How to develop great products by utilizing the Strategic Product Roadmap
The secret to great product development
“When bringing a product to market, you need a clear and compelling product strategy, a solid understanding of your market, a deep understanding of your customer problems, and a great team.”
Today, we’d like to introduce a very useful tool that we use as a guideline for our product development efforts – the Strategic Product Roadmap. We use it as the basis for decision making and communication between team members.
Here is how it works:
- Align the team and communicate the wider vision and approach for the product to all stakeholders without getting stuck in tactical details
- Focus on the value created by the product and the “why” behind it – by keeping a clear view of the problems it solves for the users, and the benefits it brings for the business
- Outline key assumptions that need to be validated
- Prioritize and plan with the bigger picture in mind, before moving on to the detailed development-oriented backlog
- Focus on outcomes and not on outputs
It is important to align your Strategic Product Roadmap with your vision, key objectives, and North Star Metrics. However, be aware to give it enough flexibility for the execution. Used in the right way the Strategic Product Roadmap will help you discover the right products and features to build before writing a single line of code.
Out of sight, out of mind
Too often product development teams get overly excited after defining the first steps and mistake the development backlog for the roadmap. Thus, development goals become internally focused, and the focus shifts away from the users. Instead, everyone is looking towards the technical aspects of building the solutions. However, the technical feasibility of a feature is not a good indication of the significance that users will adopt the solution.
Highly detailed product roadmaps are rarely executed as planned. They cost energy and time to construct and shift the focus away from the user to the individual feature. This is one of the reasons why many product and engineering teams struggle to deliver value. Teams are either not validating their assumptions or are not measuring the desired impact they hope the product has on the user.
Outputs vs. Outcomes
Many of you have worked with roadmaps before. Often they are set up in a Gantt-like fashion, listing the desired features along a timeline. These roadmaps are very useful for go-live planning, as they provide a clear and well-structured overview. Especially at the beginning of your product journey, it is crucial to maintain flexibility and embrace the unknown. You simply can’t anticipate that your detailed roadmap will resonate with the user. In order to provide value to your customers and business, you should focus on outcomes rather than outputs.
Most roadmaps only specify the time by which a feature should be released. Thus, they only focus on outputs. To make sure that you and your team are providing actual value to your users, you need to gain insights about potential outcomes.
Measure for the actual effects a released feature has on your customers. You can do this by asking questions like ”Is the feature we just released relieving the user’s pain?”, “Are users getting value out of the feature?”, or “Can we improve the feature based on our user’s desires?”.
Your product development team needs to figure out how they can break these outcomes down into measurable units and align them with the company goal(s).
That is where the Strategic Product Roadmap can help and improve focus among your teams. It creates alignment around the problems the product will solve for the user, along with the high-level goals for getting there. This will ultimately lead to products with more depth, stronger validation, and innovation in the individual teams.
A deep product may only solve a narrowly defined problem, but it does so in an excellent way. Instead of coming up with products that are addressing a wide variety of problems but fail to solve any one of them in a truly satisfying way, your teams will focus on delivering great value to your users where they most need it.
How do you develop a Strategic Product Roadmap?
In order to come up with a well crafted and thought out Strategic Product Roadmap, there are five steps that you can follow.
Step 1: Start with a clear and compelling product vision. Make it clear why your product exists and where you want to be in five years. Even though we don’t know what will happen in five years it is important to achieve awareness, understanding, and commitment of your team.
Step 2: Create objectives for your company that you are trying to achieve within the next one to two years. Achieving these objectives should lead to realizing parts of your product vision and also to your company’s success. Make sure that your objectives are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound (also known as SMART objectives).
Step 3: Focus on the user behaviors you need to change in order to achieve your objective. These are your themes (or outcomes). Make sure they are SMART too. Formulate your themes following a certain structure, including your starting and target metrics. Here’s an example of how this might look like:
- “Increase the total amount of weekly invoices sent per user from EUR 10.000 to EUR 20.000 by end of Q3”
- “By the end of next month, 87% of customer service requests will be resolved within 12 hours of receipt, regardless of the channel”
Step 4: Identify opportunities for changing user behavior. These can be their problems, pains, gains, or jobs, which lead to the desired outcomes if you can solve them.
Step 5: Hand over to your cross-functional product teams, and let them generate ideas based on your identified opportunities, validate which of these ideas actually solve the user’s problem (by using data and feedback), and create and iterate on the features until they produce the desired outcome and deliver measurable value.
Benefits of the Strategic Product Roadmap
After completing the first steps until step four your teams will have:
- A clear and compelling product vision
- A set of objectives that they want to achieve
- Measurable outcomes they want to achieve, focused on the user
- A joint understanding of user problems, pains, gains, and jobs as opportunities that you need to solve in order to provide value to the user
- Enough flexibility to experiment during the process to drive innovation
In addition, up to this point, not a single line of code had to be written. Instead, a clear definition of success and tasks your teams need to focus on was established, giving it a point of reference it can always return to throughout the entire product development process.
Only after you have completed the four steps mentioned above, your teams should start working on step five and the actual features. Your team will need to constantly validate the respective features through design prototyping and rigorous feedback sessions with the actual user. This process ensures that your team always has the user perspective in mind.
According to a study by Jez Humble from 2012, over 60% of all feature teams use the HiPPO (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion) method for deciding what to build. With that approach, only 1 in 7 product features achieves any kind of measurable impact. By using the Strategic Product Roadmap you can effectively set yourself apart from most product teams and drive value for your customers.
The success of a product requires lots of trial and error and continuous validation with the actual customers. It is no surprise that companies like Amazon, Netflix, Google, and Facebook come up with great products. They are deeply focussed on the needs of their users and experiment constantly before moving to production.
The Strategic Roadmap is a truly agile instrument that will bring you one step closer to building products your customers love.