Product roadmaps guide teams throughout development cycles and track what has been completed as well as guide the direction for future features.  It can be defined as a high level of prioritized requirements for a product or service.  However, it is way more than that.  It delivers a visualized timeline for development cycles and calendar schedule for new features.  In a word where technology moves so fast, you need to consider many factors such as priority, contingencies, dependencies, risk, and level of effort to make things happen.

This blog post will briefly describe why you need a product roadmap, and we’ll share some inside tricks and tips that allow you to improve and manage your roadmap like the pros.

Let’s start with why we need a roadmap in the first place?

Imagine traveling to a brand-new country that you have never visited.  You land at the airport and you have to get to your final destination.  You hop in your car rental and you use what?  A GPS.  We take this for granted now a days, as when I was younger you would need to whip out a physical map.  It helps you navigate from point A to B safely and accurately. Without direction and the right information, you would get lost and never reach your final destination.

A product roadmap does essentially the same thing… it is a living breathing set of documentation the aligns teams with clear product vision towards a final destination – a successful product being experienced by many happy end-users.  Consider the action of alignment between stakeholders, managers, and producers – all trying to march towards success with a concise and well documented plan.

While this post isn’t about how to develop a product roadmap, we I’ll share some insights from many years of experience and provide a list of things to consider that will improve your product roadmaps.

#1 – Ongoing Documentation
#2 – Committed Objectives
#3 – Agile through Customer Perspective

#4 – Acceptance Criteria

 

#1

Ongoing Documentation

Systems are living breathing organisms, not fixed end results.

Image

One of my favorite quotes is… “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth” - by Mike Tyson. This insight is common sense, but it requires discipline to keep up with your product roadmap at all times.  This means you have to build in the time for your project estimations that include sprint planning and grooming of tasks so everyone is on the same page and understands what is next and why.

Teams that have a centralized location as a hub for communications have better success.  In our world at Alliance Systems, we leverage Atlassian’s JIRA and Confluence as our agile engineering project management system.  We break down documentation into Epics, Stories, and Spikes.  And each of these are organized and prioritized into 2-week sprint development cycles; which is a very common approach.

 

#2

Committed Objectives

You need to properly triage and commit to delivering in a timely manner.

Comitted Objectives

This is probably one of the most important considerations for any production team.  The ability to properly gauge need, complexity, and properly size the committed objectives to ensure there is proper time to deliver.  We must consider that there are teams outside of production that will need a timeline to prepare for new features such as:

Ultimately, roadmap information affects the end-users of the product, so you want to ensure a proactive stance on what will get completed by when.  Some organizations publicly post their map to future enhancements so customers know what’s coming down the pike.

Another technique widely popular is for teams to use T-Shirt sizes as common ground to estimate complexity and effort to complete tasks:

1 – Extra Small
2 – Small
3 – Medium
4 – Large
5 – Extra Large

 

#3

Agile through Customer Perspective

Clear, transparent and concise writing that is non-technical so anyone on the team can understand.

Collaboration

Many agile teams use a documentation format called Job Stories or User Stories.  The main goals for leveraging this technique, is to describe customer needs without getting into solving the problem.  Defining the solution is not what you want, which makes it tricky.  Production teams should focus on the reasons behind a need and justify its importance.

The formats are simple and you can follow the details below:

Job Story…

User Story…

Again, the focus is on the customer and what they need or want.  And always try to include information on why it’s important to them.  You hear the term “empathy” being used to understand the situation from the user’s perspective to maximize the solution in deed helps the end user.

 

#4

Acceptance Criteria

Know your WHY and WHAT you are trying to accomplish before you complete your tasks.

ACs

Understanding and breaking down deliverables for users into needs, wants and wows can help with priority and timelines.  However, the critical state is to be able to define a plan of execution that all parties agree to ahead of time.  This is what acceptance criteria is all about.

Imagine cases where production teams deliver final elements and demo functionality details to the client.  It is up to the client to determine whether or not the functionality is complete and ready to be shipped out.  But what happens when the client and production team argue over things not being done.  This happens quite frequently and can wreak havoc on the success for any product.  Rather than being in a reactive state, successful teams are proactive.  They create an outline of specifications that are clear as to what determines something as done. And this is agreed to by all parties managing product delivery.

That way, teams have a more objective perspective on what is considered ready for launch.  While this takes extra time and effort, it greatly reduces risk and adds a level of transparency across all parties that have a stake in the product being successful.

Here is a sample story with ACs.

 

Summary

We have shared information in regards to what a roadmap is, along with various insights on what should be included to make sure you maximize the success for your product vision.  At Alliance Systems, we breathe, eat and sleep digital products and love designing and building custom software for our clients.  But it requires discipline and meticulous planning with product roadmaps to keep everything organized.

If you have a concept for a potential product or if there isn’t an easy off the shelf app solution that requires a custom system, we’d love to help you plan and validate your concept.  We hope this blog post can help current or future planning for any of your products to come.