A Product Manager’s Guide to Strategic Roadmapping

Use strategic roadmapping to communicate the direction and goals of your product, and project planning to achieve them successfully!

Mark Probert

Chief Strategy Officer (CSO)
·5 min read (1390 words)

How do you effectively manage digital products to get teams and stakeholders aligned? It's no secret that strategic roadmapping tools are used by almost every company out there. But the question is, are they really making the most of them? Well, in my experience, not always!

Roadmaps are like your trusty guides that help you communicate where you're headed and what your goals are for your projects, products, and portfolios. They play a critical role in driving innovation and getting your organisation closer to its objectives.

Now, let's dive into some key components of strategic roadmapping that can make a real difference for companies, reducing risks and empowering better decision-making when it comes to managing complex digital products.

Strategic roadmaps are living documents

It's imperative that you don't create a roadmap and then let it gather dust without regularly updating it or using it effectively to track progress towards a strategic goal. A strategic roadmap should be treated as a living document, constantly evolving and reflecting new information, progress, challenges, and exciting new initiatives that come up. By updating your roadmap regularly, you'll uncover hidden interdependencies and keep the existing ones in focus.

This becomes even more crucial when your roadmap extends beyond individual teams or departments. It helps you see how decisions made in one area can have a significant impact on initiatives in another. So, make sure to set clear expectations for updating your roadmap and keep stakeholders informed about their role in making it a dynamic and relevant document.

Collaboration is key when strategic roadmapping

To make your roadmap truly insightful, you need to involve the right people and encourage collaboration. The more diverse perspectives and information you gather, the richer your insights will be. Think about including business leaders who understand your corporate strategy, marketing professionals, product experts, technologists, researchers, and funding executives. This list can vary depending on your unique business, so feel free to adapt it accordingly.

It's a good exercise to consider who should be involved from start to finish and seek advice from outside your organisation too. Don't forget to ask for feedback from future users and customers too!

Keep your roadmaps intuitive and user-friendly

We're not all engineers, just like we're not all experts in reading a detailed roadmap. So, the idea is to make your roadmaps user-friendly and intuitive. It should be a breeze for users to add information and extract the important insights they need with just a few clicks. No need to overwhelm them with unnecessary details.

By keeping it simple, you'll spot errors more easily and find dependencies without getting lost in the nitty-gritty. Sharing information across your company should also be a piece of cake, especially when time is of the essence.

Customisation is the name of the game

Roadmaps should be flexible and adaptable to different situations. Users should be able to tailor them to their specific needs and scenarios. Whether you need a focused view on product planning or a bird's-eye view of your entire portfolio, the roadmap should be customisable to provide the right information at the right time.

Strategic roadmapping requires realistic expectations

A roadmap isn't a crystal ball, but it should empower organisations to make informed decisions based on all the available information. Whether you're planning for a potential downturn or navigating external impacts, a good roadmap will articulate the next steps clearly. It helps identify the must-dos and nice-to-dos (some people use approaches such as MoSCoW - but that's an article for another day!) as this helps identify priorities; effort vs reward. Ultimately, a well-crafted roadmap should reduce risks, guide decision-making, and keep your organisation on track.

Product Managers and UX

When it comes to roadmapping, the perspectives of product managers and user experience experts are invaluable.

Product managers play a crucial role in ensuring that the roadmap aligns with the overall product strategy. Their deep understanding of customer needs, market trends, and competitive landscape helps shape the roadmap to deliver the best possible user experience.

User experience (UX) experts bring a human-centered approach to roadmapping. They advocate for the needs and desires of users, ensuring that the roadmap incorporates user research, usability testing, and iterative design principles. By involving UX professionals in the roadmap process, you can create a roadmap that not only meets business objectives but also delights your users.

Together, product managers and UX experts contribute to creating a roadmap that considers the entire product lifecycle, from ideation to launch and beyond. Their collaboration ensures that the roadmap addresses user pain points, incorporates innovative features, and provides a delightful experience.

And finally, don't forget to include your development team, as they are your go to people to ensure you understand the high value, low impact features. Get your development team to assess your feature list, estimate time and also help you to understand risk better.

Use innovation roadmapping in your next project

Embedding roadmaps into your digital projects can be done in several ways, depending on the specific tools and platforms you're using. Here are a few common methods:

Project Management Software: Many project management tools offer built-in roadmap features or integrations with dedicated roadmap software. You can create and manage your roadmap directly within the project management platform, ensuring that it's easily accessible to everyone involved. This allows you to align the roadmap with project tasks, milestones, and dependencies, providing a holistic view of your project's progress.

Collaborative Documents: Tools like Google Docs, Microsoft SharePoint, or online whiteboarding platforms provide a collaborative environment where you can create and share your roadmap. These platforms allow multiple team members to contribute, edit, and provide feedback in real-time. This approach is particularly useful for smaller teams or projects that require frequent collaboration and iteration.

Visual Presentations: Using presentation tools like Microsoft PowerPoint, Google Slides, or Prezi, you can create visually appealing roadmaps that effectively communicate your project's direction. These tools provide templates, graphics, and formatting options to design an engaging roadmap. You can embed your roadmap slides within project documentation, presentations, or internal communication channels.

Roadmap Software: Dedicated roadmap software offers comprehensive features specifically designed for creating and managing roadmaps. These tools often provide customisation options, timeline views, and integration capabilities. With roadmap software, you can embed your roadmap directly into project management platforms or other digital systems using APIs or embedding codes. Tools such as Jira, Basecamp and Asana are just a few of the tools you might want to check out.

Project Portals or Intranets: If your organisation has a project portal or intranet, you can leverage these platforms to embed your roadmap. This central hub becomes the go-to place for project-related information, allowing stakeholders to access the roadmap along with other project documentation, updates, and resources. We find Basecamp a great tool for centralising communication. And we use Forecast for Project Management. But you might prefer other solutions, there are lots to choose from!

Remember, the key is to choose a method that aligns with your team's workflow and preferences, ensuring easy access and visibility for all stakeholders involved in your digital projects.

What are the benefits?

Embedding roadmaps into digital projects offers several benefits to companies:

Alignment and Clarity: Roadmaps provide a visual representation of project goals, timelines, and dependencies, ensuring alignment and clarity among team members and stakeholders.

Improved Decision-Making: Having a clear roadmap helps in making informed decisions regarding resource allocation, prioritisation, and trade-offs, leading to more efficient project management.

Stakeholder Communication: Roadmaps serve as a communication tool, enabling effective collaboration and transparency with stakeholders, fostering trust and keeping everyone informed about project progress.

Risk Mitigation: By identifying interdependencies and potential risks early on, roadmaps help companies proactively address challenges, minimise disruptions, and mitigate project risks.

Strategic Planning: Roadmaps facilitate strategic planning by aligning projects with business objectives, enabling companies to prioritise initiatives that drive innovation and contribute to long-term success.

Resource Optimisation: With a clear roadmap, companies can allocate resources effectively, avoiding bottlenecks, optimising productivity, and ensuring efficient utilisation of time, budget, and talent.

Adaptability to Change: Roadmaps can be adjusted and updated to accommodate changes in project scope, market conditions, or business priorities, enabling companies to stay agile and responsive to evolving needs.

Overall, embedding strategic roadmaps into digital projects empowers companies to effectively plan, execute, and communicate their project strategies, resulting in improved project outcomes, stakeholder satisfaction, and organisational success.

I'm Mark Probert

Chief Strategy Officer (CSO) at Newicon

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