How to align teams behind a product roadmap?

May 26 2020

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Digital Product Roadmap Strategy - Best Practices

Product managers navigate through lots of uncertainty. On one hand, there is changing market needs, technical complexities, and project funding conundrums. On the other, digital product roadmap strategy alignment with numerous departments and stakeholders. Imagine corralling different departments such as IT, development, sales, customer success, marketing, operations, and customers into synchronization to achieve the product vision. Each party working on the project has its unique goals, and thus implementing a change with respect to those goals from one department unit can impact others. So, how do product managers find a balance between product roadmap updates and preventing product delays and team frustrations?

Read on this blog post to know what a product roadmap is and how product managers align teams towards a singular product vision while sifting through priorities.

What is a Digital Product Roadmap?

A product roadmap is the strategic communication tool that aligns everybody in the project around a high-level product plan. Depending on the size and type of organization, product roadmaps can include feature enhancements, technical considerations, milestones, and how products evolve over time. Put simply, a digital product roadmap strategy plan lays out the efforts needed to achieve your bold business objectives and the timeline for feature implementation that aligns with your strategy.

Why is a Product Roadmap Required?

It provides stakeholders and team members with details they need to focus on their priorities and move ahead towards achieving a shared goal. A roadmap gives visibility about the plan and the moving pieces that help teams better synchronize their efforts: scope and resource allocation.

If prepared correctly, a product roadmap is critical to the success of a business.

  • A product roadmap provides predictability to the product development; it allows all the stakeholders to be involved in the planning, discussing, and coordinating future activities
  • A product roadmap broadcasts the leadership message across the stakeholders about planned business goals and powerful strategies
  • A product roadmap aligns all the development efforts with corporate, business, and cross-functional strategies
  • A product roadmap aligns functional milestones with business critical dates

How do you Align Teams behind a Product Roadmap?

Change is an inevitable aspect when it comes to product creation. Stakeholders might request a change to a product feature. New insights might come during the mid-development cycle, which adds a change in the roadmap. Indubitably, changes will come along the way, but it should not derail the project.

Putting efforts into synchronizing all the stakeholders and teams involved towards the shared goal should come just as frequently.

Here are some ways to maintain alignment throughout the product development cycle.

Start with your Product Vision

The first phase is crafting a product vision, which is meant to inspire all the key stakeholders and prospective customers for the near future. Everything you do for the project should contribute to realizing the product vision. From there, you can kickstart with specific goals (short-term or long-term) that you want to achieve. It should incorporate clear success metrics (e.g., acquiring thousands of new customers in the next quarter).

The product vision is meant to solve high-level user needs, known as themes in product roadmaps. For example, Jazz Pharmaceuticals, a biopharmaceutical company, focused on the vision of 'building up digital capabilities for marketing engine' to create a consistent relationship with customers. The company partnered with Icreon to set up a clear product vision while engaging with internal key stakeholders, including IT, Marketing, Medical, and Patient departments. We identified pain points and built a digital product roadmap strategy that supports today’s marketing efforts and caters to futuristic needs for a single customer journey.

Break Themes into Epics and User Stories

The themes identified from the product vision are high-level to disseminate amongst the team members and internal stakeholders. That's why breaking them into epics and user stories makes sense. Epics are large pieces of work that cater to a common objective, while user stories are short-term tasks completed within one sprint (1-4 weeks). It is always easy to work on dependencies between user stories when they are grouped into common categories based on business needs, user flow, technical likeness. Writing each user story on a large note means that it can be moved easily between different categories.

While classifying stories, imagine how users are going to experience that and consider what needs may arise in the coming time once the story gets executed. This way, you will find dependencies between stories and get to know further steps in the development flow.

Prioritize User Stories on the Backlog

Make estimation and prioritize user stories. There is a multitude of techniques available. One of the most popular is Weighed Shortest Job First (WSJF) that assigns the top priority to the easiest tasks carrying high value in a user story.

