The Roadmap Less Traveled

Written by: on March 23, 2017

If you’re not planning and executing, you’re not discovering. If you’re not analyzing and adapting, you’re not evolving. Without a vision, you don’t have alignment. So, what does this all mean? It’s important for a company to clearly define their product vision. From there, they should formulate a roadmap which outlines product initiatives that will help them meet their goals and effectively measure results. A product roadmap is the plan for success, and as a company navigates this path over time, analytics, user feedback, and intuition determine how they need to adapt to effectively run a business.

At POSSIBLE Mobile, we work closely with our clients to understand the decisions behind their product roadmaps. Through our discovery process, we review our client’s goals and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). The roadmap should align with the client’s strategic goals and metrics. We not only want to know who owns the roadmap, but who the key stakeholders are that influence changes to the roadmap. As communication is key, it’s important to understand the roles and responsibilities of all the key players. Our discovery process allows us to start a strategic relationship with our clients to help them meet their success criteria that’s driven by their specific objectives.

A Shared Vision

A great product roadmap begins with a clear vision statement. It’s best to define the vision through the consensus of key stakeholders. This can be challenging because stakeholders’ roles can range from executives to sales to technology to marketing, and a good product manager helps facilitate discussions between all of these groups.

Here are some questions to ask when defining your vision:

  • Have we determined our user personas?
  • Are we creating a balance between intuition and analytics?
  • Will this differentiate us from our competitors?
  • What are our users asking us for?
  • What positive change will our initiatives help us achieve?
  • Will this solve our customer’s pain points?

One way to document the key objectives and strategies of the business is to create a mind map. This involves brainstorming the vision for its products and services, then creating a visual hierarchy that shows the relationships between each key initiative and how they will meet the business objectives. Another option is a product vision board, where you define your target group, the user’s needs, the key product features, and the business goals. Whatever path you take, the idea is to create alignment within the business.

Products and KPIs

Once brainstorming has concluded around product features or enhancements, the next step is determining the priorities and any dependencies associated with them. Since you don’t want an overwhelming list of features while still considering your budget, there should be a list of nice-to-have features that can be prioritized later on. Each feature should also have KPIs tied to them so the business can measure the success of their efforts. In the case of a mobile app, you want to avoid vanity metrics such as the number of downloads, and instead, focus on KPIs that speak to relative usage of the feature.

Customize Your Roadmap

Determining the right content to include in your roadmap should take precedence over the format of your roadmap. The vision that was defined early in the process should live as a supplement to the roadmap. The features should be prioritized and typically fall into a particular month or quarter. Any nice-to-have features would be grouped together for later consideration, which allows the business to adapt throughout the year as new data is gathered and new opportunities arise.

Each product initiative should be articulated, including an overview of its purpose and the key tasks to accomplish it. From here, start to think about what else the business wants to track and include the most important factors in your roadmap.

  • Are there known budgets assigned to product initiatives?
  • Is there a minimal viable product if time becomes an issue?
  • Who will be responsible for each initiative?
  • Are there estimates to accompany the highest priorities?
  • Are there any specific dependencies to consider?
  • Is there any mandatory work, such as supporting a new mobile OS?
  • Are there any product release dates already planned out?

As you work through these questions, you may find the need to create multiple roadmaps, as you may have multiple platforms with unique strategies. A high-level roadmap should still be maintained to help keep alignment and identify efficiencies. As an example, even though the user experience and user interface may be unique between different platforms, when teams are able to align the timing of testing, they can mock common data states to test shared use cases. This can make it easier to troubleshoot issues in order to determine if it’s a product-related issue versus a backend data problem.

Share Your Roadmap

From running a project to owning a roadmap, transparency is key. When we have visibility into a client’s roadmap, we are able to understand short-term priorities as well as comprehend where their business is heading. This allows us to evaluate priorities, dependencies, staffing needs, and how future results will be analyzed. We use this insight to help provide recommendations that will help clients meet their core business goals. As an example, a client may be considering taking on a push notification strategy or changing their current push service. Our team provides recommendations of providers based on our past experience, our client’s needs, analytics package options, costs, support services, and much more. We’d also advise on any technical limitations and the best practices from Apple and Google for user experience.

Own Your Roadmap

As much as a Product Manager needs to be transparent with their roadmap, they also need to take full ownership of it. They may find that stakeholders may want to shift priorities last minute or may close a deal and make promises without consulting anyone. This becomes even more complex when you have multiple teams or business units and they aren’t communicating well. Weekly meetings to check in on roadmap priorities can help alleviate some of the struggles.

Let’s use a mobile app example, where the project team is working on an extensive refactor of an application. What happens if a client comes back to us in the middle of the development effort and says that there are additional features that have to be added because another stakeholder sold work and made specific date promises to an advertising sponsor? The project team needs to figure out if they can scale to accommodate. They need to figure out if there are conflicts, such as a new functionality that needs to get added to a view already being refactored by another developer. Thus, questions about risk get introduced as well. As you ask more questions, you may realize that adapting is either easy or complex. It all starts with the product teams. If they are communicating and planning well, it becomes easier to adapt when it makes the most sense.

Product roadmaps guide us. They keep us focused. They give us benchmarks. If taken seriously, a product roadmap will keep teams in sync and allow them to adapt as needed. What’s on your roadmap?

Brad Rossini

Brad Rossini

Brad is a Project Manager at POSSIBLE Mobile, a high-end mobile development company. He has been leading mobile development teams for over 4 years. He’s an avid snowboarder and entrepreneur who loves anything startup related.
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