Creating Product Roadmaps for Your Software Portfolio
COVID-19 accelerated the process of digital transformation for many enterprises. To meet the demands of today’s competitive business environment, organizations are integrating digital technologies and business applications at an accelerating pace. Yet with more and more project managers utilizing Agile methodology (94% of respondents in the 15th Annual State of Agile Report noted that their organization practices Agile), industry leaders need a clear plan to sustain a long-term vision and achieve desired outcomes.
When implementing business applications, organizations often underestimate the value of a thorough, effective product roadmap. This is understandable, as a good roadmap is–by design–simple at a glance. The real work lies in the effort required to align and synthesize all stakeholders’ visions, objectives, and desired results from the software and into a straightforward blueprint that meets everyone’s most pressing needs. The process of building a roadmap must be done carefully and methodically, so that the final product accommodates the needs of everyone it will impact and accomplishes the goals it establishes.
It is worth mentioning that a product roadmap is not only useful when created concurrently with the initial implementation of a software system; product roadmaps are practical tools to be used at any time after the acquisition of a piece of software for use in an organization. In this blog, we will discuss what a product roadmap is and when it is appropriate to use one, along with how to create a roadmap and the benefits that can be realized by doing so.
What is a Product Roadmap and When Should My Team Use One?
While everyone might define it slightly differently, a product roadmap is essentially a document for stakeholders and internal staff to collectively visualize the incremental improvements of a product over a set period of time. It isn’t just a template that can be filled in and, if followed, will produce the desired results, though. A product roadmap is both a process and an artifact. On top of being a delineated outline of the product’s intended outcomes, a product roadmap refers to the broader processes involved in devising one (e.g., gathering relevant information, determining the appropriate inputs, initial synthesis and subsequent iterations, sustaining activities etc.). The team developing the roadmap also collaborates with the business to ensure that the map is realistic and meets the needs of everyone who will utilize it.
Good product roadmaps are tangible records that allow product managers to extract actionable items for facilitating success in meeting objectives, generating business value, and maintaining an enterprise product over time. These plans function as the bridge between high-level objectives and tasks completable by team members to nudge progress forward.
Some key characteristics of a roadmap:
- Aligned with the larger goals of the company and team as well as the product vision
- Indicates what is being developed in the scope
- Defines what end user issues would be solved
- Always available, updated regularly
- Easily edited and revised
- Visually simple
The roadmap is an essential tool for helping an organization pivot from a project-oriented to a product-oriented mindset, as its visual nature necessitates clear decision-making and task prioritization. At the same time, the roadmap is simple enough to avoid the constraints of a rigid plan.
Most IT organizations find that operating within a product paradigm allows greater predictability of budget and minimizes the administrative burden of navigating teams from project to project. Centering the delivery model around products helps align teams around the longer-term impacts made possible by incremental, short-term achievements. Roadmaps are the foundation of the transition to becoming product-oriented, setting the foundation and terminology upon which all other product processes are built.
If your organization is unsure whether a product roadmap is an appropriate allocation of resources, an easy practice is to ask employees across impacted departments about their sense of prioritization. If team members have disparate ideas of what should come first, second, third, etc., in the capability development process, documenting and prioritizing these activities using a product roadmap will help align objectives and determine how to complete them.
How to Create a Product Roadmap
Fundamentally, a product roadmap (whether for an application, a strategic program or a manufactured good), can take various forms depending on the purpose, intended audience, and how it will be used. A development team could draw out a longitudinal view of how they want progress to unfold in many ways; pictorially, on different timescales, et cetera. The roadmap creation process is not a monolith—organizations should consider the principles shared in successful implementation instances, but there is no one template to leverage or success story to replicate. Each product needs a roadmap tailored to its unique idiosyncrasies.
The process of creating a product roadmap, no matter its exact form, will share the same principles but maintains space to adjust so every roadmap fits its product’s Objectives and Key Results (OKRs). It’s similar to a choose-your-own-adventure experience; there are some guardrails in place that function to prevent progress stagnation or total failure, but there are plenty of points in the roadmap creation process to take the fork in the path and decide to go differently.
The four steps typically used in the product roadmap process are detailed below.
- Engage with an initial kickoff meeting – Gather all team members to be impacted by the roadmap to establish goals and align desired outcomes. Cast as wide a net as possible to make sure no one is left out. This meeting allows the product manager to gather information and share their approach with the team. The kickoff is a critical step for establishing the buy-in of the product development team and impacted stakeholders.
- Compile data by creating checklists (or borrowing from the internet) – Use checklists to identify the roles and responsibilities of each team member, what artifacts are already available, and the pain points team members anticipate during the road mapping process.. Each team member will bring their unique perspective and inputs on team structure, product experience, and tools presently in use. The goal for the team responsible for roadmap creation is to leverage what is already written and formulate a preliminary vision to present to the entire product team. In the spirit of taking the burden off of the development team, this approach is preferable to starting with a blank, daunting whiteboard in the next step.
- Harmonize and develop a roadmap through iterations – Conduct a few meetings with the product team to form a consensus of the product visions and OKRs, determine and prioritize a reasonable set of improvements during each meeting, and collaborate on an easily sustainable roadmap format. We recommend starting with the big picture vision first and then building objectives that work toward that long term goal.
- Maintain the product roadmap wellness – Once everyone has signed off on the product roadmap, the work is not complete! A healthy roadmap has a proper system of governance that includes routine reviews and updates, feedback from individuals working in IT and business, and consistent budget alignment with stakeholders. A roadmap will only be as useful as its revision cycle is fluid.
