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3 Ways to Create 10X Better Product Roadmaps
A product roadmap is a strategic tool to align everyone in the organization. But a poor one might result in confusion, broken promises, and even conflicts.
3 ways to create 10x better product roadmaps:
1. Focus on goals, not features
According to Marty Cagan,
“(…) most of your ideas are simply not going to work” - Inspired
Instead of telling your teams what to do (features), set goals and let them discover how best to achieve them. This will also enable agility, build a sense of ownership, and increase intrinsic motivation.
My favorite technique for setting goals is using OKRs.
You can place them on the roadmap, for example, the “Now-Next-Later.”
Outcome-based goals should:
Create focus on what's important (strategy)
Be inspirational (the right cortex of the brain)
Explain the "WHY"
Do not focus on a tactical level (features)
Why are we doing this?
How will it create value for the customers?
How will it create value for the business?
How is it aligned with our vision and strategy?
How is it aligned with organizational goals?
2. Do not commit too soon
There are cases when your business needs a specific date. The most important rule is not to make those commitments too soon.
Ask for additional time to address 5 risks:
Value. Will it create value for the customers?
Usability. Will users figure out how to use it?
Viability. Can our business support it?
Feasibility. Can it be done (technology)?
Ethics. Should we do it?
Product Discovery results in a validated product backlog. This means 5 risks are significantly reduced (although not eliminated). And now you can make so-called “high-integrity commitments.” For more information, see Marty Cagan's article.
At the same time, there are two other risks Product Discovery can’t mitigate:
Estimates. How long will it take to implement?
People. How well will they work together? Will the team survive?
Even if your “commitments” have a high probability of success, they are estimates, not promises.
Communicate it openly and clearly.
3. Shorten the planning horizon
The risks accumulate over time. According to The Cone of Uncertainty, the longer the planning horizon, the more uncertain the future becomes.
I have personally never seen a detailed plan longer than 3 months that has stood the test of time. The best strategy is to focus on the nearest future and significantly reduce the details presented for the following months.
Keep it simple.
Bonus: Now-Next-Later Product Roadmap example
I created a template of the Now-Next-Later product roadmap.
The team gets business problems to solve (Product Outcomes derived from Business Outcomes), e.g., as team OKRs.
Through Product Discovery, the team identifies and prioritizes Customer Needs (Opportunities) that, when addressed, will drive the expected Product Outcomes.
The level of detail decreases over time.
High-integrity commitments might be done only for ideas tested in a Product Discovery (typically Now or Later).
By default, don’t present features. But if you really need some, present them as hypotheses. Remember that as PM, you need to ensure ideas will work for the business. So you don't want to hide them. It's only about (not) presenting them on the roadmap.
For more information about Product Outcomes, see Empower Product Teams with Product Outcomes, Not Business Outcomes by Teresa Torres
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Take care, Paweł