A product roadmap provides end-to-end visibility into timelines, including the sequencing of priorities, that support your product-based initiatives. It is the distillation of your vision for a product and how it connects the near-term product changes to the mid-term strategic milestones.
Types of Product Roadmaps
Even in a highly dynamic setting, a product roadmap is the ‘why’ behind ‘what’ you are building. The type of roadmap that you create essentially echoes the requirements of your organization, stakeholders, and customers. This article discusses feature-oriented roadmaps in detail. The other most used flavors of product roadmaps are Goal-oriented, Theme-oriented, and Release-oriented.
- Feature-oriented roadmaps use key features as focus points and are documented to the last detail. A breakdown of features is included with the associated tasks to support implementation. Since it follows a deep-dive format, the overall progress and development of features are communicated along with resource allocation and priority details of important releases.
- Goal-oriented roadmaps are organized by goals for each feature and help keep the information grouped for easier understanding.
- Theme-oriented roadmaps are more detailed and centered around themes and specific features, which are further categorized into goals and tasks.
- Release-oriented roadmaps indicate the high-level timelines for each feature implementation and release to the market without focusing on technical details.
In an increasingly volatile market, organizations are scrambling to plan their future product portfolios and create reliable feature-driven roadmaps. With the technological landscape getting inundated with innovative products, it is easy to be misled by non-essential features, which may not align with the product vision and strategy.
The erstwhile processes of building feature roadmaps have now paved the way for a more purpose-driven, customer-centric approach. While ensuring that your roadmap is focused on this approach, the challenges are around determining the business value that a new set of features represents, that is, whether they are nice-to-have-but-not-essential addition to the product capabilities.
As a product manager, you can start by asking these key questions about the roadmap that you are building:
- Does this feature have a unique, tangible selling proposition?
- Is there a demand for the feature from a customer’s standpoint?
- What is the estimated revenue?
- Who takes ownership of this feature and drives it?
- Is the competition tempting us, or does it fit in?
Through this approach, managers attribute weightage to each proposed feature, which is then evaluated and given a score. Since the score corresponds to priority, a product or feature with a higher score will likely be integrated into the product roadmap sooner than a product or feature with a lower score.
Further, before enlisting features to be integrated into a product roadmap plan, it is crucial that feedback from your customers and end-users is collated and optimized for prioritization. With customer experience being a key market differentiator, non-compliance may result in a loss of revenue.
Prioritizing features for a Product Roadmap
For a Product Manager, prioritizing features can be a daunting task. Even the largest organizations are constrained by time and resources, with new features being added to multiple products as an ongoing activity. Invariably, without effective roadmap prioritization, new features’ development will continue to stay in the pipeline.
Surveys are the most effective way of collecting and analyzing usability feedback and gathering a range of metrics. They are largely categorized into Product feedback surveys, Website feedback surveys, and Micro surveys.
- Product feedback surveys are exhaustive and help gather targeted feedback on the current and future state. They are useful in capturing the pain points of your product’s current customers and users.
- Website feedback surveys capture the same feedback on the product and feature using widgets or forms in real-time. They are the most accurate and timely predictors of the current state of the product.
- Micro surveys are more usability-focused, have higher response rates, and are relevant to the product teams. In small bite sizes, they capture a range of metrics such as Customer Effort Score (CES), Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT), and Goal Completion Rate (GCR) about specific areas of the product roadmap.
These feedback-driven surveys enable the product team to evaluate the mismatch between what they believe is a cutting-edge feature and what the customers think about the usability and experience that the feature offers.
Defining Feature-focused Roadmaps using Prioritizing Frameworks
A product team can use frameworks – such as Objectives and Key Results (OKRs), Reach, Impact, Confidence, and Effort (RICE) Scoring models, and Must-have, Should-have, Could-have, Won’t-have (MoSCoW) – for prioritizing features in the product roadmap.
