Roadmaps

The Problem

"Typical roadmaps are the root cause of most waste and failed efforts in product organizations," Marty Cagan.

 

Marty Cagan (1) talks about two inconvenient reasons why typical roadmaps lead to poor business results.  The first is that at least half of our product ideas is not going to work because the usability, feasibility, or business viability are not there.  The second reason is that it takes longer (several iterations) to deliver the value.

 

Problems with typical roadmaps:
1. Listing unvalidated ideas in a roadmap will be interpreted by people across the organization as a commitment to the scope.
2. Commitments to arbitrary dates.  It is challenging to provide effort estimates, especially before a robust product discovery occurs. 
3. A problem to solve is missing.  Delivering features may not solve the underlying problem.  A "feature factory" prioritizes output over outcomes.  
4. Missing KPIs. It is unclear when sufficient progress has been made.
 

The Solution

"Be stubborn on vision but flexible on the details," Jeff Bezos.

A roadmap vision is how a customer will benefit from a product when a product team creates it. It is the future we are trying to create for a customer in two to five years. The product vision inspires development teams to help make it a reality. The vision "starts with a why," articulates the purpose, "falls in love" with the problem, not the solution.  

 

A product strategy guides how the vision will be achieved. Essentially, it is a series of product-market fits for each vertical market or customer segment (persona). A product portfolio board defines and prioritizes strategic customer problem themes for each roadmap timeframe.    

 

For each customer problem theme, the portfolio board defines business problems (objectives) for the development team to solve and success criteria (key results). This OKR (2) technique focuses on outcomes, not outputs. The team is not off the hook by delivering a feature; it has to solve the problem as measured by the key results.  

 

A product team decides how to solve business problems.  Sponsors and stakeholders may contribute some unvalidated ideas. I will provide details about innovation options, hypothesis-driven development, and user stories separately, in an article about lean innovation practices.

 

Each product roadmap should include a disclaimer, which consists of a date when the roadmap was updated last and a subject to change clause.  

Takeaway

Strong product teams and product organizations develop competency in product discovery practices (Horizons 3 and 2) to address usability, feasibility, and viability risks upfront.  An outcome-based roadmap outlined above will help reduce waste and failed efforts in product organizations.

References

 
  1. "Inspired" by Marty Cagan

  2. OKRs

  3. "Product Roadmaps Relaunched" by Bruce McCarthy