Developing a digital product without a roadmap is like trying to cook a meal without a dish in mind. Sure, you might have all the right ingredients for a filet mignon. But if you don’t combine them in a thoughtful, considerate way, you’re likely to wind up with an underwhelming meatball.
To avoid that, you follow a recipe. Armed with a step-by-step path to success, you can quickly turn raw ingredients into a delectable dinner. In terms of product development, that recipe is the product roadmap.
But product roadmapping is a tricky process. Your roadmap must be simple and focused on the project’s big picture, but it should also be flexible and iterated as needed. It requires that all team members — from the product manager to marketers to salespeople — unite around a single vision to drive your product in the right direction.
Potholes Along the Development Path
Before you begin cooking up your product roadmap, you should be aware of some common setbacks you might encounter along the way.
One of the quickest ways to ruin a meal is to load it with too many undesirable ingredients. The same is true of product development. Undesirable features bloat your product and degrade its quality in users’ eyes, encouraging them to abandon it for something simpler. Before beginning development, conduct user research to understand what customers truly want. User desires, however, can’t be the only consideration. When prioritizing feature development, balance desirability with feasibility. The more complicated the feature, the more time it takes to build — and the more likely you’ll need to find designers and developers with specialized skill sets. Not doing so is a recipe for technical debt, tight timelines, and team frustration.
Still, even if features are technically feasible and desired by users, developing them may not make sense for the business. Each product feature must not only please users and be achievable for the team, but it must also be economically viable. When planning a product feature, always consider the return on investment that it might provide.
10 Tips for Top-Notch Roadmapping
Every product development journey has its obstacles, but these can be avoided or overcome with careful, sensible roadmapping. Take these 10 tips to create a roadmap that illuminates your most efficient route to a great product:
1. Don’t forget the pre-work.
To create an informed roadmap, it’s essential to conduct user research and run design sprints to get data on what users truly want. The information gleaned during this first phase should influence everything that follows, from feature planning to continued testing to investment decisions.
2. Focus on epics, not user stories.
When prioritizing complex features, it helps to look at the big picture rather than get mired in the details. User stories evolve throughout the development process. Because they’re more likely to stay constant, epics are the best level at which to architect your roadmap.
3. Be flexible.
Your roadmap isn’t set in stone. If you discover interdependent features or new technologies to test, don’t be afraid to adjust your roadmap. Be prepared for unexpected detours as the competitive landscape evolves and users provide feedback.
4. Involve diverse stakeholders.
When teams have differing visions for the product after plans are set, it can drag out the development process. If design, engineering, and business needs aren’t all taken into consideration, you might underestimate the time investment required. Get buy-in from all departments involved to avoid delays and internal friction.
5. Utilize voting exercises during decision-making and prioritization.
Make decisions about features and prioritization as a team. When stakeholders disagree on priorities, run voting exercises to assign epics points that are weighted for desirability, feasibility, and viability. Rank epics based on total points, and prioritize accordingly.
6. Put it on paper.
Doing everything digitally might seem easy, but it’s best to put the computer away for the roadmap’s early stages. We’ve found that the creative process flourishes when teams can visualize and physically shuffle information. Sticky notes and markers are great for this. This strategy also helps stakeholders identify interdependent features and quickly adjust to account for them.
7. Focus on your MVP.
Every product iteration deserves a roadmap, but the MVP is a special animal. It involves more investment and longer time increments, and it’s the clearest early marker of product success. Only after sprinting to the MVP and letting users judge its merits should you look onward to future iterations.
8. Test along the way.
User feedback will — and should — cause your vision to evolve. Regular testing is one of the best ways to ensure you’re building something that target users actually want. For example, rather than build out an entire connected ecosystem for your IoT product, start by testing only one or two services. Otherwise, you’re operating off assumptions, which can often lead to costly errors.
9. Balance feasibility with vision.
Some features are simply more complicated to build than others. When the team thinks something will take a long time to develop, re-evaluate your priorities according to project vision. If the feature is absolutely necessary for success, see if you can cut it down to something more manageable. If not, reprioritize it to come later in the development process, and focus on something more valuable in the meantime.
10. Outsource if necessary.
How can you predict the time commitments needed to learn new technologies or build entirely new products? Consult product development experts! They likely have expertise with design tools or technologies that you might not, and outsourcing projects can save valuable time. If you’ve become tangled in internal red tape, an outside expert can offer unbiased opinions to improve processes, test ideas, and identify weaknesses.
If you’re struggling to serve up your new product, don’t fret. Try out our free product roadmap template for yourself. If that’s not enough, give us a call. We’d be happy to provide an extra hand in the kitchen.