Working with an Agile Product Roadmap

Posted on Monday 14th May 2012

Summary

This blog post discusses what an agile product roadmap is. It covers the information a agile roadmap should contain, the benefits it provides, when it makes sense to employ a roadmap, how the product roadmap and the product backlog relate, and who should own the product roadmap.

What is an Agile Product Roadmap?

A product roadmap is a high-level plan that describes how the product is likely to grow. It allows you to express where you want to take your product, and why it’s worthwhile investing in it. An agile product roadmap also facilitates learning and change. A great way to achieve these objectives is to employ a goal-oriented roadmap – a roadmap based on goals rather than dominated by many features.

Here is a sample agile product roadmap that shows the anticipated development of a dance game app for kids:

SampleGOProductRoadmap_DanceGame

The roadmap above states the date, the name, the goal, the key feature, and the metrics for each major release or product version. It is a goal-oriented product roadmap, and it applies the GO roadmap template, which is explained in more detail in my post “The GO Product Roadmap”.

The benefit of a goal-oriented roadmap is that it shifts the conversation from arguing over features to agreeing on shared goals. This mitigates the conflict between viewing roadmap features as commitments and agile teams who only commit for next few weeks.

What Benefits does a Product Roadmap Provide?

A product roadmap can provide the following five benefits: First, it helps you communicate how you see the product develop.

Second, it helps align the product and the company strategy. By anticipating how the product is likely to grow you can show how the product helps the organisation reach its goals. This makes it easier to secure a budget for the next fiscal year.

Third, a product roadmap helps manage the stakeholders and coordinate the development, marketing, and sales activities.

Fourth, a product roadmap facilitates effective portfolio management, as it helps synchronise the development efforts of different products.

Last but not least, using a roadmap supports and complements the Product Canvas and the product backlog. This allows the canvas and backlog to focus on the tactical product development aspects, as I explain in more detail below.

When should I Use a Product Roadmap?

I usually create a product roadmap once I can confidently look beyond the next major release. If you cannot look further, then do not employ a roadmap! What’s more, I want to ensure that the assumptions about the target group, the needs to be addressed, and key aspects of the business model have been validated, as the picture below illustrates:

VisionBoardGOProductRoadmap

In the picture above, the market and business model assumptions are captured on a Vision Board. But you can also use the Business Model Canvas or Lean Canvas to state and validate your ideas. While the Vision Board and the two canvases are helpful tools, they not tell us how the strategy will be executed. This is where the product roadmap comes in.

How do the Product Roadmap and the Product Canvas/Backlog Relate?

Using a product roadmap can benefit your Product Canvas and product backlog . Here is why: As the roadmap takes care of the strategic product planning aspects, it frees the canvas/backlog to focus on the tactical work, as the picture below illustrates.

RoadmapVsProductCanvas

Say you release a new product version every three months. I would then suggest that your product roadmap should capture the next four major releases, while your Product Canvas or product backlog focuses on creating the next product version.

The following table summaries the differences between the product roadmap and the product backlog:

Who Owns the Product Roadmap?

As the product roadmap captures decisions about the product’s futures, the individual responsible for the product success should own the roadmap. In an agile context, the product owner should hence manage the product roadmap. The team members and stakeholders contribute, as the following picture suggests.

ProductRoadmapOwnership

Having one person in charge of the product roadmap and the Product Canvas/backlog unites the strategic and the tactical product planning aspects, and establishes clear authority and responsibility.

Wrap-up

A product roadmap allows you to communicate where you want to take your product. If applied correctly, the product roadmap and the product backlog complement each other nicely. But before you create your roadmap, make sure that you are able to forecast how your product is likely to develop in the future.

Learn more about working with product roadmaps by attending my Agile Product Planning training course. You can also download my GO product roadmap template that allows you to create goal-oriented, agile roadmaps.

This post was last updated on 15 January 2014.