Roadmapping at FutureLearn: An Introduction

In the first of a series of posts about product roadmaps, Simon Pearson, our Head of Consumer Products, explains the basics of creating a roadmap and how we use them at FutureLearn.

One of our brand values at FutureLearn is ‘being open’ — and that means sharing not only what we do, but how we do it. Over the years, people from around the company have shared stories about how we work, and how we make the FutureLearn platform and we’re keen to continue doing this.

That’s why in a series blog posts, the FutureLearn Product Management team will describe why, and how, we create ‘product roadmaps’. We hope it’s interesting to everyone, and particularly for those who work on digital products, like websites and apps.

During this series, we’ll talk about what a product roadmap is for, how we understand our user needs, how we involve our cross-functional teams in discussions, how we prioritise, how we communicate our roadmaps and maintain focus on them. In the final post, our Chief Product Officer, Matt Walton will talk about the role product leaders play in the roadmapping process.

What is a roadmap?

If you’ve ever met someone who works on a website or app, they might have talked about a ‘roadmap’ of future plans. A roadmap aims to describe the sorts of things we plan to work on in the near future. It creates a shared understanding of where we’re going, and importantly where we’re not going. It shows how a product (in the digital world, this normally means a website, app or service) might evolve in the future.

We’ve made our product roadmap public so you can see what we’re thinking of changing about the FutureLearn platform (you can leave some feedback on it to let us know if you think we’re on the right track!)

Update: As of July 2018, we discontinued the public product roadmap. If you want to learn more about product updates and new features, check out the main FutureLearn blog.

There are a few important aspects of this roadmap:

  • It changes frequently: because we want to be flexible and able to respond to changing requirements from our users and to new information. So, it’s not a list of features and deadlines.
  • It is not exhaustive: we want to keep it simple and describe only the key challenges we’re tackling.

How does our roadmap fit with FutureLearn’s purpose, vision and strategy?

Let’s talk about context. How does a product roadmap fit in with a company’s overall objectives?

At FutureLearn, we have a very clear purpose and vision:

The FutureLearn long term vision

To build a global community, where everyone learns together and enjoys access to the education they need to transform their lives.

The FutureLearn mission

To use design, technology and partnerships, to create enjoyable, credible and flexible courses and qualifications that improve working lives

These statements show us all what we’re aiming to achieve as a company.

But the FutureLearn product team is now fifty-strong — how do we organise ourselves to make sure that we are all working on the most important things to help us meet our strategic goals and vision? How do we make sure different groups of people are not working on the same things? How do we make sure we meet our goals by listening to our learners and educators, and meeting their needs?

How we organise ourselves and our roadmaps

At FutureLearn, we have six product teams, each made up of software engineers, designers, copywriters and a product manager. Each team has a specific focus and works on different parts of our product. Each team also has its own mission and an associated metric it can use to measure its success. Here are a couple of examples of our teams to bring it to life:

Our Learner Growth team works to help learners discover FutureLearn and find a suitable course to join, and its metric is about new enrolments.

Our Portfolio Development team works closely with our partners to create a curriculum of courses that our learners value, and are willing to pay for. Their metric is the number of courses that generate high revenue.

Each product team is responsible for coming up with its own roadmap of things to work on, to help it meet its own mission & metric.

How roadmaps help keep everyone working together

Each team’s roadmap helps them focus on the problems to tackle now, and what may come later. Within that team, it sets everyone the same near-term goals. Crucially, it also lets the team know what they are not planning to work on, so they can concentrate on what everyone’s agreed is the most important.

By sharing their roadmap, they can also help other teams understand the bigger picture and compare to their own roadmaps, to foster co-operation and reduce duplication.

Creating roadmaps: the journey is more important than the destination

More important than the roadmap itself, is the journey a team goes on to agree it. As our Chief Product Officer Matt notes in the book Product Leadership:

“The key thing to remember with a roadmap is that the document itself is uninteresting — it’s the process of understanding and negotiating that the team goes through, to own the problems and commit to solving them, that is its real purpose.

It’s this journey we’re going to describe in the following posts. Next up is Reema Mehta, Product Manager in our Learner Sales team, who will discuss the ‘process of understanding’ that Matt mentions: how we get to know our users, their needs, and how to translate these needs into opportunities, to meet our strategic goals and our vision.

Read the next post in the series: Defining the problem space: understanding your users and mapping opportunities