- The OKRs framework is useful for creating alignment with the goals that are defined for the feature.
- The RICE Scoring Model framework determines the products, features, and other initiatives that would go into the product roadmaps by scoring on reach, impact, confidence, and effort.
- The MoSCoW framework enables organizations to prioritize the most important requirements for adherence to target timelines.
Integrating Strategy with the Feature Roadmap
New ideas for products, features, or services must ideally be sourced from customer feedback using surveys, as discussed earlier. The first step to building a successful roadmap is integrating strategy with your road-mapping process. Generally, the top-down strategic planning and communication approach serves as a touchpoint for the executive leadership, development, marketing, and support teams to get on board with the strategy.
To summarize, the product team must follow these key steps in the feature road-mapping process:
- Understanding organizational goals and priorities by using frameworks for communicating high-level goals with senior stakeholders and leadership.
- Presenting the findings from market research and communicating the list of features based on customer requirements and competitor data to stakeholders.
- Identifying and prioritizing the highest business-value ideas and their potential delivery areas through customer behavior.
- Validating each of these product ideas using a metrics-driven focus and identifying the products and features that can help achieve the goals defined in the feature roadmap.
- Providing a financial forecast to help identify the products or features that are perceived to have the highest impact from a revenue target standpoint.
- Ensuring strategic alignment with customer requirements for driving perceptible competitive advantage.
Should Developers be Driving Feature Roadmaps?
The short answer is no.
Developers are a key factor in charting out the feature roadmaps in that they guide product resources in the run-up to feature rollout. However, at the end of the day, it’s the product manager who serves as the strategic lead, who binds all the disparate components together and coordinates with all the moving parts.
The product manager or product owner needs to work closely with business users to ensure the needs of the business are being served by the roadmap.
There are several instances of how product managers grapple with planning, creating, and communicating comprehensive feature roadmaps with their stakeholders. They have now begun to realize that road-mapping is not based on a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach, though their overarching goal remains the same. There is no best way of building and publishing a feature roadmap given the motley group of products and businesses.
However, from a product management standpoint, the following do’s and don’ts’ can help you create effective feature roadmaps:
- Ensure that the feature roadmap initiatives in the product development lifecycle are clearly categorized into Innovation, Iteration, and Operation.
- Follow through by communicating the allocation targets for each category to help the stakeholders understand the agreed level of investment.
- Focus on themes and epics instead of features. The business outcomes you are trying to outline are more crucial than packing the roadmap with features as the product’s larger strategic purpose and the value-add for personas may be lost.
- Provide and clarify the rationale behind the roadmap in terms of the problems that will be solved, the value proposition created, and the key outcomes you intend to achieve.
- Allow for flexibility in the feature roadmap, with unpredictable development timelines. The feature roadmap must ideally accommodate changes in plans and provide latitude for experimenting and validating assumptions through customer feedback.
- Treat Development as gospel and allow them to choose the sequence of features for development and release.
- Ensure that features are business-driven and supplemented by customer discovery, feedback, and long-term organizational strategy. The strategic value of feature-oriented roadmaps is compromised when you bundle a gazillion features.
- Try to forecast engineering dates that are subject to changes as they can be disastrous and communicate a false sense of precision.
- Commit dates that may not be adhered to and abstain from feature-date pairing unless a specific business reason backs it.
- Clutter the roadmap with features that may lead you to under-deliver. Maintain a buffer for accommodating the domino effects in cases of highly critical feedback or developmental changes.
- Develop your feature roadmap in silos, as the most critical insights and learnings are not applied when all the knowledge sources across the organization are not leveraged.
A feature roadmap is a live, flexible, ‘work-in-progress’ document that is incrementally updated to reflect product planning and strategic direction and should not be a one-time, set-in-stone effort. With the evolution in feature roadmaps being inevitable throughout the development lifecycle, clear strategic goals and alignment with the organizational vision are achieved through comprehensive planning and cross-functional collaboration.