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4 Development Detours to Plan for in a Product Roadmap

October 26, 2016

When clients come to Yeti with product proposals, they typically have a hundred features in mind. But in product development, less is more.

As a developer, I'm focused first on creating a minimum lovable product and then iterating upon it. Especially with projects that involve complex logic or new technologies, some features may be pushed to the second, third, or even fourth iteration.

A recent client, for instance, wanted to build a complex data analysis application. We realized it would take a lot of time to program the features, let alone design and implement the necessary visualizations.

That's where the product roadmap came in. The project's features, analytics, and visualizations were all interdependent, so we charted a timeline for building them out. Without a road map — or with one that ignored technical constraints — we might have built an application with all the features the client asked for but without data insights to plug into it.

Speed Bumps for Product Development

I frequently see four challenges crop up when creating product roadmaps. By planning to overcome them, product developers avoid the "entire kitchen sink" approach, which balloons timelines and project costs.

1. Complexity of features

User needs are important to consider when planning a product's features, but so is the time required to implement those features. The more complex the feature set, the longer the project takes and the more expensive it grows.

To detect when unplanned features are sneaking their way into the product, stick to agile development methodologies. Keep a backlog of user stories, too, which describe when and how a specific user persona may use the product. 

The project manager should also keep tabs on the project by regularly reviewing epics — large segments of work that include multiple user stories — with team engineers. Because they're closest to the codebase, engineers can suggest changes to the roadmap to limit timelines without sacrificing value. 

2. Technical debt

Every major technology project will involve some degree of technical debt. The responsible course of action is to pay debt down throughout development before it bankrupts the product. To ensure the project's debt is paid, the roadmap must account for it. When reviewing the roadmap, create a rule that describes how much debt must be fixed per phase or cycle.

Beware that project managers rarely know what technical debt exists in a product. During development, engineers should log, track, and document debt they encounter before relaying it to the manager. Collaborative tools like Confluence and Jira are great at helping everyone keep debt top of mind.

3. Unfamiliar technologies

Technology is constantly changing, so developers need ongoing education just like lawyers and physicians do. When a product requires a feature that hinges on an obscure technology, time must be factored into the roadmap for developers to learn about the tool. 

Developer teaching student

One shortcut is to hire an external consultant or expert contractor who can help with the initial implementation and simultaneously train the team. Or if the team needs another full-time developer, the roadmap must account for a potentially long hiring cycle. To gather more information on a technology or even meet a potential team member who can use it, check out Meetup.

4. Unforeseen dependencies

Development doesn't always go as planned. When first approaching the project, it might seem best to build feature A before tackling feature B. But sometimes, in order to finish feature A, half of feature B must be completed first. If timelines are tight, such unexpected dependencies can create chaos.

Try drawing dependency diagrams for the next six months of feature development. Consult the project's developers who understand which features would be easiest to implement next. Sometimes, by seizing a project's "low-hanging fruit," designers and product managers can gain insights into the true difficulty of other features. This can lead to shuffling of the roadmap, so don't panic if it starts to look like a spider web.

Yeti's Road to Victory

Building a product means overcoming challenge after challenge. The broader the team's expertise, the more likely they are to make it to the finish line. 

Yeti's multidisciplinary team has design and development experience across multiple platforms, industries, and product types. Our domain knowledge — from virtual reality to the Internet of Things to big data — helps us foresee challenges that other teams might not.

So whether you're dreaming about an out-of-this-world VR experience or simply the next iteration of your company's app, contact Yeti about creating a product roadmap that goes the distance.

is a CTO + Founding Partner at Yeti. He found his passion for technology as a youth, spending his childhood developing games and coding websites. Rudy now resides in the Yeti Cave where he architects Yeti’s system and heads up project production. Follow Rudy on Twitter.

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4 Development Detours to Plan for in a Product Roadmap
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