A product roadmap is a plan to bring to life your product vision. If I may paraphrase the words of a late famous field marshal, No battle plan survives contact with the enemy (reality)! 😛 And a product roadmap is no different, because you are developing the product in a world filled with uncertainty, changing priorities, complexity, and scarce resources.
A Product Roadmap should not be confused with a Product Backlog and a Story Backlog.
How to create a roadmap amid all the ambiguities
The ability to nimbly adapt to changes while ticking off the top priority items will be the biggest indicator of your roadmap’s success.
Like with life in general:
- You’re usually very certain about what you plan to do this week
- Less certain about what you will do 3 months from now
- And you would have a vague idea about what will happen a year from now
At any given point in time, what goes into your roadmap for the next few weeks/ months are the top-priority items from your product backlog, as understood at the time. This visibility helps your development and business teams plan accordingly.
The roadmap should incorporate long-term outcomes as well, to satisfy stakeholders who do the hiring, budgeting, and more.
3 key aspects to include in a roadmap
A good roadmap should help align all your stakeholders by providing the what, when, who for the prioritised items from your product backlog.
What: This is the prioritized set of features you plan to build/ outcomes you plan to achieve.
When: “Tentative” timelines by when you intend to deliver. I say tentative because estimates are never accurate and you may occasionally encounter surprises.
Who: Which team would do the work. This is something that’s typically overlooked. If you don’t consider the “who” you end up adding more “what”s in a given “when” than what can be achieved. A plan is no good if you don’t have people to execute it!
Which roadmap software should you use?
I’ve seen many software tools across various teams and organisations. There is no perfect tool. You would need to look around and find the most effective roadmap tool that works for your team and product.
My personal favourite? Post-it notes!!! Simple to use and cheap too!
In this, each row represents a team and each column is a sprint. So, one post-it note is what one team will work on in one sprint, be it features or outcomes. Sometimes a feature/ outcome could spread across multiple sprints. If there are different strategic themes you are working on, you could use different colour post it notes for different themes.
Now here’s where the fun part begins: when stakeholders ask for new features to be added to the roadmap. What do you trade off to make room for the new additions?
Having a physical representation often helps in these trade off discussions. And having limited real estate means you cannot cram in more than what you can possibly do.
I don’t hold any grudge against software tools. Just that they make it too simple to add a line in one sprint - Im sure you have heard stakeholders say its a small change, we should be able to do it in a few days, and when you get going, this small line turns out to be a couple of sprints worth of work, throwing your whole roadmap out of whack!
But in the times of remote working, an approach without a tool will no longer work. And you will have to consider some software tool.
I have found Trello boards to be super useful to manage and prioritise product backlogs. And to manage your 4 week/ 12 week roadmap you could use Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets.
Screenshot of a Product Backlog in Trello
There are also more advanced tools such as Aha! which allow you to set up your own prioritisation metrics, integrate with other tools and allow contributors to rank features.
Brace for change
Needless to say, a product roadmap has to be a living plan that you review and update frequently. It is critical to consider feedback and get a buy-in from all stakeholders before you update or finalize the roadmap.
To wrap up
A good product roadmap is a agile/flexible, realistic and transparent planning tool. It should narrate a coherent story to your stakeholders, with each step moving you closer to your vision.
There is no one model that works for all organisations. These are best practices to consider while tailoring something that works for your team.
If you'd like to chat about how some of these could be applied at your organisation...