When working on a product team, there is a lot that can get lost in the shuffle. Being busy with projects is great, but how do you ensure your process isn’t failing? Does a process even exist? Are you leading a team and need to bring some focus and order, but aren’t sure how?
Well, you’ve come to the right place. Even prides itself on a rigorous and collaborative approach to product development.
I’ve been leading product teams for roughly a decade and have learned that the most important thing a leader can do is create a process for generating, prioritizing, and maintaining a product development roadmap. A disorganized approach to product development can have far-reaching negative impacts on your organization. However, by following a set of key steps, you’ll be able to fix your roadmap development and prioritization, with wide-spreading impact on company objectives.
The hardest part of this process is getting started. As the project leader, you need to understand your company and how to work with internal and external stakeholders in order to get them bought into the product development process. Typically, once you’ve conveyed that you want them to influence the roadmap, they’ll get very excited. And sometimes, you’ll just need to show them how impactful the process will be.
With that, here are 7 steps that can help any team create and define the ideal product roadmap.
You’d be surprised how many product teams attempt to function without a working roadmap backlog. In most cases, they end up building the initiative that addresses the item seemingly most on fire. The initiative is likely prioritized by the squeakiest wheel in the company (usually the CEO or Head of Sales) and ignores the needs of other parts of the organization ― and probably the clients as well. So the first step in making sure you’re building the right roadmap is to get all of your ideas in one spot, via a backlog or any other type of task manager. At Even, we use Airtable to log our roadmap and I love the flexibility and filtering features it provides.
This is where the important stuff starts happening. Asking your stakeholders (clients included!) about their product development priorities is foundational to the roadmap. This ensures that you’re able to understand the priorities of all parties involved and how their needs overlap. Most importantly, by engaging these stakeholders in the process early and often, it reinforces that their insights and perspectives matter.
How you achieve this is dependent on your company's needs; however, I always try to include as many people as possible. Even if some individuals aren’t contributing much, they’re still going to gain valuable insights about our product development process. At Even, we have multi-departmental project teams who meet on a weekly basis. The teams are structured around their own product, clients, resources, and roadmap. This creates cross-team cohesion that ensures all stakeholders and representatives have their voices heard.
Understanding how much time and effort a project is going to take is essential. The value of an idea must be weighed against the cost of completing the work. More often than not, you’ll get more value out of completing a few small-to-medium sized tasks versus one large project. This must be considered and understood by stakeholders as well. If a single idea is going to take two quarters (6 whole months!) to complete, and in that same time you can get 35 other ideas released, you need to seriously consider the tradeoff compared to the value of those projects.
At Even, t-shirt sizing our work really runs the gamut ― we use sizes from XS (extra-small) to XXL, as we found it accommodates our broad needs. XXL-size projects don’t receive any value in our prioritization scoring (we’ll talk about that next), whereas XS-size projects are worth quite a few points. So for something that is XXL, like our new partner portal called Control Center, it needs to be mission critical to get prioritized. If a project is going to require a large number of resources for a long period of time, it needs to be worth the effort to build.
There are a wide range of methods for creating a prioritization scoring system (e.g., RICE Scoring, MoSCoW Scoring, Kano Model, etc.). When choosing, you should pick the scoring system that best prioritizes the aspects of the work that are most important to your business. A great way to figure out how to score priorities is by looking at company OKRs, strategies, and other metrics.
No matter what model you choose, make sure you evaluate how each idea will advance your company's initiatives. If you’re ignoring company goals in your prioritization, it’s likely you won’t be able to hit those goals. You’ll also need to explain to your stakeholders what your prioritization system takes into account and how the scoring works. Oftentimes, their feedback will make your scoring stronger.
Here’s a simple scoring example. I’ve set up four attributes below. Each idea in your roadmap will receive a score for each attribute. In this case we’ll use a 1-4 scale. (1 for low, 2 for medium, 3 for high, 4 for XL. Just remember to reverse the scoring for “Level of Effort.” You’ll want to attribute the highest score for the lowest level of effort.)
Simply go through each item in your roadmap and assign a score for each attribute and then add the scores together. After that, rank the items by highest to lowest.
Now look at your priority list. Does this order feel right to you and your stakeholders? If not, maybe you need to add new attributes or weigh your scores by making some values worth more or less. The goal should be to have the scores reflect the importance of each item in the roadmap to your organization.
No matter who was involved in the scoring process, it’s important to review the prioritization of ideas with all interested stakeholders. This sounds obvious, but it’s critically important and too often forgotten or not done in a continuous manner. Some people will be frustrated that their ideas aren’t prioritized highly enough. In this case, they’ll need to provide evidence that the priority should be increased or accept that the idea might not be the most important item for the company at that moment. Having these discussions in an open forum is where the magic really happens, as the team ideally coalesces around the roadmap.
Make sure you post the finalized prioritization list somewhere where everyone can track progress. In short, publish your roadmap. Also, remember that you’ll need to reference this roadmap frequently. If you roll it out just once per quarter people will forget what was agreed on and backslide. The list is your north star. Use it frequently to guide you or you’ll end up going the wrong way.
Here at Even, we reference our roadmaps incessantly. We have weekly meetings with our leadership teams to review them, we send out internal newsletters with updates and changes, and we review and maintain them in our weekly project team meetings.
Even if you follow all of the above, something will come up that wasn’t accounted for — it always happens. It might be a critical issue that needs to be resolved immediately or an opportunity that is too good to put on hold. Within the framework you already created, you can score this item and look to see where it fits in priority-wise. If you need to immediately start work on the item because it’s that important, you can now show your stakeholders how it impacts your roadmap. As a result, other items might move down in priority and timelines will need to be adjusted. It may upend things a bit, but at least you were prepared for it and managed the stakeholders’ expectations accordingly.
If you follow the steps above, all told, you’ll have set the foundation for a well-functioning product organization. It will take the cooperation of others to stay on track and follow the foundation established, but you will always have these steps to fall back on for future roadmaps. It may take a while, but as long as everyone buys in, your product team will function more efficiently and cohesively, for years to come.
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