Benefits of Utilizing a Product Roadmap
ENABLES A CLEARER SENSE OF PRIORITIZATION
While it might be obvious to determine the order of task completion with respect to, say, a week, it is more difficult to do so when considering a larger scale (like five years) and a complex team. The item first up in an employee’s queue is not necessarily what will produce the most value in the long run for the business. A product roadmap equips team members to make informed decisions about prioritizing their workload using the organization’s business strategies as a frame of reference.
Clear prioritization also helps to align team members across departments; ensuring everyone is on the same page about the exact project requirements. It’s not uncommon to work on a strategic project that ends up getting revamped halfway through, because it turned out that the business didn’t actually want what the technology team was creating. Prioritization doesn’t just lead to more satisfaction for individuals – it also means less waste in organizations.
The process of creating a roadmap for a software product ensures that a common language is established between the business and IT sides of an organization. By aligning and consolidating OKRs, departments are able to see how individual tasks combine to achieve the overarching objectives, instead of just what their team would like to see the software product become in the future. It’s common for departments to speak past each other; the business side might have concerns about the speed of progress while IT is focused on other issues like software performance and requirements or hardware limitations. There is also an added layer of complexity that most organizations are implementing configurable software (rather than building something custom), which means product roadmaps being created need to align with the vendor’s own roadmap.
Road mapping as a practice demands a cross-functional discussion among all members within the organization responsible for a product. These conversations help to eliminate any feelings of hostility that might exist between organizational departments that are often aligned to distinct sets of incentives.
SHARED SENSE OF STEWARDSHIP OVER THE PRODUCT OR PLATFORM
To develop a road map, employees must work together to harmonize the product vision and the priority of steps required to fulfill that vision. Individuals who are task-focused might have a view of the long-term benefits of the product for the first time, instilling a sense of purpose and camaraderie. Open forums force IT to have empathy for the challenges of the business side of the organization and force the business stakeholders to see the downstream impacts of demands for new features being developed. The road mapping process encourages everyone responsible for the product to feel like a team—equally accountable for making something together. As a result, team members feel a greater sense of ownership of the product; usually leading to a better product in the end.
SUPPORTS BUDGET DECISIONS
One of the most important (and difficult to manage) aspects of creating a software product is the budget. Good strategic budgeting decisions can make or break the success of a product. Creating a road map can reinforce key budgeting judgements by:
- Connecting the scale of investments with the value created for the business
- Enabling agile methodology, increasing the likelihood that the software product is created and maintained within the set constrained budget.
- Defining a value-based view of product activities that supports investment by stakeholders
- Reducing time spent in meetings to secure short-term funding
- Allowing teams to plan for hiring and procurement with a long-term strategy
- Establishing an easy-to-update artifact for a system of management
A roadmap can prove invaluable to a software product—it is worth noting, however, that its creation is not required from the get-go (though it is ideal). It is a helpful tool to have in your organization’s arsenal at any time in the software development process. Realistically, not everyone working on a product, especially one like an enterprise application meant to enable some piece of the business, will have the luxury of sitting down to contemplate where they would like to see their product in five years or ten years. In the case where the software is being implemented, often the most pressing matter is to get a minimum viable product to business users; after that, a roadmap can be created to determine the desired future state and how to best arrive there.
Creating a roadmap fosters product wellness and constructs an environment with efficiency built right in. The process of creating one is worthwhile, though admittedly involved. If your organization doesn’t know where to start when devising a map, it is best to consult a third-party organization that specializes in this area for best results. Allowing a third-party facilitator to assume the responsibility of coaching your organization through the Agile process and helping teams define the key characteristics of a roadmap that is relevant to your particular product minimizes the time and energy necessary from the teams actually utilizing this artifact. Your best bet is to partner with a company that doesn’t utilize a “one size fits all” approach for roadmap development, but one that understands your industry and the unique role each software product plays in delivering on the mission of your business.
About the Author
Dana Karen Ciccone
Dana Karen (DK) Ciccone leads organizational transformation consulting at Kalleid, partnering with teams large and small to achieve high rates of user adoption in system and process improvement initiatives. DK comes to Kalleid with more than 15 years of experience in the health and public service industries, specializing in change management, complex program design and organizational development. She has held management roles at Yale’s Global Health Leadership Institute, in Accenture’s health management consulting practice, and with a national care coordination firm specializing in home health benefits. With a background in journalism and international affairs, DK’s career has focused on cross-cultural collaboration and strategic communications specific to health and biotech leadership. She has collaborated with stakeholders in South Africa, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Brazil, Japan, and across Europe in projects ranging from the design of governance curricula for the health sector to change management for installation of a supply chain management software. Her research in global health and governance has been published in Global Health Promotion, BMJ Open and Social Sciences & Medicine.
Kalleid, Inc. is a boutique IT consulting firm that has served the scientific community since 2014. We work across the value chain in R&D, clinical and quality areas to deliver support services for software implementations in highly complex, multi-site organizations. At Kalleid, we understand that people are at the center of any successful business transformation and implementing effective change management strategies for our clients is the foundation of our integrated approach to IT projects. Our experienced change management professionals help facilitate organizational transformation with customized and appropriately paced tools to support stakeholders on their journey to change adoption. If you are interested in exploring how Kalleid change management can benefit your organization, please don’t hesitate to contact us today.