Large organizations are all about operating at scale and leveraging the efficiencies this brings. But for enterprise product teams, the most common area where that opportunity and reality clash is roadmapping. While common processes and templates should be the lifeblood of any effective enterprise operation, 50% of large product teams (those with 50+ members) cite keeping roadmaps and processes consistent as their top growing pain.
Why is this such a problem? Why is the problem so important? And is there some solution to make this all easier? Let’s answer all these questions to help you identify ways to solve them.
What’s wrong with a little inconsistency?
Product managers and leaders don’t get into this line of work to conform. Inspiration, insight, and new ideas rarely spawn from filling out lengthy forms or attending endless status meetings.
Creativity and revelations instead arise from customer research, experiments, and data analysis. We try to break new ground instead of retreading well-worn paths. We continue to unveil new and better ways to satisfy and delight customers. And there’s ample room in the product lifecycle for these bespoke learning and discovery activities.
But when ideas and feedback begin flowing, they must get collected, characterized, prioritized, and scheduled. And here’s where leveraging standard tools, terminology, and processes begin kicking in when working in an enterprise setting.
Large organizations can’t function effectively if everyone takes a DIY approach to documenting and sharing this data. If Team A keeps their ideas on sticky notes while Team B throws them in a Google Sheet and Team C logs each one as a Jira entry, there’s no simple way to collaborate and share across the organization. Confusion and duplicative work will follow without common and shared knowledgebases and repositories.
The importance of consistency in enterprises
Crossfunctional work is relatively easy to do on the fly in a smaller organization. A common frame of reference exists and familiarity with the specific products, target market, buyer personas, etc. But that breaks down quickly as the organization grows, making ad hoc work more difficult to manage.
First, you and your team’s reputation may not proceed you. You might lack credibility and trust with some folks, and they may not buy into your unique way of doing things, especially when it looks different from what they’re used to. But when an organization adopts consistent processes, documentation, and terminology, it’s far easier to plug-and-play different contributors and teams into various projects and roles.
Teams may face a learning curve around the process and the project’s specifics. This common starting point facilitates far more flexible and fluid staffing arrangements. They can now reassign or reshuffle resources to meet organizational priorities and deadlines.
While this shared scaffolding makes it easy to optimize staffing, it also simplifies things for executive leadership and other stakeholders, getting them strategically aligned instead of critiquing the roadmap’s format or presentation.
Imagine you’re a senior executive seeing roadmaps for dozens of products, customer rollouts, and IT initiatives. Then imagine that every team that comes before you uses a completely different format and template for their roadmap. You now must first attempt deciphering what the legend, color coding, and timelines of each roadmap mean. It would be best to accomplish this before contemplating each one’s actual contents.
After clearing that hurdle, you must now consider each roadmap in relation to the other. You’re comparing apples to oranges, trying to picture how they align and support the company’s overall mission. All that variation is distracting, confusing, and likely to result in oversights and confusion, which can plague implementation and damper enthusiasm for funding and staffing all of these seemingly unrelated initiatives.
It also makes it harder for senior leadership to paint a cohesive picture to the board, investors, key customers, and strategic partners. With no easy way to roll things up into a master view of the entire portfolio, they’re at a disadvantage when they do their jobs building support and positioning the overall business for success.
Finding consistency with a purpose-built tool
The primary dilemma plaguing most enterprise organizations in this particular realm is a reliance on a wide variety of tools for roadmapping, but not necessarily multiple roadmapping tools. Instead, it’s a symptom of people getting creative and trying to build out roadmaps using the apps available, especially slide decks and spreadsheets, which are truly ill-suited for this purpose.
Introducing a tool specifically for roadmapping across the organization alleviates much confusion and minimizes variation across the enterprise. First, it gets everyone to work in the same digital environment, making it easier to collaborate and plug and play with resources from any department or division.
Everyone will instantly have the capability of interpreting any roadmap and understanding its full context. This goes for product roadmaps and IT initiatives, and product launches.
Add a few best practices, ground rules, and templates, and enterprises can supercharge their synergies. With common color coding, legends, terminology, and timelines, different roadmaps now at least look similar. Teams can view them holistically for a broader view of what’s on tap for different teams and products.
This facilitates portfolio-level rollups and broader strategic alignment. Stakeholders know what to expect and understand what they’re looking at. Swimlanes break out how much work gets expended against different themes and goals, simplifying rebalancing efforts when needed. And resource planners can also make adjustments within individual roadmaps and across multiple ones quickly to optimize implementation and execution.
Standardized roadmaps also create more accountability and transparency. Using a common platform eliminated comparisons between different teams and their presentation styles, creating more focus on updates and progress.
And for roadmaps shared externally with customers, prospects, or partners, a consistent platform and presentation format makes the enterprise look more organized and professional than each business unit or product team using a different template or medium for sharing their plans.
Last but not least, roadmap standardization will save your organization time. No more endless formatting and re-formatting to make things look perfect for a high-level review or trying to pull random bits of data from disparate systems. Keeping in mind that the goal of building a roadmap is expediting building a great product, you want to spend less time futzing about the plan and more time building stuff and interacting with customers.
It’s never too late—or too early—to start
A standardized, consistent approach to roadmaps and processes is an investment in the future of you, your team, your products, and your entire company. While standing up a new process requires its share of critical thinking, executive planning, socialization, and education, it will pay dividends in the future.
Beginning as quickly as possible to define the ideal roadmap structure and format and then introducing a roadmapping tool that streamlines the process and captures the commonalities makes the most sense. The fewer legacy roadmap presentations and processes lingering, the better, and it can ingrain some best practices into the company’s DNA.
But not all product leaders have the luxury of a clean slate when operating within an enterprise setting. Plenty of bad habits might need breaking, and you probably must sentence some old traditions to the dustbin. Yet this exercise shouldn’t be in vain.
The sooner an enterprise can standardize how they plan for the future, the more time leadership will spend thinking strategically. They may even try to make sense of the materials presented. And with more bandwidth to spend on planning rather than formatting, product teams should give those leaders better roadmaps.
No matter where your organization sits in its journey toward consistent roadmapping processes, now is the time to get everyone on the same page and platform. The longer you wait only increases the degree of difficulty in this transition. Begin realizing the true economies of scale that standardizing on a common roadmapping tool can bring, and get started today with a free trial of ProductPlan.