What is a Feature-Less Roadmap?
A feature-less roadmap is a roadmap designed to function as a strategic blueprint. Feature-less roadmaps enable product managers to deliver a product that both solves customer problems and supports the broader goals of the company.
In contrast, a product roadmap arranged as a list of features will fail to accomplish the central objective of any roadmap: to articulate a strategic vision and plan. However, when they adopt a feature-less roadmap—and plan their development around major strategic themes and goals—product teams can be more outcome-focused and successful.
When is the Right Time for a Feature-Less Roadmap?
There are many situations in which a feature-less roadmap will make more sense for a product management team. Here are a few of the main reasons.
1. You want to communicate strategy, not tactics
For most product managers, the goal is to align the cross-functional team around a big-picture strategy for the product. Therefore, you will want to build your roadmap on a foundation of broad strategic themes, not features.
2. You want to keep your team flexible and able to adapt to changing realities.
At any point, user feedback, a competitor’s product launch, or other new realities could demand your team pivot and adjust your strategy. So, when you arrange your roadmap as a strategic story rather than a set of features to build, your team can focus on the big-picture strategy. That means they’ll be in a better position to adjust that strategy if necessary quickly.
3. You want your team to have a strategic blueprint to guide their development
The main reason not to build a feature-laden product roadmap is that such a roadmap fails to answer the big-picture question: Why? Why is your company building this product? Why should the market care? Why would a customer find the product useful enough to pay for it? This is the reason you develop and share a product roadmap in the first place: to align your team around a high-level plan to solve a market problem and build a product that makes money.
How to Build a Roadmap Without Features
We’ve discussed not developing a product roadmap as a list of features. How should you build it? There are many ways of arranging a roadmap to convey strategy. A couple of examples:
In roadmapping, a theme is a high-level objective for the product. In the sample roadmap screenshot above, all of the strategic goals lead up to a single theme: “Customers complete first purchase faster.”
Most theme-based roadmaps have a few themes presented on the product roadmap. Ideally, themes describe customer value—what customers will receive or the job you’ll help them accomplish. The themes answer these questions: What problem are we looking to solve for our customers? Why does our team feel this problem is worth solving? Why should we prioritize this problem over others?
Each theme should have a measurable goal and expectation that tie up to your company goal. Then, each theme will have supporting features prioritized underneath them. The themes help you stay strategically on track because each initiative that you’re delivering (features and enhancements) must be tied back to a specific theme. Collectively, these themes will have a more significant impact than any one-off feature.
North Star roadmaps
With a North Star roadmap, the team sets a single strategic goal—called the North Star Metric. Then, they can judge every roadmap activity according to whether or not it advances that metric.
A North Star roadmap connects the customer value you are trying to create as a product team with the business impact that the executive team in your company ultimately cares about. If a project, feature, or initiative doesn’t improve that metric, then its value must be questioned for its lack of relevance. Because it generates such a sharp focus around a single objective, a North Star roadmap can significantly improve all of the team’s decision-making throughout the product’s development.
Feature factory / Product backlog / Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) / Jobs-to-Be-Done framework / Theme