Dear Product Roadmap, I’m Breaking Up with You

The top product roadmap challenges according to product leaders, and what you can do to overcome them.

Heath Umbach
Apr 24, 2017 · 10 min read
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Common Roadmap Friction Points

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Our roadmap is not tied to our business strategy

The best roadmap is a strategic communication artifact that is focused on the big picture and conveys the path you’ll take to fulfill your product vision. It helps you avoid getting caught in a never-ending vortex of incrementalism and bug fixes and enforces a discipline of addressing clearly-defined problems for your customers by understanding your users’ needs. An effective roadmap helps teams balance short-term priorities with long-term strategic thinking.

  • An understanding of your users’ needs. You need to be able to empathize with your users so you can understand and anticipate their needs.
  • User Journeys for the current experience. Why the current experience? You need to fully visualize or map how they are currently solving their problem in order to understand how it will be improved or replaced by your offering.
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We don’t collect or include enough customer feedback

We have not defined a consistent roadmap management plan

When you’re looking at the finished work of a well-executed product everything seems perfect. Of course what you don’t see is all the hard work that went into creating this product. You don’t see the people and processes that go into making that amazing thing. Behind every great product is a great team doing work in a way that guarantees results. They are following a roadmap from the starting point to the end product.

We need more objective criteria for prioritization

Most product managers seek customer feedback to construct their roadmap and prioritize the work that’s to be done. But this doesn’t mean they don’t also struggle to collect even more or to keep the focus on customer feedback as a way to prioritize. In fact, half of product managers report having to deal with executive orders and sales teams as the source of product features and ideas. This leads us to a discussion of how not to prioritize your strategic goals and activities. Knowing what filters not to use is as important as knowing what filters you should use.

  • Requests from sales teams or support teams reacting to one or two customer requests need to be checked for consistency and relevancy across the broader customer base. Prioritizing a feature because one customer says they need it will set a precedent for this kind of interruption to the workflow.
  • We also recommend not relying too heavily on analyst opinions. These industry pundits are basing their suggestions on historical and aggregate sector data so beware of using them to forecast the future of your narrow market.
  1. Desirability: Desirability is the customer focused part of the analysis. This takes into consideration the needs of the end user, the interaction elements, affordances, and how these are to be marketed or sold.
  2. Viability: The viability of the work being considered needs to be considered as a function of the overall business. This insight is provided by the product manager/s and relevant executives.
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Our roadmap is a broken record

“Broken record roadmapping” refers to a situation where the same themes, features, fixes, and solutions keep cropping up on your roadmap time and time again — without ever bubbling up to the top and making their way into a release. These items never seem to make their way into the sprint or release despite their longstanding appearance on the roadmap. “The backlog we have is never retired.”

Our roadmap is too often used only as a sales tool

How often have you heard the following statement from members of your sales team?

  • Themes by time frame
  • High-level product goals (as covered above)
  • Metrics for measuring each stage’s progress
  • Risks and considerations
  • Status of each stage
  • Sales and marketing effects
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Our roadmap leads to broken promises

This is, unfortunately, the common result of a broken roadmap process. But a well-defined roadmap and process should actually help you deliver on the product work by delivering:

  • Alignment: The roadmap helps create alignment by getting an entire team working toward the same goals. Once the roadmap has been discussed, the team will have clarity on what their roles are and what their efforts will create.
  • Priority: Knowing what to do is half the story, knowing when to do those things is the other half. Prioritization is a core part of having a roadmap that works. Another way to look at it is to substitute the statement, “we won’t have time for that” for the clarification “that isn’t a priority for us to be successful.”
  • Visibility: Seeing the way the team works and what they will be doing makes everything easier. Visualizing potential pitfalls and opportunities can be done by mapping out the work in terms of priority and importance.
  • Coordination: Overlapping efforts or misaligned work that cancels out progress causes stress and waste. Getting the team working in a rhythm is going to be a big part of creating and maintaining momentum. Everybody should know their contribution and how it dovetails with the others on the team.
  • Vision: The best companies and products have a clear vision of where they are going. The most famous, and possibly one of the best, customer-centric visions was Disney’s original “Make People Happy.” Simple and easy to use as a lens for what needs to be done each day. A roadmap should paint a picture of what comes next to achieve a long-lasting relationship with your customers.

Fresh Tilled Soil

We’re Fresh Tilled Soil.

Heath Umbach

Written by

Father, husband, coach, mediocre cyclist, Product Marketing at TRUX. I write about product, marketing, and design when I’m not riding bikes.

Fresh Tilled Soil

We’re Fresh Tilled Soil. UX Designers and strategists inspired by human biology. Our strong opinions are our own. We take full responsibility for what we say and create.

Heath Umbach

Written by

Father, husband, coach, mediocre cyclist, Product Marketing at TRUX. I write about product, marketing, and design when I’m not riding bikes.

Fresh Tilled Soil

We’re Fresh Tilled Soil. UX Designers and strategists inspired by human biology. Our strong opinions are our own. We take full responsibility for what we say and create.

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