As a Product Manager, you’re always busy adding more value for users by developing and innovating your product. It’s at the core of a Product Manager’s activities. Whether this development process is in-house, outsourced, contains new features, improves existing features, or implements connections with third parties, all the decisions about what you are going to develop needs to be accounted for and administered.
This is where your product roadmap comes in. It’s an essential tool for Product Managers that, if used correctly, helps you manage your daily job.
The definition of a (good) roadmap
Let’s start by defining what a product roadmap is, and moreover, what a product roadmap isn’t. A product roadmap is not just a list of your features or a release plan of your feature developments. A common mistake when using roadmaps is to see it as a deadline-management tool or release plan.
Instead, as Janna Bastow once said: “A product roadmap is a prototype for your product strategy”. It‘s an instrument to align, prioritise, track progress, and communicate your product development and strategy over time, aligned with your business goals. When using this instrument in the right context, it’s a powerful tool to guide Product Managers in having the right discussions. I think it’s important to realise what the value of your roadmap is for you, and how you can leverage this to your advantage. In this post, I’ll describe three different contexts where you can leverage this value from your roadmap.
Product decisions based on value
The way roadmaps are set up differs per company and the phase of your product. As a startup, you will most likely have a roadmap or list of features that are determined by the requests and feedback of your first (few) customers and prospects. A more mature product, with a proper customer base, needs to have a balance between customer and market feedback (quantitative and qualitative) in combination with the vision and strategy of your company. It’s your responsibility as a Product Manager to manage and propagate this.
Your roadmap shows the development plans that you are currently working on and will be working on in the coming period. Your product will never be finished, so setting (new) priorities is a continuous process that you want to manage effectively. Whether it is setting priorities for upcoming plans, or adapting to unforeseen events, your roadmap is able to support you here.
The roadmap shows your current development plans, which enables you to see the impact of adding new items in sequence, in-between, or in parallel. However, only looking at a visualisation that indicates the aspect of time would be a restrictive and deceived view. The most important starting point is to determine the value that a new (set of) feature(s) will represent.
In a customer-centric approach, features are aligned with customer jobs, pains, and gains. They should add value in solving user problems. Based on customer feedback, market insights, and input from your internal and external stakeholders, you’re able to determine the value that you want to achieve. It’s essential to have this information and enrich it with numbers:
- Which customer segments and how many customers need this value?
- What usage data do you have to determine the value?
- What is the expected usage for this feature?
- What are the expectations of reducing churn or adding (new) MRR?
Answering these questions will give you the full picture when comparing feature A versus feature B. There are multiple frameworks for product prioritisation, like the RICE method for example. But whatever method you use, make sure you focus on outcomes, instead of output. Outcomes are value-based, while the output is the user functionality that enables this value. Managing outcomes will help you set better priorities and focus on solving user problems. Measuring success can be challenging but always consists of looking at your product usage, in combination with customer feedback.
You need to take multiple factors — both quantitative and qualitative — into account when deciding what value to deliver next. These decisions need to be aligned with your business goals. Depending on user segments and the phase of your product, you might want to focus on different values. Use your roadmap to visualise your product strategy and prioritise the plans that deliver the most value for your users and enable you to reach your business goals.
Part of managing your roadmap is having an overview of the plans that you want to be working on based on the value and outcome you want to achieve. These plans are yet to be planned on your roadmap. For each item on this list, you need to determine the value and outcome, but also possible dependencies. A dependency could be within your own organisation: technically, functionally, or financial resources for example. Dependencies could also come from external factors, like third-parties integrations.
Whatever the dependency, make sure to describe them and if applicable, visualise them on your roadmap. When working with different swim lanes (to represent different themes, categories, goals, products, or development teams) you should be able to see if there are any items dependent on each other, or on other factors. You need to have the dependency fixed, in order to get the full value for your customers.
In general, you want to create as few dependencies as possible to make your development and go to market process as smooth and predictable as possible. The more dependencies you have, the more uncertainty you will get in the estimated delivery and value. It’s inevitable that you will have dependencies. Just make sure you make them transparent and keep everybody in the process involved in the progress. To that extent, your roadmap can help you visualise the status of any item, including its dependencies.
Communication is key
As your product will never be finished, your roadmap is a living artefact and a valuable asset to use. It is considered to be a shared source of truth about what direction you are developing your product into. Thus, a fundamental aspect of your roadmap is the way you communicate about it. Without having a clear communication strategy, the value of your roadmap is limited. This strategy doesn’t need to be complex or time-consuming, but you need to determine a structure when you are communicating about your roadmap, with what goal, and with whom.
The first part of communication is when you are setting your roadmap and making product decisions. You don’t want to have your whole company involved in this discussion, but you need to have all the necessary information to make product decisions based on value. It helps to involve and coordinate this with your main stakeholders across multiple business functions, especially customer-facing teams (Sales, Marketing, Customer Success and Support).
Next, you want to give updates about the current status of your roadmap. When doing this, consider your audience. A roadmap update for the executive team, for your whole company, or for a specific customer should look different. Each group has a different need for information. In general, it helps when internal stakeholders are able to access the product roadmap at all times. There are also companies that have public roadmaps, which has its advantages and disadvantages.
Depending on your organisation and market, the frequency of talking about your product roadmap can differ. However, make sure you have a regular frequency for your roadmap meetings to set priorities and give updates about it. As a Product Manager, these are the moments you are communicating your product vision and strategy by explaining what you are building next to add more value for your users.