Effective Use of Product Roadmap Software to Align Your Product Strategy

Gavin Harvett
SVP Products at Clickatell

effective-product-roadmaps

Vital to delivering successful products at Clickatell, an effective product roadmap can quell the confusion and missteps that often derail well-meaning product delivery organizations. Roadmaps provide the required context to understand how individual initiatives combine to meet strategic objectives. They also paint a clear picture of how it all comes together.

An effective product roadmap lists the many deliverables and deadlines. However, most importantly, it tells a story. The roadmap guides and informs everyone involved with the product from ideation to market. Furthermore, the alignment creates a cohesive organization around the same core objectives.

Using Your Product Strategy and Product Vision to Plan Your Roadmap

Product strategies must be rooted in the overall vision of the company and product. This ensures organizational alignment and support. When each product initiative advances, the product vision is easy for everyone to be on board. Some product teams may find themselves challenged by the individual whims of sales staff, executives, or even their product managers.

The product roadmap then reflects that strategy. It illustrates the product team’s approach to making their product vision a reality. The linkage prevents the product from straying into uncertain territory. An effective product roadmap can provide your team with a mission and vision into actual functionality and deliverables.

Anything that doesn’t directly service the overall vision of the product roadmap needs reevaluation. Strategic and effective product roadmaps provide independent product managers and implementation teams time to focus on what really matters. They can then produce their desired outcomes. Teams can then ensure a product-led company arrives at the desired destination.

The Product Roadmap’s Key Role in the “Triad”

Product management, product development, and user experience comprise the “triad.” Moreover, these disciplines are essential to delivering great products. Every organization strives to find the sweet spot for these collaborations. The results are products that delight customers while also solving their problems.

triad-product

[Source for reference of the “triad”]

Product roadmaps serve as the golden thread that weaves these three disciplines together. When roadmaps align with the product strategy,  all three key disciplines are working off the same plan. The alignment creates a secure buy-in from stakeholders regarding its contents’ viability, feasibility, and desirability. Moreover, it creates a true partnership that can’t reach a common goal without working in sync.

The Importance of Storytelling and the Roadmap’s Role

Humans respond much better to stories and narratives than bulleted lists of talking points. Positioning your product in terms of stories helps people communicate its value and helps keep all teams on message and consistent.

While the specifics may be highly dependent on the product’s and company’s maturity and scale, the logic and sequence of the roadmap’s contents should always make sense. I believe every product strategy needs a storyline and a timeline.

Product storyline

The storyline explains the “why,” typically presented verbally with a few slides to support the presentation. The timeline denotes the order, with sequences and key milestones best expressed in a visual roadmap created with purpose-built tools like ProductPlan.

Storylines introduce concepts and create consistent naming conventions that ensure everyone in the business can associate with. This narrative device provides input to concepts reflected in the roadmap. Storylines help underpin the product’s vision and mission.

A solid visual roadmap pulls the story together. It provides documentation of the narrative. The roadmap’s timeline can serve as a preview of how and when that story will expand and get even better over time.

6 Roadmapping Best Practices

Roadmap’s key value exists in sharing data in a digestible, consistent format. It serves as the record reference for anyone building, selling, supporting, or using the product. But the best roadmaps have a few key elements that increase their utility.

1.) Know your audience

Not every crowd wants or needs the same thing from a roadmap. The storyline and timeline should remain consistent. The level of detail and emphasis get tailored to different sets of stakeholders. So it puts the focus on what’s meaningful to them. Don’t make the rookie mistake of thinking the only audience that matters is product development or the C-suite.

2.) Choose an appropriate tool

Visual roadmaps are the best way to convey your product’s story. Don’t rely on tools that lack the flexibility and ease of use required to create a compelling visual roadmap. It will evolve as the product strategy matures and new features and functionality ship. Other teams would never settle for subpar tools, and neither should product management. Microsoft Excel and PowerPoint do many things well, but roadmapping isn’t one of them, and neither do a collaboration or issue tracking tools. Pick a purpose-built roadmapping tool.

3.) Static is for suckers

Roadmaps are living resources that demand regular updates. Create a cadence for updating and socializing the latest versions of the roadmap, so stakeholders expect and look forward to their natural evolution. Slide decks and screenshots don’t do roadmaps justice – rather, use a specialized and interactive tool put in the hands of competent roadmap owners to mitigate the danger of outdated documents remaining in circulation.

4.) Consistency is crucial

Regardless of how roadmaps get built in your organization, they should always look and read the same. Relying on templates, standard terminology, and consistent visual elements avoids stakeholders’ confusion and prevent product team members from reinventing the wheel. With a roadmap strategy guide, everyone can focus on the substance and less on the format.

5.) Take a portfolio approach

No roadmap is an island in organizations with multiple products and product lines. With a consistent approach, it’s easy to roll up various roadmaps for different products into a portfolio or master view. The portfolio approach creates a cohesive roadmap ecosystem, even with diverse global teams working on product strategy and execution. Project managers, developers, testers, sales, and marketing must make sense of each product, how they interact, and any interdependencies.

6.) Build for a remote and distributed world

Roadmaps provide a reference regardless of the location or time zone, especially in Agile environments where rapid iterations and learnings are the norms. Since far-flung teams get so few overlapping time slots when they can work together, roadmap consistency allows those meetings to be more productive and efficient, fostering increased collaboration.

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Make Roadmaps Work for You

Humans invented tools to accomplish more, not so they could spend their time fooling around with the tools. Product managers should view roadmaps as a valuable tool. They should invest enough time in them to maximize their benefits.

Product managers are the keepers of one of the most important artifacts in the entire company—the product roadmap. Understanding what roadmaps can do and continually improving and updating them makes them more helpful for challenging conversations and negotiations between product teams and stakeholders.

Roadmaps do well to limit noise and distractions. They focus on the core of the vision and leave the shiny objects on the sidelines. Consequently, they are the “chaos shield.” We all need to deliver value and delight to our customers while at the same time appeasing our internal stakeholders. Finally, their accuracy creates credibility, which will give them more utility moving forward.

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