The Roadmap Revolution: A Chance to Hit “Reset”

The Roadmap Revolution | ProductPlan

It’s that time of year where I’m both overwhelmed and excited to work on my roadmap. Maybe it’s the feeling of a fresh start and an empty calendar. Perhaps it’s all those social media resolutions to eat better or work out more or learn a new skill. Or maybe it just has enough time off from work to form some new perspectives. Whatever the reason, there’s no questioning that January is the official home of the “Roadmap Revolution.”

Why the Roadmap Revolution?

During this time of promise and possibility, we allow ourselves to begin anew, mix things up a bit, and try something different. Revolution is a chance for a fresh start. The old way doesn’t have to be the only way going forward.

You can change the things you want to change. You’re empowered to make things as awesome as you want them to be.

When it comes to your roadmap, it’s an opportunity to clear your “mental cache” and reemphasize what’s important. We can take a step back from the daily grind, recenter, and focus on what will move the organization toward its most important goals and objectives.

This reexamination is difficult when you’re in the throws of business as usual. Our roadmaps get loaded down with baggage over time. Then inertia sets in, and we stop questioning why things are on there because they’ve become the status quo. We don’t have the time or mental bandwidth to ask ourselves if the “why” is still valid or if there’s a critical missing piece we’ve overlooked.

But the start of the new year is our chance to hit reset, take a deep breath, and resurvey the landscape. At ProductPlan. write and share resources on roadmaps all the time on our blog and in our Learning Center.  Part of the landscape resurvey we see is roadmap readership grows by 68% in January. The Roadmap Revolution bug is making everyone hungry for learning and improvement in the new year.

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“Roadmap readership grows by 68% in the month of January. The Roadmap Revolution bug is making everyone hungry for learning in the new year.

While it’s likely not time to scrap everything and start from scratch, there’s no better opportunity for a seismic shakeup.

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Some Data that Shows You’re Primed for Change

The roadmap revolution doesn’t happen in a vacuum—you’re still going to need stakeholder alignment and executive buy-in for your new master plan. But there is more openness to change and optimism about the future during the early part of the calendar year.

In January 2020, there was a flurry of activity in ProductPlan’s roadmap platform. We found that our customers shared roadmaps 39% more often than they did the other 11 months in the year. They also make changes to legends 57% more frequently. Bar dates were edited an extra 23%.

If your company happens to use January as the start of its new fiscal year, other changes will create a more open environment. Not to mention there’s still time to influence budget and lobby for more tools for your product stack.

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What Your Roadmap Revolution Might Entail

Everyone’s experience may vary when it comes to their own roadmap revolution. Outdated, misaligned, or unfocused items will be dependent on one’s individual situation.

Take a lingering look in the rearview.

New years are about what lies ahead. But it is important to start with an examination of what’s already happened. Think back on the past year and break down how you and your product roadmap got to its current state.

Were there technical breakthroughs or blockers that shifted the course? Did a competitor’s actions cause a scramble to react? Was an overbearing client or juicy prospect throwing its weight around and disrupting plans?

While your organization’s reactions to these events may or may not have been appropriate, they inevitably sideline other initiatives. What deserves a second look? And knowing what you know now, are they still the right items to prioritize?

Beyond these disruptive forces, what did you learn last year? Whether it’s data-driven insights sifted from analytics or a deeper insight into what makes the management team members tick. What do you know today that twelve months ago was a mystery?

Adjusting your style.

In addition to these external factors, we’ve hopefully applied some introspection to ourselves as well. We all have areas we can improve upon. Those can even surface in our product roadmaps through subtle nuances or deliberate decisions to steer product strategy.

  •  Switch things up to a Kanban view, so they focus less on “when” and more on “why,” if stakeholders are too obsessed with dates and deadlines.
  • Ditch the specifics and move to a theme-based roadmap emphasizing overarching objectives over specific deliverables if your roadmap looks more like a feature factory than a strategic plan.
  •  Try adding color-coding and a legend to provide additional context if the motivation behind roadmap items isn’t clear.
  • Employ swimlanes if you’re trying to help stakeholders visualize how work maps to various implementation teams or parts of the product.
  • Add a key milestone or two if you can’t completely ignore dates but don’t want them to dominate the roadmap conversation,
  • If you want to show how the whole master scheme comes together and break down some silos, use a portfolio view to show all your products’ high-level roadmaps on a single screen.

Employing any (or all) of these visual elements can add entirely new dimensions to the roadmap experience. Do this to communicate much more information and explanation from the same page.

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Revisit your story.

Product leaders are storytellers, and product roadmaps are key to the tales we spin. But is the story we shared last year the same one we want to spread in the year to come?

Over time, the setting evolves, characters change, and our goals and objectives may shift. Now is the time to ensure the roadmap reflects the story we want to be telling, not the one we gradually slipped into.

Resetting the roadmap to ensure it focuses on outcomes versus features is a critical step in this process. Assess whether the themes are still appropriate and match the latest thinking, or if it’s time for new ones to emerge and phase out older ones.

If your roadmap doesn’t help you tell the story you want to tell, make that change. Convert features into value statements, and don’t treat it like a parking lot. Hold every item up and make sure its “why” is still valid.

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Planting the Seeds for the Roadmap Revolution

Roadmap revolutions don’t happen overnight, and the best-laid plans begin months before the true shakeups take shape. Starting in November, I connect with engineering and implementation teams for some reality checks.

North Star

I layout where we want to be two years out as a North Star of sorts and work backward. What must happen this year so that vision can happen in Year Two. This drives what our 12-month roadmap for the coming year must contain for the longer-term vision to have a fighting chance while ideally giving current customers some true added value in the interim.

Backlogs

This also sets the stage for the hardest part of roadmapping… cutting out the clutter. Our backlogs and parking lots are full of great ideas, but we can’t do them all. So, if they’re not helping us set the stage for our ultimate goals, cull them from consideration.

That’s not always easy. You’re disappointing internal stakeholders and customers. You’re taking ownership of sunk costs and broken promises. But this is the hard work of progress and evolution and the only way to excel in the areas the organization prizes most.

Don’t forget to position your own team for this new outlook. You don’t want to dump a new roadmap on them and tell them to “make it happen.”

Squad Recalibration

Set aside time right before or after the New Year’s break for a little squad recalibration to ensure everyone knows the new plan and is happy with their role in it. It’s an excellent time to shift roles and responsibilities if appropriate, which can also be energizing for team members to embark on this journey’s latest leg.

You want to create momentum and get people talking about the most important things in the right way. Reconnecting the product’s daily activities and nuances to the business and overall objectives create renewed motivation and clarity regarding adding value. But don’t assume they’ve parsed it all perfectly; make sure they’ve connected the dots in their own minds for optimal results.

The Roadmap Revolution is Real

You might be thinking this is all just an excuse to reiterate how pivotal roadmaps are to the product management process. Still, people really do spend more time roadmapping in January than at any other time of the year. We see spikes in product trials, usage data, and web site searches, indicating this is a genuine phenomenon.

Best of all, this process can be inclusive and engaging for stakeholders across the organization. While you’re tweaking the product’s plans, your sales team is going through its own reevaluation. Ask them if their target account list has changed or if they’re shooting for a new vertical this year.

It’s also a great time for customer service and account management check-in to see what trends they noticed over the course of the previous year and which product capabilities users are asking about lately. Likewise, aligning with marketing regarding their messaging to the market and major activities.

Touching base with key customers themselves can also pay dividends. They’re going through their own revolutions and resolutions as they set their own goals and outlooks for the coming 12 months, and their shifting priorities may influence which value propositions your own product should emphasize.
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