30 Jun 2021
Nima Tabatabai

The product roadmap: how it works and why it matters

Over the last few months at Modo, we have doubled down on our efforts to be a product-led organisation. I joined as Chief Product Officer (CPO), and we fully adopted a product-led growth model. Another crucial part of that drive has been the development and maintenance of a robust ‘product roadmap’ - a term you have no doubt heard, but may not be entirely familiar with. Let’s demystify.

Why a roadmap?

We all know that it’s important for teams to be pulling in the same direction, towards a common set of goals, in order to succeed. The product roadmap is the defining document for product-led companies that we all contribute to, agree on, and build from. Creating and maintaining a clear roadmap requires alignment across teams and individuals, making sure we are all in agreement on:

  • What outcomes do we want to achieve?
  • What are we going to do now/soon/later to achieve our goals?
  • How should we prioritise our time/resources?
  • How do the different initiatives fit together into a deliverable plan?

What is a product roadmap?

Product is at the heart of everything we do at Modo.

Product sits at the confluence of engineering, design, marketing, strategy and operations. The product roadmap is the key output of the product function. With product sitting at the heart of the business, the roadmap represents the inputs of many teams and stakeholders.

A product roadmap is a loose plan that includes:

  1. A timeline: Months, quarters, now/next/later, sprints.
  2. Objectives: What are we trying to achieve?
  3. Initiatives or features: What are we going to build to achieve our objectives?

There is no prescriptive approach to a roadmap. It can be as detailed or as high level as required for your particular business. The biggest value to a roadmap is that it initiates communication, prioritisation and alignment within the company.

A roadmap gets you (and keeps you) talking

Building a roadmap will require your team to:

  • Identify and gather diverse stakeholders across the business.
  • Agree on strategy and objectives.
  • Prioritise initiatives.
  • Discuss timescales, resources and potential constraints on delivery.

A roadmap forces greater alignment across your company. Standing up a roadmap from scratch is a great way to kickstart cross-team communication, but it shouldn’t end there. Roadmaps are living documents, and you will build processes to maintain and update the roadmap, ensuring that the newfound alignment is maintained for the long term.

How we use our product roadmap at Modo

With so many variations and flavours of roadmaps, it can be hard to understand how to put the theory into practice. This is how we implemented roadmaps at Modo:

  • Weekly, all-hands roadmap review meetings where we ensure cross-business alignment on objectives and initiatives. If our teams are not aligned, it becomes apparent immediately, and we can work to rectify this straight away.
  • Using specialised product roadmap software (our preferred tool is ProductBoard) where we can capture user feedback, objectives, priorities and features, all in one place. Whilst this may encourage a dependency on a specific tool, it saves us from trying to reinvent the wheel, or relying on cumbersome manual spreadsheets and visualisations.
  • Ensuring transparency, by giving all team members access to the roadmap. Everyone can see what is on the roadmap, contribute new ideas, and influence prioritisation. (Note: it is equally important to ensure everyone knows what is NOT on the roadmap.) We also share a scaled-back, public version of our roadmap, allowing customers to give us feedback on our priorities.
  • Diligently ensuring that we only work on our roadmap objectives, with no hidden priorities or pet projects allowed. There is no point in having a roadmap if you don’t stick to it! That being said, our roadmap frequently changes, according to changing priorities, new data/information, or dynamic market conditions. We aren’t precious about “sticking to the plan”. Instead, we try to maximise the value of our output.

Dive deeper

I haven’t invented any of the practices in this post myself. Product Management is a rapidly evolving discipline with a strong community spirit of knowledge-sharing. Here are some of the best articles that we’ve used to help build our roadmap (and the culture around it) at Modo:

You can’t build awesome products without communication, transparency and accountability. Roadmaps ensure these things happen and provide you with a common vision for where you are heading. Rally round the roadmap!

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