For many companies, the product roadmap is a unifying, living document for the entire organization. It’s shared widely, referred to often, and used as a guidepost for everyone, from junior developers to sales executives and the C-suite.
Successful product management begins with effective definition and planning. Incomplete objectives, scope, lack of technical direction, poor processes, and unrealistic expectations are all things that can doom a software development project before it begins. Planning a product roadmap involves more than just defining new features. The process embodies establishing the longer-term vision and goals of the product and organization as a whole.
Most already-in-motion products have some semblance of feature planning. For new products, it can be a bit daunting to know where to begin. By following the guiding principles below, an experienced software product development partner can help focus your stakeholders and define a product roadmap through a full-fledged Agile development Plan.
Product roadmap starting questions
Product planning is a complex topic that can’t simply be covered in the last 15 minutes of a weekly meeting. Rather than asking stakeholders what feature they want next, it’s important to ask bigger, more important and thought-provoking questions like:
- What is the purpose of this product? Why are we developing it?
- The answer to this should be linked to larger organization objectives such as increasing market share, growing revenue, creating efficiencies, etc.
- What is the value of the product, how much is it worth?
- What is the consequence of no decision?
- Who is the primary audience? Are the right people defining the product? In other words, do they represent the end users?
- What is the biggest problem today? What do we expect will be the biggest problem in a year?
- What is the urgency/priority?
- What are the constraints?
Begin planning your product roadmap
The answers to these types of high-level questions should illuminate some major themes. We like to think of these themes as swimlanes. Some examples of themes might be: Improve performance, improve usability, or generate more click-throughs. Within each theme, we can create general epics, which should then be prioritized and ordered within each theme, in order to rank the value of each.
As tempting as it may be to brainstorm specific features, it’s important to keep the discussion on track and at the epic level. This is also a good time to review the existing epics. Managing dozens of epics is going to be futile, so it’s important to trim down existing epics when new ones are introduced. This is an important step that is often missed. A knowledgeable software advocate – whether it’s an IT colleague or external partner – can help maintain a balance of epics. This will keep the scope in check and ensure your goals are achievable.
Stay flexible, yet structured
A product roadmap doesn’t need to be set in stone. Companies’ priorities change, resources change, and moves by competitors can force a release schedule to change. New ideas may arise that could necessitate a shift in current priorities; however, rather than reacting to every new idea, it’s important to stay the course on scope already in-flight in order to derive value from the roadmap. If there is continual re-organization in the short-term priorities, then either the scale of the roadmap is too narrow, or the stakeholders aren’t adhering to the themes. With all great product management, whenever something is moved up, something else should be moved back.
A product roadmap is a very valuable tool for establishing a consensus among stakeholders and cementing the team to help achieve it. It shouldn’t be something that is continually updated and a major time sink. A good balance is to revisit it about once a quarter.
Diversify your team
It’s vital to consider the diversity of your product backlog team. If the composition of your team consists of people from the same department or experience level, you may be inadvertently limiting your possibilities. Maintaining a good blend of skills, experiences, and perspectives helps to keep the product definition healthy. A multidisciplinary team, with technical development expertise, creative direction, and management experience is necessary for healthy debate on themes, epics, and priority values. If this seems like a stretch for your organization, consider engaging a third party that specializes in a wide range of development, to help guide you in planning your product roadmap.
27Global has been delivering complex solutions in Agile environments for a wide variety of industries for more than a decade. We partner with clients in the product definition and planning phase to ensure they have everything in place to deliver a successful software development project. Let us help you define your product roadmap and realize your vision.
Alan Hromatko is Senior Software Consultant in 27Global’s Denver office. Founded in 2008, 27Global designs, builds and operates technology solutions for businesses of all sizes. The perfect pairing of a local leadership with offshore pricing, 27Global has the business acumen to understand your vision and the expertise to build your technology solution. To learn more, visit 27Global.com or connect with us on LinkedIn and Twitter.