Product Roadmap, a strategic or tactical tool?
Any plan is a hypothesis that needs to be proven right or wrong.
If you work with a product, you probably heard the roadmap and even more asked you for the product roadmap. If you never built one before, it could be daunting. It’s hard enough to figure out what to make right now, let alone a few weeks, months, or even quarters into the future. Still, rest assured that it is not an impossible mission.
In this article, I’ll guide you on how to build a product roadmap for your organization. One that will help you say no to requests that don’t fit and help your organization keep track of its business objectives and product strategy. And one that your product stakeholders can follow, support, and feel ownership of because they helped create it and keep it in course. I’ll walk you through the steps of developing a roadmap, from identifying your stakeholders, creating milestones, scheduling them to build alignment, and evangelizing your roadmap.
I will take you from inception to implementation with down-to-earth insights based on real-world experience. Be ready to work hard and hardworking, so are you ready? Let’s get started.
Roadmap definition and purpose
It would help if you were wondering why you need a product roadmap. How can you create a plan in such a dynamic market environment? And even worse, if you work on an agile product development team. After all, you plan one sprint at a time, so what’s the point of making a long-range plan, right?
I learned that product roadmaps are essential to the success of any organization. Suppose built correctly on top of a strategic plan that makes sense to most organizations. We need to understand why thinking beyond the product development team to help and be helped by other areas of the business. After all, we grow together.
Let’s start with the basics.
First and foremost, what’s a long-term vision for a product? In tech, a long-term vision of a product is around 8-12 months, and a short-term picture is approximately 3-4 months. A product roadmap is nothing more than a plan. And have in mind that all plans have something in common:
“Any plan is a hypothesis that needs to be proven right or wrong.”
A product development plan provides all the involved parties with information about what will come up next to build their planning. Before I describe exactly what a roadmap looks like and how to create one, let’s talk about the value a well-prepared roadmap will bring to you as a PM and your company.
The product roadmap allows the different stakeholders of your product to plan and coordinate their future activities around you. What is the most desirable thing for managers in general? In just one word?
Everyone loves predictability.
A product roadmap provides a sense of control of predictability to the product development process and all the parts involved in it. But remember, predictability does not mean rigid. A product roadmap is a live constant planning process/document.
Let’s look at some typical product stakeholders inside and outside your organization who will be impacted by product development and who have also impacted you. We will work with the basic premise of how the product roadmap can help them to become more effective.
Customers: If you serve large enterprises, they often request your product roadmap; why? To help them make the decision to bet or not on your product, especially if the industry is new and changing quickly.
Customer-facing members (Sales, marketing, and customer support teams): They will rely on a product roadmap to develop their materials, such as sales script, FAQ, documentation, and training, all of which require some lead time.
Investors, boards, or executive sponsors: Whom can use a product roadmap to pitch outside, estimate potential future revenues and costs, and make decisions on resources, financial investments, and a hiring plan.
Engineers and designers: They can use the roadmap to create higher-quality designs for your product, better developers’ team, and the appropriate infrastructure for the new releases. For example, a design can become piecemeal and create unforeseen problems without a longer-term plan in place.
Everyone usually forgets about this one, the Human Resources. A strategic HR will suffer if they don’t have access to a product roadmap, and why? Without this knowledge, they will not address hiring plans, compensations, benefits, training, onboarding, and intervening with the executives to better manage and communicate business expectations to the teams. And any need to update/correct the course of the organization structure/design.
There’s the most critical benefit, but less obvious one, that a product roadmap can provide. It will force your business leadership team to clearly articulate:
Its business goals; and
Its strategy for achieving them.
A product roadmap can be the best tool to help your leadership reach a consensus on what it’s imperative to be developed. It also helps ensure that your product development efforts are aligned as closely as possible with the business strategy.
Having the critical stakeholders aligned around the roadmap ensures that everyone works together effectively. But all that without proper and constant communication will mean nothing.
How to select your stakeholders
If you miss a crucial person to include in the roadmap creation, it’ll come back to bite you later. So, choosing the stakeholders to invite into the process is extremely important, exhausting. Yet, you will have much work ahead of you.
One of the worst cases is if you invite people who are not critical to the process, it’ll waste your time, the others involved. You are the one to blame. Remember, a wrong choice can disrupt the entire process.
You might be wondering, but don’t we have a successful recipe for inviting key stakeholders? The lovely answer from every consultant will be: “It will depend.”
Let’s be clear on something fundamental, and you’ve probably heard somewhere that a PO/PM is the CEO of the product, right? So, this is the greatest B.S. of all time.
My Cake Recipe
The most important stakeholder and partner in this process will be your business leader (CEO or GM). Don’t have access to them? Bumper. That’s your first challenge to overcome in this process. Be savvy and good luck.
You will need them to allocate resources. They will help you unblock other business areas if necessary to achieve success. They need to feel totally proprietary of the roadmap, as they developed by themselves.
For this reason, you need to include them as early as possible in the process.
Then you probably need your sales lead as they need to meet sales targets based on the roadmap. You don’t want friction here. Let’s face it, companies organize efforts around revenue streams, and the sales leader will have the ability to pull together other resources to make the roadmap successful.
Therefore, don’t confuse non-friction by no-arguing, even fights. You don’t have to be eye-to-eye in everything, and the challenge is to find better common ground for the business and users (product).
The third one is the product development lead. Depends on the company structure, they could be the VP of Product, CTO, or VP of Engineering.
Sometimes is not easy to identify your stakeholders at large. One more straightforward way to do it is to find who has skin in the game.
It is a long article. When I wrote it the first time, it was over 9,000 words. That’s why I decided to split them into three articles. This being the first and, in my experience, the most challenging one of the whole process.
Whomever you choose to include, make sure they add and don’t distract from the process.
I hope you are feeling inspired and invigorated after reading that! If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to share it with your friends and family. I would also love it if you could subscribe to my blog so you will never miss an article. Until next time!