How to Create an Outcome Focused Roadmap
When Product Manager’s are asked about what parts of their role they find challenging, Product Roadmaps rank towards the top. Their ability to create a compelling Product Roadmap is often cited as one of their key areas of concern.
A good roadmap is not so much a project plan as a strategic communications tool, a statement of intent and direction”Product Roadmaps Relaunched, C. Todd Lombarto, Bruce McCarthy, Evan Ryan and Michael Connors
In their book Product Roadmaps Relaunched the authors talk about how a product roadmap should speak to how you intend to achieve your product vision. “It focuses on the value you propose to deliver to your customers and your organisation in order to rally support and co-ordinate effort among stakeholders”
What are Product Roadmaps?
A Product Roadmap is just one of the tools that helps a Product Manager to communicate strategic intent. When combined with other elements of the Product Strategy it provides a full picture for how a Product Manager will capture and execute on market opportunity. It helps to drive a shared understanding of the strategic direction for a product.
What is the purpose of a Product Roadmap?
The key purpose of a roadmap is to help the product manager to articulate how their product strategy fits with the corporate vision. It is not a project plan or a release plan but a way of helping key stakeholders align around the future direction for product innovation and development. Most stakeholders at a leadership level should not be concerned with specific features of the product. They need to be more concerned with the outcomes that the product can achieve for their target market.
The Product Roadmap is an adjunct to the company’s vision and the overall Product Strategy. It should describe the value-based outcomes the company is looking to achieve for its target markets and in what order these outcomes will be achieved. The Product Roadmap should align with the Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) that the business has defined and the Product OKRs that are defined in the Product Strategy.
You need to be careful that the Product Roadmap does not become a bunch of commitments that you cannot live up to. It should not become a feature list for everything that will be in your product in the future.
How should Product Roadmaps align with an Agile Product Backlog
The Product Roadmap and the Agile Product Backlog are definitely aligned but are not necessarily the same thing. The Product Roadmap should reflect the strategic direction the product is taking. The Product Backlog will provide more granular detail. A Product Roadmap might contain high level outcomes that the product is hoping to drive and have associated high level initiatives that will drive these outcomes. The Product Backlog will take these high level initiatives (themes) and break them down into user stories that need to be prioritised. Initiatives or themes reflect customer needs or problems that you will address to deliver positive results for your target market.
Roadmaps should be used to encourage feedback from your customers in an iterative way. This means you can learn more quickly and experiment with solutions to the problems that you have identified.
How to manage uncertainty in Product Roadmaps
The product manager needs to manage the expectations of stakeholders carefully in a world that sometimes expects certainty and predictability to be married with agility and innovation.
Once a customer sees a Product Roadmap there is a risk that they see this as a commitment to develop features and the timeline in which these features will be available.
Product Managers need to be careful that the Product Roadmap is not viewed in this way. That they communciate that the Product Roadmap is subject to change and is not a Gantt Chart, release plan or project plan.
Roadmaps need to be positioned differently depending on the stakeholder that is viewing them.