The IMPACT approach to product management’s primary goal is creating the maximum value for the broadest target audience while remaining aligned with the company’s mission, vision, and goals. Filtering everything through the IMPACT lens can be extremely beneficial. It helps product teams level set every action, process, and decision to ensure they’re staying true to that objective.
But if there’s one part of product management that needs IMPACT more than anywhere else, it’s roadmapping. Roadmaps set the tone for the coming months and years. They typically direct dozens—sometimes hundreds—of people involved in the implementation and rollout of product releases. Not to mention they dictate what marketing and sales will be able to promote and sell going forward.
No one wants a plan for the future that isn’t exciting, inspiring, and positioning the product for growth and success. Yet far too often, bug fixes, custom client requests, and features of dubious value take up valuable bandwidth. These items snap up spots on the roadmap that would be better filled with innovative, value-added customer benefits and revenue-goosing enhancements.
Where trouble begins
Most product teams don’t set out to create lackluster roadmaps, but they’re often dealt a sub-par opening hand. You ideally begin with the company’s mission and vision. However, many organizations aren’t great at strategy, so there’s often a disconnect between those lofty ideals and reality. Senior leaders’ KPIs and metrics fixate on don’t always align with the long-range objectives and key milestones required to get there.
This leaves the next crucial steps up to product managers. Yet PMs are sometimes given little direction when it comes to setting priorities and goals. This doesn’t prevent them from being met with withering criticism or—even worse—deafening silence when coming up with and presenting a plan. So these roadmappers need a rubric to continually measure the overall impact of their blueprint for the product, and IMPACT can do just that.
Laying the groundwork for a roadmap with IMPACT
IMPACT doesn’t begin with the roadmap. It must be part of the process in earlier stages of product development, particularly during prioritization. According to its own impact, vetting and judging each potential roadmap item culls the herd and eliminates requests and ideas that won’t move the needle where it matters most.
IMPACT also shouldn’t be thought of as a component of the roadmap. There shouldn’t be any swimlanes dedicated to each letter of the acronym. Nor should “Clear” or “Actionable” appear in the legend.
IMPACT’s value comes into play in a few other ways. First, by utilizing the IMPACT scoring approach during prioritization, there will be far more confidence it consists of worthy endeavors stakeholders will agree on merit inclusion.
The roadmap’s overarching themes should also stand up to the IMPACT test. Each major goal and the desired outcome should meet the same criteria that any individual development items have already attained.
You can also judge the roadmap as a whole based on its IMPACT. Looking out six, nine, or twelve months, will the planned themes and projects deliver results that adhere to this credo? If not, what’s driving the prioritization of work that doesn’t improve things along these lines?
Staying true to a roadmap’s true purpose
Product roadmaps aren’t projected plans, schedules, or a laundry list of deliverables. Not that stakeholders don’t try to turn them into that occasionally. You can’t necessarily blame them—these folks are desperate for updates and information that they can use tactically to do their own jobs.
Despite this frequent bastardization of purpose, product roadmaps are supposed to be about why you’re doing something as much as they explain what it is and when it might show up. To shift that mindset, product managers must change up the internal conversations around roadmaps and evolve the organization’s product culture. And here’s one more opportunity for IMPACT to play a role.
The roadmap is a canvas to tell a story, not a checklist or Gantt chart. And that story is laced throughout with IMPACT. Everything on there should fit the narrative, benefitting users while advancing the corporate strategy.
I personally structure our roadmap by value areas—the value we want to deliver to create that impact. I then structure the legend to reflect our differentiators. Before I actually put anything on the roadmap, its bones already indicate what’s most important for our business.
With that foundation, I can start looking at opportunities, resources, and investments. Combined with using IMPACT for prioritization within each area, I know the product delivers value in all of the most impactful areas.
Roadmaps are a way to tell your story visually. They connect your audience with the journey, so they walk away with the most pertinent information. Regardless of what the roadmap contains, it all comes back to why you prioritize that work and tell a story that belies the successes and victories to come after implementation.
Tailoring your roadmap to specific audiences is key by leaving out anything that distracts from the narrative or isn’t relevant to each stakeholder. External customers need to see which problems you’ll solve for them in the coming year. And internal stakeholders want to connect the dots between what’s on the roadmap and their impact on OKRs and KPIs.
Put yourself in the shoes of the different people your roadmap is for. Next, customize it for their own areas of interest and concerns. With this relevance top of mind, decide which parts of the roadmap you want to share, how far into the future it should go, and which methods are most effective to communicate your plans.
Every roadmap is “actionable,” assuming things are implemented according to that plan. But I tend to worry about what I expect the audience to do with the information they’ve just received? I’m looking for customer validation and feedback, sales and marketing to update their pitches and collateral, customer success to anticipate how they’ll roll this out to customers, and how the technical teams will determine feasibility and make things happen. That means my roadmap needs the necessary information and context to enable these behaviors and actions.
Roadmaps should answer existing questions and not raise too many new ones—you’re shooting for generating excitement, not doubts. That’s why conveying the why is vastly more important than the what. Measure their engagement and comprehension based on the questions they ask.
Roadmaps can also be tested by trying them out on different crowds. Socializing your proposed plan with small groups can generate valuable feedback instead of waiting for a grand reveal and falling on your face when presented with a tough question. Creating that space for failure and challenges gives you additional opportunities to polish things up while also acknowledging that your course may vary based on an always uncertain future.
Impress them with IMPACT
If your roadmap holds up to the IMPACT test, you can confidently enter any presentation. You’ll know that even if everyone doesn’t agree or approve, they can’t argue with your rationale or reasons. You could still get overruled by an executive or a flagship customer, but you can still stick to your fundamentals even if a few wrinkles are thrown your way.
Most importantly, you’ll have value creation on your side as you lobby to retain the items you know will create the most impact for customers and the business. For more examples of how IMPACT can guide your product management endeavors, download the free IMPACT ebook today.
Watch Annie talk through IMPACT: Processes in the webinar below.
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