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Taming the roadmap circus by Maarten Dalmijn "Product people - Product managers, product designers, UX designers, UX researchers, Business analysts, developers, makers & entrepreneurs 11 March 2022 True #mtpcon, Product Roadmap, Mind the Product Mind the Product Ltd 690 Image fof a circus tent Product Management 2.76
· 3 minute read

Taming the roadmap circus by Maarten Dalmijn

In this #mtpcon London+EMEA session, Maarten Dalmijn, then Head of Product at Rodeo, provides insight into what product managers can do differently during the roadmapping process to avoid turning the process into a circus.

Watch the video to see his talk in full or read on for an overview of the key points:

  • Communicating intent and desired outcomes over precise timelines and detailed features is vital
  • Ensure flexibility, learning, and emergence over being rigid and sticking to the plan
  • Provide Clarity by only showing what matters most over being exhaustive and making everything important
  • Push for cooperation between teams to meet overall goals over meeting individual team goals

The glorious roadmap day

For most product managers, roadmap day isn’t exciting. Maarten recaps how it felt like death by marketing meeting and then being grilled by not only the CEO but also the domain owner on the planning for the product. Roadmapping became a circus where priorities were decided by leadership and a very bureaucratic experience, he says. Everything was timeline-based and detailed, with no room for experimentation or learning.

Common roadmap problems

After the roadmapping process is completed, a common problem product teams face is that roadmaps are a battleground where the traditional business world and the world of product management lock horns.

1. Feature factory mindset

Some companies believe that higher velocity will equal more features and therefore produce more value. However, building a feature is like telling a joke. Delivering features doesn’t mean you’re providing value; just like telling a joke doesn’t mean people will laugh. It’s all about how the customer receives your feature and whether it helps them meet their goals.

2. Business cases only rooted in our imagination are reliable

Business cases with significant assumptions and a ton of variance (and not rooted in experience) mean that you are prioritizing based on noise.

3. The myth of the perfect plan

Building software products is complex work. Product managers lack information to predict all the steps and actions. Even if steps and actions are executed perfectly, it’s impossible to guarantee they produce the expected results. For example, a payments company wanted to increase the digits in their client numbers. However, they were unable to account for the limitations of legacy software. The solution to this problem is to have short feedback loops that allow you to adjust actions and plans based on what is learned.

Adaptation requires two things

  1. Empowered teams that can change plans, and actions to produce desired results.
  2. The roadmap should include intent. This explains what you are trying to achieve and why it matters. Then plans and actions can be adjusted to produce desired results.

Without intent, sticking to the plan becomes more important than meeting the objective.

Product managers need to get their hands dirty and have a mix of foresight and afterthought to achieve these things.

5. Our ability to predict says something about our ability to deliver

Your ability to predict when something will be done says little about your ability to deliver. It’s the nature of complex work that product managers lack information to make precise timelines. The best that can be done is to forecast as you learn more about the problem you’re trying to solve.

What causes the roadmap circus?

The high tension of trying to deliver features while having meaningful outcomes, meeting timelines while embracing learning and discovery, and having perfect planning while responding to changes causes the roadmap circus.

However, product managers need to remember that stakeholder management is key. Stakeholders often think in terms of features and timelines. So, you need to guide and include them to change their mindset. Product managers that want to move away from GANTT charts with features and timelines need to do the following:

  • Build a strong relationship with your stakeholders
  • Understand their universe and speak their language
  • Include them in your world, and try to make them see things from a different perspective

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