In addition to your many other responsibilities as a product manager, you may have noticed that you often play the role of a translator.
You translate the vision for your product into a compelling revenue or market-share story for your executives, to earn their buy-in. You translate a desired user experience into a feature set for your development team, so they understand how to code it. And you help your marketing and sales teams translate your product’s capabilities into a persuasive story about adding value for your customer personas.
Roadmapping is the process of translating your strategy into actionable steps
Developing your product roadmap represents yet another translation project you’ll often be tasked with. In this step—one of the most important to the success of your products—you translate your product’s strategic goals into an actionable roadmap.
Our free book, Product Roadmaps: Your Guide to Planning and Selling Your Strategy, discusses the planning approach we advocate for arriving at a product that is as strategically aligned as possible with your company’s objectives. This process is essentially a series of translation steps, which work like this:
Step 1: Determine your product vision (a straightforward, high-level explanation of your product’s reason for being) and earn the stakeholder buy-in necessary to proceed with it.
Step 2: Translate this high-level vision into strategic product goals, aka a series of specific objectives that your product should achieve for your customers, your market, and your company.
Step 3: Next, translate these goals into a product roadmap, which will serve as the high-level plan for your product strategy.
Step 4: Finally, translate your roadmap into the detailed tasks and next steps that will comprise your release plan and backlog.
You’ll notice two things about the above process. First, it’s a top-down approach to product development. You start at the highest level possible, nailing down an overall vision for your product, and then gradually work your way down into the details that will enable you to build and release the product. In our conversations with hundreds of product managers, we’ve found this to be a far more effective method than starting bottom-up—brainstorming a list of features and stories and trying to convert that list into a strategic roadmap, and then a set of product goals, and finally a product vision.
This makes intuitive sense. When you and your team begin at the high level—determining your product’s reason for being—that vision will naturally spin off several strategic product goals, and those goals will naturally lend themselves to developing a strategic plan for your product: the roadmap. It’s also easier to earn the stakeholder buy-in you’ll need when you start with a product vision, rather than presenting your executive or investor team with a long list of features and hoping they say yes (or even stay awake long enough to hear your pitch).
This top-down process is that it is methodical. Each part of the process takes you one step closer to beginning the development work on your product. No skipping. That’s by design as well. You can’t simply jump from product vision (e.g. “We want to revolutionize the way small businesses connect with customers”) to listing out the features you’ll need for the product’s administrative dashboard.
You need to fully understand where you are in each step before you can move to the next. You also need to be able to clearly articulate the key information at each step to the many different teams who will be working on your product—development, sales, marketing, product marketing—or you risk confusion along the way. (Remember, you’re a translator.)
From step 2 to step 3: How to translate your strategic product goals to an actionable roadmap
Let’s assume you’ve completed steps 1 and 2: You’ve nailed down your product’s vision and turned that vision into a set of strategic goals. As an example, let’s say you’ve settled on four key goals you hope to accomplish with your first release of this new product:
- Gain market share in two new vertical markets
- Cross-sell existing customers of your other products
- Capture two new user personas at your target customer’s organization
- Delight your users
Now it’s time for step 3, to translate those goals into the roadmap. How do you do it?
After working with product managers across virtually all industries and helping them develop roadmaps, we’ve determined that there are a few steps you can take in roadmap creation to give your product the best chance possible for success.
1. Compile all of your ideas for the product, and check those ideas against your strategic goals.
This could include customer feedback, insights you’ve gleaned from your sales reps or customer service personnel, your competitors’ products, research from industry analysts, and so on. A key step at the roadmap-planning stage will be to gather all of this information.
Now, review all of these ideas and insights against your strategic goals. And here you will need to be pretty ruthless. If an idea, even a good one, doesn’t support at least one of your product’s strategic goals at this stage, that idea doesn’t make it to your roadmap; it goes into your Idea Parking Lot.
2. Organize the initiatives that have passed your “strategic goal” test into themes.
Now that you’ve settled on the major initiatives you will work on to ensure your product development is driving toward your strategic goals, it’s time to do some translating again. The key here will be to convert your initiatives into themes—which for roadmapping purposes you can think of as any series of features, epics, or stories that can be logically grouped together to serve a larger strategic purpose.
Let’s use our hypothetical list of product goals above. If one of your goals is to enter new vertical markets, and one of those markets is manufacturing, one of your themes might be to ensure your software includes templates for all of the industry’s standard documents—bills of lading, purchase orders, bills of materials, etc.
Don’t worry too much about the specific stories or features required to implement this theme. That will be for the project management stage. Here you want to capture only the high-level themes for the roadmap.
3. Pick a method (or several methods) for prioritizing the themes on your roadmap.
Now that you’ve identified the key themes that will comprise your product roadmap, it’s time to order them in terms of how important they are to your strategic goals. A key component to any successful roadmap will be prioritization. You will be working with finite resources, and you will need to ensure your team completes the most strategically important things first.
There are many widely accepted methods you can use to prioritize themes and other initiatives on your roadmap, and our free product roadmap book offers detail on seven such methods. Regardless of which method you choose, though (and even if you develop your own prioritization process) here are a couple of suggestions worth considering.
First, before you begin prioritizing, estimate the customer value for each initiative as it relates to your strategic goals. This will help you separate the must-haves from the nice-to-haves. Second, determine a rough cost estimate for each initiative. This is another way to logically identify the highest priority items, based on your limited resources.
Now that you’ve identified the key product initiatives that most closely align with your strategic goals, organized them into actionable themes, and ordered them in terms of priority, you’re ready to drop this information into your roadmap—which you can then use to view, track, and share your product’s strategic plan.
I hope you found this helpful for translating your product goals into a workable roadmap. If you’d like more help with your product roadmaps, just let us know.