Roadmaps: Your Friend or Enemy? Session Wrap-up

We talked all things roadmaps at the April session of Product Anonymous – we had an intro from our three panellists and then we broke into an activity where all our PM’s in the room gathered to build a roadmap for Deliveroo. We only gave them 20 minutes… it was never long enough but we got some great insights from the groups on the pluses of the good ole’ roadmap and the pitfalls to avoid when organising your roadmap.

Our panellists were Adam Fry from Sportsbet, Chris Duncan from Carsales and Matt Kirkey from Learning Seat.

Adam kicked off the session taking us through the positives of a good roadmap – as a communication tool it links the strategic thinking with tactical execution. He suggests it is better to work with the verb “roadmapping” than the “roadmap” as focussing on the artefact loses sight of the purpose. Plus the fact that the artectct is out of date as soon as it hits the printer.

To the plusses:

  • Communication: roadmap artefact is an easily digestible summary of all of the thinking and hard work that goes into planning the future of your product. Your vision on a page
  • Alignment: puts everyone on the same page about what we are trying to achieve, how we will go about it and roughly in what order. Helps give focus to teams involved in the success of the product (delivery, sales, marketing, etc)
  • Buy-in: vehicle for taking stakeholders on the product journey, giving them context and allowing input to the product direction. Connects the day to day with the bigger picture
  • Sales tool: in some cases (e.g. B2B) can give customer confidence that there is commitment and a future vision for the thing they are buying into today

Things to watch out for, Adam warns, are the expectations set by a roadmap, the potential curve balls that occur that should change the plan (CEO, competitor, etc.) and ensuring teams remain aligned is where it can all go horribly wrong.

Expectations

  • Out of date the minute that powerpoint slide hits the printer. It is particularly out of date on longer time horizons. When stakeholders confuse your intent with a commitment you are headed for disappointment. This is why the roadmapping process is so important, and should be continuous. Aim for minimal surprises!
  • A one size fits all approach is limiting. Like any form of communication you need to tailor the message to your audience. If it’s your delivery teams you might be more specific about details and dates, if it’s marketing maybe more on the story and problems you’re solving, if it’s investors or execs maybe more on the vision and outcomes, and for a customer more focused on their specific needs
  • Everyone ‘thinks’ they understand it. The artefact is inherently high level and without proper context everyone will take away their own interpretation of what a line item is and why we’re doing it. Be as descriptive as possible but always offer the accompanying context for your roadmap

Curveballs

  • Surprises will happen… competitor movements, dependencies failing, regulatory changes, technology advancements, pet projects
  • Try to leave yourself some room to accommodate these, but more importantly keep track of what competitors are doing, watch tech announcements, stay in close contact with your stakeholders and feed facts into the roadmapping process to minimise impacts

Alignment

  • Everything on roadmap should have a reason for being there that aligns to the strategy. It’s basically a view of how you are investing the company’s resources over time so you want to keep it focused, relevant and valuable
  • Need to be aligned to the realities & constraints of your organisation or your roadmap is a work of fantasy… can the delivery team actually build this, does the technology strategy take things in a completely different direction, can marketing and sales drive the idea in market and does launch timing fit with the bigger story, are budgets and people available when you need them
  • Believing you own the roadmap. You are probably 100% accountable for it, and will be the go-to person when somebody’s heart is broken because their idea never makes it on, but the roadmap should represent a collective approach by the wider business. The product can’t win in isolation of marketing, sales, delivery, support etc.

Chris took us through some tools suggestions and the collaborative approach he takes to building a roadmap. He told his story having learnt from the painful experience of NOT doing this when he first became a product manager and shared his wise words. His preferences were for the roadmap to tell a story – so ensures that his version include where you are coming from not just where we are going. He has tried a bunch of tools too, but has made the mistake of letting the tools limit the options or that it just takes too long to update so the document beings to mould as it hasn’t been updated recently enough or the format doesn’t work for your audience.

How to get ready to collaborate on your roadmap: 

  • Establish your targets before hand, as this can be a time consuming process. This should be worked on with the stakeholders of your business (but remember… you’re defining targets, not how to get there).
  • Get your team all together in one room, and explain what your targets are and why you’re striving to achieve them. The team may also have some targets they’d like to achieve, so keep this in mind.
  • Together, start brainstorming ways to achieve these targets. It’s a good idea to have some ideas pre-prepared to get the ball rolling if the group gets stuck.
  • Properly consider the ideas that are raised by the team. If you’re only there because you feel like you have to be, and you have no intention of using their ideas, you might as well not be there.
  • Once you’ve collected the ideas, it’s time for you to go away and do your research. Try to find a way to measure the value these ideas will contribute to your goals. From here, you can begin to construct your roadmap.
  • After preparing your roadmap, show your team first. They’re the ones that are going to make your plan a reality.

Lastly, we asked Matt to give us a the devil’s advocate point of view. Is this roadmap really all worth it? Matt suggested roadmaps are a terrible idea and has so many disclaimers on his he wonders if there is any point in having one at all. The other side to this is that the roadmap can become a crutch for a lack of communication in the organsiation – “it was on the roadmap” is a common way to look like you are doing your job because it ended up on an artefact, a slide etc. but is not the case if you haven’t shared it with people and ensured the plan has been heard and understood! [editor note: Matt did me a big favour and played the devil’s advocate for the panel session, during Q&A he ‘fessed up to loving the roadmap and finding it an essential tool in his organisation].

Matt echoes Chris’ points around collaboration: the exercise of getting everyone together to develop a roadmap is a fantastic activity to perform in a company. Another benefit of the exercise is that it will highlight pain points in your organisation from an operational perspective. Typically communication issues, silo-effects, hierarchical problems and lack of alignment both vertically and horizontally. Ensuring these are addressed will significantly increase the effectiveness and engagement in your organisation.

From here we asked our 60+ product managers to get out of their chairs and have a go at roadmapping together. We asked them to think of the things they hated the most about the map, and the things they loved. Then we gave them some goals and customer feedback about a “fictitious’ food delivery service to see where the discussions would get to as a group on how to approach the process. One team did find they started with timelines… but eventually the wisdom of the group convinced the advocate for dates to switch to more general terms like now, next, later….. 

Halfway through the activity we threw a curveball at the teams, where the “CEO” pivoted and changed the focus from food to dessert delivery. Many teams were frustrated they had to go back to the drawing board (never felt that before 🙂 ) while some were able to incorporate option into their existing roadmaps with a few tweaks.

Some examples of the roadmaps made during the activity and some of the items listed in the likes and dislikes buckets:

Some of the insights from the groups:

  • make sure you convert vanity metrics to something meaningful
  • avoid any timelines on your roadmap – most commonly used groupings were now, next, later.
  • The roadmap is a useful artefact to help avoid the (random CEO) change in direction. It is evidence of what was previously agreed so should we not stick to it?
  • roadmap favourites included: alignment, customer pain points are covered, facilitates conversation
  • roadmap dislikes were: lack of context, it gets stale, change is bad!, others assume it equates to delivery

A great night thanks to Zendesk and their beautiful space. We were well taken care of by our hosts. See you next month for our May event – RSVP now.

If you missed the session – we have video content hosted on Dropbox – it is 45 minutes long.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.