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Monday, May 30, 2016

6 non-obvious things you should do before building a roadmap

I consider the product roadmap an absolutely critical, strategic artifact. I further believe that product management must be in the driver's seat relative to its definition and communication. Here are a few steps I often see overlooked when PMs find themselves creating or updating a product roadmap.

1. Define a Business Motivation Model at the appropriate level of abstraction
Your roadmap should demonstrate how you will deliver offerings to the market that achieve your business objectives and move your organization toward its vision. I've blogged previously about the Object Management Group's Business Motivation Model as a great approach to defining key motivational concepts like vision, mission and goals and driving alignment on the team as to their meanings and the relationships between them. It's impossible to assess if your roadmap is helping you achieve business objectives if you haven't defined them. As a product manager, it is your accountability to define business motivation at the product level and align it with those at the business unit and company levels as appropriate.

2. Identify market and customer segments
Market segments represent groups of consumers (whether consumer or B2B) who share common requirements or prioritization thereof. In my experience, all product markets can be divided into segments. Although a critical input to planning, many product managers have insufficient understanding of relevant market segments both from a needs and business impact perspective. This lack of understanding make release investment prioritization sub-optimal, bordering on randomness at times. You might even consider a version of the roadmap that groups investment by segments (typically for internal consumption).

Customer segments are like market segments but represents groups of customers you've already done business with. Because you typically have deeper knowledge of them, further segmentation is possible and may be valuable. For example, it's nice to know what characteristics of existing customers make them most likely to upgrade immediately to new versions.

3. Assess investments in terms of their ability to delight customers
Prioritizing the requirements we'll satisfy and in turn the features we'll develop is a key competency of successful product managers. Due to a variety of factors such as late entry to market or leftovers from a previous release, our high priority investments may be of little direct customer value or simply boring. Tools like the Kano Model can help you categorize your investments to ensure you'll deliver something exciting enough to include in the press release.

4. Perform Formal Stakeholder Analysis
Although we canonically think of the roadmap as an artifact for communication of our intent to customers, it actually represents, sometimes indirectly, commitments we must deliver to a broader range of stakeholders like executive leadership and other product groups in the company. Stakeholder analysis is the process of identifying your stakeholders and what they expect from your product. An important part of stakeholder analysis is prioritizing stakeholders with respect to their influence on your success. Take a look at the interest-influence matrix for guidance on doing this prioritization.

5. Define Key Roadmap Consumers
Once you've defined and prioritized stakeholders "all up", you need to ponder which types of stakeholders will be most interested in your roadmap. When different stakeholders have significantly different interests in your product, you should consider creating multiple versions of the roadmap to highlight the elements that are most interesting to each. In my career, we've always had at least three versions of the roadmap:
  • one for the core product development team that reflected reality (including all "warts")
  • a roadmap for executive leadership, often highlighting integration with other parts of the portfolio and, truth be told, showing only the warts we wanted them to see
  • the typical roadmap for customers, which was typically higher level and showed almost no warts.
BTW, don't forget that your competitors are would-be consumers of your roadmap! Make sure you have the proper governance around these artifacts to ensure only the right audiences see them.

6. Create a roadmap roll-out plan
The roadmap is a critical artifact for many stakeholders. Planning how you will present it and to whom is an important activity that is often overlooked. I would suggest you share it with the development team, executive leadership and then external stakeholders like customers and partners. Other audiences you'll need to include in the plan are other product groups and other organizational functions like marketing and sales. BTW, these functions should be involved in developing the roadmap from the beginning.

So that's a quick list that actually represents quite a bit of work. What is your experience with preparing to create roadmaps?

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