How to build a product roadmap based on user research

Clémence Debaig
Jun 12, 2017 · 6 min read
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That’s it, your user research is done and you have found plenty of insights. (Well done!)

But how to sort them? How to transform them into actions?
Where to start?

It’s always difficult to prioritise, to pick the right insight to address first and to find an agreement among teams. It’s also difficult to put aside any gut feelings or emotional reactions to the user’s voice because it can mirror the issues you are facing yourself with the product.

This article will give you a framework to help you build a high level product roadmap based on your findings.

It will help you to pick the most valuable projects with the right balance on the followings:

  • How important is it for the user?
  • How much will this cost you?
  • How much will you earn / or save?

Note: It’s important to involve the right stakeholders in this process: Product owner, UX, UI, Dev, etc. Once you have done your research, the following steps can be done with the team during a workshop. Be sure to prepare all the small cards in advance to facilitate the exercises.

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1- Gather and share the user insights

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First, identify the key insights in your research. Keep only the ones that reflect a common pattern between all your tested users. If necessary, use quantitative data to back-up your qualitative research and to help the rest of the team build business cases.

At this point, it’s important to present your findings in the best way possible. Use any evidence you have and try to show the user in action (videos, photos, quotes and so on).

2- Sort and group your insights to create projects or themes

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If you have different sources of insights, group all the insights by themes and start identifying opportunities and potential projects.

You don’t have to figure out all the details now, just the headline.

Let’s take a couple of (made up) insights as an example:

  • Google Analytics: an average of 4 visits before finalising the order
  • User interview: « I always do the research on my own and then I send it to my wife so she can review the options. And the end, she will make the final call and finalise the check-out. »
  • Call center: An average of 2 calls before finalising the order. First call: gather information. Second call: decision is made, proceed to check-out and payment.

There are clearly some opportunities here to optimise the journey to finalise an order, with themes around sharing, return visit, etc. And this can lead to 3 potential projects: save my search for later / share my search / wish list.

3- Do a high level rating (Pain, Effort, Value)

To help you identify the most valuable projects or opportunities, you need to find the right balance between what the user wants, what it will cost you to build it and what the business outcome would be.

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You should rate the 3 following criterias:

  • Pain level: Painful — Confusing — New opportunity
  • Effort: 1- small project, 2- medium project , 3- big project
  • Potential business value: $, $$, $$$

You have to define what it means for your organisation specifically. What is a « 2 »? What brings value to the business (growth, conversion, cost saving, etc)?

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It doesn’t have to be super accurate. It’s a guess. The point here is not to turn this into science, it’s a tool to facilitate the discussion. You will probably be wrong, but you have to start somewhere!

It’s important to do this rating collaboratively. Try to include all the teams: Dev, UX, Product management, etc. The rating has to reflect the overall impact on your organisation. It can be a small project for the dev team but a huge one for the UX and marketing team.

4- Place on the chart

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To help you visualise all the projects and opportunities, you can now place them on a chart.

X: Effort level
Y: Pain level
And then, after placing your projects, draw circles with different sizes to express the value.

5- Select the cards and order them

Think about your product. Usually, users only use a few key features in a product. So, there is no point in adding new features if your experience is already broken.

My advice is to select your projects in that order:

  1. Fix
  2. Improve
  3. Innovate
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So, start with the most painful and the easiest to fix. Then continue with what you can improve, but pick the most valuable projects. Same approach with the new opportunities.

That’s the theory. You also have to consider your company strategy and your product vision. What do you want to achieve? What do you want to build? Sometimes, it’s important to pick a project because it will help you build your vision even if it doesn’t seem to be the most valuable right now.

At that point in the process, it’s also important to decide which one you will abandon. Yes, you found insights around this topic but if you think it will cost you too much or there is no market for it, let it go, right now.

6- Place them on the roadmap

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First, pick the ‘meaning’ of your timeline. Is it delivery dates? or ready for dev dates? or beginning of the project? Then evaluate how many ‘effort points’ your can work on per month as an organisation? (including design, product owners, dev, etc). Then place your projects on the timeline.

Final thoughts

This framework is really useful when you have done a big research campaign. But as soon as user research is part of your process, you can continue to use this framework to update your current roadmap and evaluate the priority of your new findings compared to the existing projects.

In real life, you will have to consider in your roadmap all the other projects that are not coming from user research: SEO, marketing, the CEO’s ideas, etc. But you can integrate those projects and evaluate them in the same way. Does the SEO project have more or less value than project B?

This approach will give you some visibility, and help you and the rest of the stakeholders to visualise the pipeline of projects to make a decision together. It is not accurate and it doesn’t have to be.

Consider this as a contextualised product backlog that will be re-evaluated often. And if you need something more precise, you can take the first 2–3 months of your roadmap and create a more detailed evaluation and plan.

I hope it will help you. Please share any thoughts or experience in the comments!

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