Your Product is on a Journey and a Solid Roadmap Will Get it There
Most of us would likely get lost regularly trying to get to new places without some sort of modern day mapping tool like Google Maps. You first need to decide where you want to go, plug in destination information, and on most good days, Google gives you step by step directions to get to your desired end point as well as when you should arrive. Or maybe you’re just sharing those directions with someone else so they know either where you are or where you’re headed. These mapping tools both guide us and act as a means to communicate our plan.
The Challenging Path
The same concept applies to using visual roadmaps to express the goals you and your team are trying to achieve . A great roadmap guides your team and lets stakeholders and customers know what you’re planning to build and when you’re planning to build it so they have a clear understanding of when features that provide value will be delivered. But that’s not all. Roadmaps can act as opportunities to gain feedback from your stakeholders and even from your customers to gain insights into what brings them value.
Roadmapping isn’t an easy task. You need to have a clear vision that aligns with your company’s mission or strategic goals. You need to factor for market conditions, where technology is trending, and your organization’s strengths and limitations that may need to be overcome which could take effort and time. Figuring out if you have the resources to deliver your product when you say you will is key to avoiding a failed product launch and setting the right expectations.
Adding to the challenge of roadmapping is pulling in the feedback and coordinating with all of your product stakeholders. Getting sales, design, engineering, legal, procurement, support and customer service, just to name a few, on the same page is no small feat. Yet, doing just that will make or break your roadmap strategy.
Here are some tips for building effective roadmaps:
- Talk to your customers. Visit, call, survey. They’re the ones you’re building or improving your product for right? Start with them. Know what problems you need to solve so you can express that clearly in a vision statement.
- Talk to your sales and customer support teams. They’re on the front lines and should have the pulse of what’s happening. They are a great source, but the closer to source of the information, the better. See point one.
- The essence of the first two points, is not to plan in a vacuum. Besides the input from external and internal stakeholders, you need to be one with the market. What are the cycles for your industry? Are there any key market events that could throw the proverbial monkey wrench or be a boon to your product if you launch in time?
- Timeframes are more important than hard dates. They definitely get fuzzier the further out you plan for. Keep in mind that if you’re iterating on your product, then the feedback from all the key folks mentioned above, especially customers, will have a heavy influence on when certain features you initially thought were important get delivered. This is a bit like getting real time traffic data from your mapping tool while you’re driving and re-routing as necessary. Expressing delivery in terms of quarters of the year is common. Again, near-term should be clearer than your long term.
- You may need more than one roadmap for each of your stakeholders or at least have a tool that you can toggle off and on certain key milestones depending on your audience. What your leadership team may care about vs what your development team cares about vs what your sales team cares vs what your actual customers care about are things to keep in mind.
Needless to say you should keep your roadmaps in front of you and your teams to ensure no one gets lost, and everyone, including your customers, knows what and when value is being delivered. This also means sharing your roadmap and updating it often for it to be effective.