Essential Agile Processes Part 1: Product Roadmap


Essential Agile Processes Part 1: Product Roadmap

November 17, 2014
Image of a roadmap

One of the starting points of an Agile project is to develop the product roadmap. The product roadmap documents the long-term vision of the product: it explains how the product is expected to launch and evolve. While the Agile process, and the Scrum process in particular, revolves around short-term periods of working product delivery in the form of iterations, or sprints, the product roadmap provides the long-term outlook that helps drive each of the sprints.

The product owner is one of the primary roles involved with the product roadmap. He or she is typically responsible for creating and maintaining the product roadmap. The product owner should perform three primary roles with the product roadmap:

1. Validate the product strategy.

The product owner fulfills this task by meeting with key stakeholders in the business area, including executives, the business analyst, and users. The goal is to develop a mutual understanding of what strategic goals the product needs to achieve. Specific requirements would not be included at this point because the goal is to establish and confirm wide-ranging objectives.

2. Chart the product’s likely growth.

This part should include what the product is, how it is likely to grow, and what the high-level timeframe is for this growth, with milestones along the way. The goal of the product roadmap is not to communicate specific dates or milestones, but to establish themes and timeframes and show the expected product’s evolution. It is important to be realistic in communicating this story. It is also important to know the audience of the story: a product roadmap in-house is likely to look very different from a product roadmap developed for outside stakeholders, such as the press or general public.

3.Get buy-in from stakeholders and project team members.

A product roadmap without buy-in will not be as effective as one that has been reviewed and agreed upon by stakeholders and team members. In the process of getting buy-in, the product owner needs to remember to stand firm against incorporating too many features that do not add value.

Best practices and pitfalls with creating a product roadmap include:

1. Concentrate on high-level themes, not detailed requirements.

Detailed requirements can come later on during release planning. The goal of the product roadmap is to develop the product’s vision and align everyone to it so that the work performed later in sprints is in line with the vision and work not advancing the vision is minimized. Making the product roadmap too detailed is a pitfall because then the team is locked into fulfilling details when they may not yet have determined their capability to do so. For example, if the product roadmap states that the solution needs to be a web application, the development team may be stuck if their web developers are allocated elsewhere. Another problem is that changes in the competitive environment may alter the details anyway.

2. Make sure the roadmap answers two key questions:

What are the relative priorities of each part? Establishing this in the product roadmap will help in prioritizing the backlog later. Again, it does not have to be specific, just an establishment of which parts are most important and what can be done later. Failing to answer this question is a pitfall because it leaves potentially important parts of the project open to being prioritized improperly.

When do we intend to work on each part? Addressing this question will help focus the team on the relative timeframe for development, helping them concentrate on the items that are prioritized while allowing them to see the big picture. Failing to answer this question is a pitfall because it keeps team members from getting the sense of the big picture while they are focused on specific items.

3. Keep the product roadmap current, review and revise on a periodic basis.

Just like an actual roadmap would quickly become obsolete if it was not updated as roads changed and new ones were opened or old ones were closed, a product roadmap will become stale if it is not revisited and revised to reflect the most current thinking. The product owner should ensure that meetings occur on a regular basis to review the product roadmap and make any necessary revisions based on changes in strategy. Doing these reviews too often is a potential pitfall because it can cause too many changes. Either a periodic revisitation, like once per month, or a milestone-based review, like once after every release, should be enough to help keep it current.

4. Keep a master copy easily accessible.

Team members and stakeholders should be able to see the latest agreed-upon copy of the product roadmap. That way, if there are changes, they can be communicated quickly and easily. Because communication and collaboration are important to the success of Agile methodology, everyone should know where the product roadmap is so they can understand it and suggest any necessary revisions.

What are your experiences with product roadmaps? Please let us know in the comments.

If you are looking for further assistance, or have a specific roadblock you need to get around, we’re happy to help. We specialize in Agile Transformation. We can help your team successfully implement Agile, or get back on track with Agile with a little bit of coaching or training.

Posted in Blog and tagged , , .