A strategic product roadmap is a high-level document that explains the vision behind your product and helps guide the direction you take throughout the entire project. It explains what you’re creating, why you’re creating it, and how it will benefit the end-user. It’s different from your development backlog, which is focused on how you create the product.
Product roadmaps offer valuable insight and direction that you won’t get from tools like your development backlog. If you want to stay focused on building a user-centric product that solves the right problems, creating a strategic roadmap is key.
Why Create a Strategic Product Roadmap?
Lack of focus is ranked as one of the top reasons that startups fail, alongside a failure to listen to customers. Creating a strategic product roadmap helps prevent both of these potentially catastrophic issues.
Stay Focused on the End User
Your roadmap is all about the problems that your end user faces and how you plan to solve them. Keeping the customer in mind when you create your roadmap ensures that you’re not creating features for the sake of it or losing sight of your actual users.
In creating a roadmap that’s focused on the user, you might find that you don’t develop as many features, but you make the few features you focus on much better. This is more likely to lead to success than a ‘shallow’ product with tons of features that don’t work well.
Adapt to Changes in the Market
Your roadmap doesn’t have to be a static document. In fact, it’s a great tool for adapting to changes in the market as you’re developing your product. It’s a given that things will change while you’re still in the development process and having a roadmap helps you to identify features that need to be changed. If you don’t have a roadmap to refer to, it’s too easy to power forward on something that no longer adds value.
Solve the Right Problems
Your product can only solve a finite number of problems, so it’s important to hone in on what’s most important. Carrying out customer research as you create your roadmap will help you to get a really clear idea of what will add value for your users and what won’t. Using Design Thinking when you create your roadmap is a simple way to get a deep understanding of your market and user base.
How to use Design Thinking to Create Your Roadmap
Simply put, Design Thinking is the process of understanding your users’ problems, then using this information to identify the right solutions. It’s typically broken into the following five steps:
Design Thinking works well when adapted slightly and applied to your strategic product roadmap. It helps keep the focus external and solution-oriented, which prevents wasted time further down the road.
1. Identify Problems
Your first step should always involve talking to users to find out what their pain points are. Even if you think you have a pretty good idea of what needs to be done, don’t skip this step–you might discover issues that you’d completely missed.
2. Define and Prioritize Problems
Once you have an idea of the problems you’re looking to solve, you need to clearly define them and start to prioritize. Don’t be tempted to say that everything’s of equal importance–having priorities will be essential when your resources are stretched later on.
When looking at potential features, consider how well they fit the market, how feasible they are, how much time and money they’ll take to develop, and how many users they’re likely to benefit. Figuring out which problems are high-risk/low-risk helps you to prioritize effectively.
3. Determine Solutions
Once you’re clear on the problems you want your product to solve, it’s time to start determining solutions. Ideally, this step should be completed just before development starts, or you might find that the market has shifted and your solutions no longer work. The whole team should be involved at this stage–make sure you keep an open-mind and consider all the options when it comes to developing features.
4. Create Prototypes
With your proposed solutions laid out, you’re ready to create prototypes. These can then be tested by users and adapted according to feedback. This is an essential step that helps keep things customer-focused. Don’t be afraid to scrap ideas and go back to the drawing board if they don’t work well during testing–that’s the whole point of the prototype phase.
5. Build Your Roadmap
Once you’ve identified your problems, put them in order of priority, created prototypes and ascertained risk, you’re ready to build your roadmap. You should categorize problems according to risk level and value to customers. High-risk problems are those that will be most expensive to solve. High-value problems are those that will benefit customers the most, based on your testing and feedback.
You should move forward using these guidelines:
High value/low risk: Add to your roadmap and make solving these problems a priority.
High value/high risk: Consider adding these problems but stay aware of the risk level.
Low value/low risk: Keep these in mind, but don’t add them to your roadmap.
Low value/high risk: Scrap these ideas and don’t let them distract you.
Your completed roadmap should be a high-level document that defines your core features and sets a baseline for their completion. If new issues or questions arise during development, keep the focus external by carrying out additional customer feedback. With this important work done, you can move into the development stage knowing that your team are making the best use of their time.