Here’s how you can calculate:

  • Relative Priority = Cost of Delay/ Job Size
  • Job Size depicts the amount of work needed to accomplish a user story. (e.g., technical difficulty)
  • The cost of Delay depends on three crucial factors:
  • User Business value: the value of a user story to your business and its customers
  • Time Criticality: importance to complete a story
  • Risk Reduction: risk reduction from a user story or chances of new possibilities

Therefore, the Cost of Delay is equal to the sum of user business value, Time Criticality, and Risk reduction factor.

The development team involved in the product development will calculate the Job Size while internal stakeholders focus on the Cost of Delay. Both are usually scored to know how much effort is required to create a feature.

After this, you can gather the team and stakeholders and ask the participants to rate all stories on the basis of categories like Job Size, Business Value, etc. If everybody agrees on the same user story, the number is your estimate. If opinions vary, team members get the chance to discuss the story and score it again. Once all stories and categories are covered, you can find out the relative priority for each feature and reorganize your backlog.

Workout a Timeline for your Roadmap

The next step after relative priority is to draft a plan for the product's first release. This is the time when you can visualize your intentions on a roadmap tool. Put your themes and epics on a rough timeline for the initial release. If you follow agile methodology, it is recommended to avoid specific dates and group your activities with respect to their theme. Otherwise, use sprints, quarters, or other loose timelines like Completed/In-Progress/ Future. Each story should be associated with its goals and success metrics. Don't commit to deadlines that don't seem feasible. You can choose product roadmap tools that can help you build visually appealing roadmaps.

Share your Roadmap with your Team and Stakeholders

Be transparent in the product roadmap process as a lack of transparency into the process, discussions, and outcomes leads to disorientation amongst the team. They often feel that their opinions or thoughts are being disregarded by the team making the actual decisions, leading to moral issues.

Make sure that everyone involved in the project can see the product roadmap and make certain that everyone's input matters. The primary reason that the product plan should be accessible to everyone is that it provides the direction of your product and works against the company vision and strategy. Having one location for the product roadmap provides a single source of truth for all the questions, criticisms, recommendations from anyone in the company.

As the Dan Radigan of Atlassian says:

“Post the roadmap online and keep it current so the team has a single source of truth.”

Strategies to Achieve Organizational Alignment

Once you establish the grounds for transparent process across the teams, there is still a question of how to drive consensus on what should be where when priorities shuffle and how to manage those priorities while working on the roadmap.

Here's a quick rundown of some important points that product managers should consider while preparing for the reviews and discussions.

Get Commitment Before the ‘BIG’ Meeting

It is important to arrange separate meetings with each major stakeholder to review the product roadmap plans ahead of any executive review or kickoff meeting. This process helps you to know their response, objections if any, recommendations so that you can make amendments before that big meeting. Meeting with your stakeholders well in advance and what they want to get out of the discussion before everyone gathered for the big meeting is a failsafe strategy for your product roadmap discussion.

Use your Facilitation Skills

You need to leverage every tool in your arsenal when engaging in meetings with internal stakeholders and driving consensus. The most important skill is managing the meetings – keeping people on track, keeping the agenda for timing and topics inline, and pushing tangential conversations around the plan. A roadmap meeting should not point fingers at other departments for missing goals and deliverables. Instead, it is a place to validate the goals, prioritize efforts, and ensure that each piece moves from a less certain to a more certain phase in the execution plan.

Educate as you go ahead in Planning

It is important to educate each and every stakeholder and make them understand why themes are more important than features and why prioritization should be flexible. Moreover, why individual opinions simply aren’t as tangible as actual customer data and how you’re drawing these conclusions. As a product manager, it is on you to make each stakeholder and team member understand why you're doing these things, how you're reaching a conclusion, and what drives you on a daily basis. And all of these things should center around your actual product vision.

Summing Up

An effective roadmap alignment happens when all the stakeholders delve into the product strategy and get a clear insight into what they can expect to see launched in the market over time. It requires a great deal of cross-functional work across different departments. Adjustments to the plans focused on user needs, prioritization of workstreams, and better synchronization and collaboration to achieve set objectives and the outcome.

At Icreon, we’ve worked with different clients in product roadmap planning to brainstorm possible paths and take planning to the implementation stage and then final products. If you're stuck in your product development cycle, we're here to meet your product needs aligned to your organizational objectives.