The “Why” behind your product roadmap

By Don StoddardIn the very best companies, roadmaps support key objectives with very specific measures impacting the business. These key objectives capture details like who is responsible, how it will be measured, and specifically when it will get done. Roadmaps are great at showing a direction, but they often don’t tell the story of “why.” Great companies have systems and processes and a way to talk about the “why” behind what they are doing. For companies to get to the “why,” they need to be clear on these strategic questions.

Where are we now

The vast majority of product roadmaps move the product in a positive direction, but desired results are only achieved if there is clarity around where it is taking you, and why. Well-run companies are honest about the reality of their current products. Companies that can be clear about where they want to go and know how to talk about it in a meaningful way have a strategic advantage over competitors. Their teams are aligned on a strategy that is supported by specific objectives and resources. They start with a strategy and the results they want to achieve. They have clarity on the “why” before talking about “how.”

Planning

And while strategy and Roadmaps set the direction, they are not enough to deliver results. The best companies are also insanely great at execution. For example, Google instituted a process called Objectives and Key Results (OKR) early on.  OKR’s are a robust version of business and individual objectives that have clear accountability and links to results. OKR’s are way to translate strategy into action by having teams think in context of results they want to achieve prior to developing a roadmap.

This sets up the product roadmap so that it can be used as a tool to help drive results and link back to the business objectives and strategic direction. For companies with no clear strategy or objectives, the net result is teams setting their own strategy and objectives, which can distract companies from achieving the results they want.

Product Management teams need to pivot from asking “What do we want to build?” to high gain questions like:

  • What features do we need to support the strategy?
  • What results will this drive?
  • What objectives are we trying to meet?

Gears

Using this process, the Roadmap is more tightly driven by the corporate objectives and strategy. There is an emerging set of tools to do this and make the linkage between the roadmap, objectives, and strategy more visible to employees. Aha! has a strategy tool that allows users to clearly define the vision; the “why” to your product roadmap. You can learn more here: www.aha.io/product/features/strategy. You can also link the product roadmap to your objectives. Learn more here: blog.aha.io/business-strategy-link-roadmap

Product managers are uniquely placed to tie these pieces together, and best practices follow a process that results in strategic linkage between strategy, objectives, and roadmap. This brings clarity to what product managers deliver and how they communicate with external stakeholders and customers. The result is:

  • A detailed strategy independent of the budget and product roadmap
  • Clear business objectives with accountable owners and specific dates (OKR’s)
  • A product roadmap that links back to the strategy and objectives
  • Roadmap deliverables and objectives with key measures defined

The deeper companies can align strategy and business objectives with the product roadmap, the more clarity teams will have on the “why” setting up companies to achieve desired results.

Resources

  • Business Strategy vs. Product Strategy, Matt Cagan, April 10, 2009
  • The Fundamentals – Objectives & Key Results, NikeT , Nov 27, 2014
  • The Ten-Step, One-Day Strategic Plan, Erica Olsen, August 10, 2016
  • Make your strategy more Agile, Tim Leberecht, October 31, 2016
  • A Guide to Writing Strategic Objectives, Tom Wright, February 21, 2015
  • 10 Reasons Why Strategic Plans Fail, Aileron, November 30, 2011
  • The Basics of OKR, Henrik-Jan Van der Pol, June 12, 2014
  • What is Good Product Strategy? Melissa Perri, July 2016
  • Why Good Strategies Fail? Economist Intelligence Unit, 2013

About Don

Don Stoddard PictureDon Stoddard has held senior positions is Product Management and Product Marketing over the last 20 years. He has worked for both small and large companies in the B2B software industry.   You can connect with Don on LinkedIN www.linkedin.com/in/donstoddard

 

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