively defines what success looks like, can help move the focus away from features and deliverables.

The North Star Metric becomes the key measure of success for the product team. It defines the relationship between the customer problem they are trying to solve, the revenue the business aims to generate by doing so and communicates the product’s impact and progress.

A North Star metric should consist of 2 parts:

a statement of the product vision and

a metric that serves as a key measurement of the product strategy.

Map Your Roadmap To Business Objectives

Your product roadmap serves a high level plan, defining an overarching strategic objective and capturing the major steps for achieving that objective. 

Business Objectives & Key results (OKRs) are a powerful way to pair business objectives with a success criteria that everyone contributes to through their own team or individual OKRs.

Check out this quick intro to OKRs if you are unfamiliar with the goal-setting method. If you have more time, I highly recommend this article about setting product team OKRs.   

The premise of the framework is to set objectives that are specific, qualitative goals and key results that are quantifiable measures of progress towards achieving those objectives. Goals are set, tracked and re-evaluated periodically.

At Digital Village, we find OKRs to be a really great way of aligning the product strategy with the business strategy. A list of features alone does not capture or articulate the strategic thinking behind building a product in a specific way.

Should you choose to adopt the framework, review your organisation’s OKRs and determine where product will be able to move the needle most.

You might look at your data and determine the biggest user or customer problem and express that as an OKR. This will help align your product roadmap with company OKRs and ultimately your customers’ needs.

Design & Plan in Collaboration

Before diving into your product roadmap tool of choice, you need to make sure you have the right people and attitude to effectively problem-find and create solutions.

Promote a culture of openness and innovation

Everybody must feel comfortable to share their ideas and be able to challenge others. Empower people to think innovatively and openly engage stakeholders, team members and anybody else who you might need to get buy-in from in order to execute the plan.

If a team member, say an engineer, comes up with an incredible solution to an unmet customer need then there needs to be an avenue to have the conversation with leadership. Appreciate that Ideas can come from unlikely sources.

Adopting a top-down vision allows consideration of how each product division will fit into the overall company goals. As an agile product manager, you need to constantly revisit vision and strategy. Occasionally, this can require convincing leadership of your product roadmap and slightly shifting the direction of the company.

A realignment from the bottom up is possible but really needs data to back it up.

Don’t be scared to share

As a product manager, you can become attached to a vision and attempt to keep a strategy under wraps until it’s perfect. It puts an untold amount of pressure on the final presentation and the ability to persuade the team and stakeholders of its merits.

Instead, consider a more iterative approach. Remain in-sync with team members and leadership team to piece together their thoughts, ideas, wants and needs. You’ll arrive at a more well-rounded strategy and a plan that everybody is onboard with because they contributed and feel part of it.

Run a series of quick small workshops

Finding time in everyone’s calendar for a multi-day strategy and planning session is often impossible. Consider breaking it down into a series of small workshops where you can get everyone together including leadership and product team members.

It might look something like this:

Session 1: Ideation and Innovation
Session 2: Evaluate Desirability
Session 3: Evaluate Viability
Session 4: Evaluate Feasibility
Session 5: Establish or Review Your Feedback Loop

Goal-Oriented vs Feature-Based Roadmaps

Features will always be a part of product definition. The key difference between goal and feature-oriented roadmap is which is considered first.

A feature-based roadmap is usually spawned from data, customer insight or even business needs. There is nothing inherently wrong with them but shifts focus away from the ultimate goal and towards the specific features themselves.

All efforts can be fixated on user-testing and analytics in an effort to perfect the particular feature, but what is the outcome of building that feature?

Focus on Customer Value

On a goal-oriented roadmap, features exist to meet a goal and generate a benefit. We identify the goals and the user outcomes or benefits at the start and then design a feature set that will help achieve those benefits.

Often referred to as theme-based or featureless, goal-orientated roadmaps are a better way to communicate product strategy because they align the team around a particular customer goal that will bring customers measurable value. What will they receive or what job will you help them accomplish?

Adopting this approach gives the teams flexibility to experiment with different tactics or solutions rather than being constrained by a particular feature. As Geoff Wellmann from ZedRun says, “where do we want to be as opposed to what do we want?

Prioritise Tasks

Goal-oriented roadmaps provide a way of communicating value without predetermining what the team will deliver. Teams can therefore focus on solving the larger problem at hand. If something else is brought up, it’s easy to consider whether it fits into the overall goal theme of the current time period.

Focus On Your Customer, Not Your Competitor

As product leaders, we’re expected and to some degree trained to think about our competitors. How are our products going to be positioned to be more useful, meaningful or valuable than our competitors?

Knowing who you’re up against is important, but avoid falling into the trap of looking at your main competitors, identifying their key features and meticulously comparing them to yours. If you have an established product, you can bet they are already doing the same and the end result is minimal differentiation between the two.

As the CEO of Netflix, Reed Hastings, says, they are competing against ‘drinking a bottle of wine’. They viewed their competition as any other way of spending your evening other than using Netflix. They weren’t focussed on blockbuster; they were focussed on you.

Bonus Insight – Choosing The Right Roadmapping Tool

Research from the good people of Product Plan revealed what tools product managers are utilising most.

Product Roadmapping Tools

There is no objective answer to which tool is right for you but there are some things to take into account before deciding.

Communication

Communicating product strategy is the main objective of a product strategy. Understanding how your team likes to communicate, engage and organise their work is pivotal to choosing the right tool. There is little point in creating an amazing piece of communication if nobody is going to use it.

Is something more visually-based preferable? Perhaps they are more tactical and prefer spreadsheets, Choose wisely!

Expression

What format best expresses your goals and success metrics? Is it features? Release dates? Business milestones? Customer goals? How important is time? Or is it more important to achieve an objective rather than pushing to get features out the door on a specific date?

A roadmap must also be inspirational. Ensure whatever tool you choose effectively expresses what success looks like in the way you and the team understand it.

Cross Functionality and Accessibility

Your roadmap needs to take into account all the moving parts that work in sync to bring value to the customer and ultimately the business: marketing, sales, engineering design, operations etc.

Consider how you might best capture these requirements across the team and develop a shared understanding for everyone to follow.

People from different areas of the business work in different ways so ensure they can easily access and refer to your product roadmap.

A Final Word

We hope our guide to building a successful product road map is helpful, interesting or of value in some way.

Keep learning, keep improving and please get in touch if you have any questions or would like to work together. We offer a product and team review service that focuses on how you can improve your product development processes.

We use a holistic approach that explores 5 key perspectives of a successful product development process.

BUSINESS GOALS

The business benefits the product should create -prioritised and measurable.
(OKRs or KPIs etc)

FINANCIAL

The relevant financial indicators such as cost, revenue and profitability etc.

TECHNOLOGY, PRODUCT & PROCESS

Indicators such as technology health, infrastructure design and deployment successfulness.

CUSTOMER

The relevant customer indicators such as adoption, conversion and satisfaction scores.

PEOPLE

Indicators such as the happiness of the team, their motivation, communication and to what extent stakeholders are engaged.

With care and respect from all the Product Peeps at the Digital Village. Come visit anytime. Meet you in the digital village.

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