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From Product Strategy to Roadmaps and Release Plans

In the Planning Stage, look for the ITX innovation lead to guide the product team from Vision to Strategy to Roadmap & Release Plans. In our recent post, we explained that Vision represents a desired future state; Strategy explains how you’ll get there, and the Roadmap lists the mile markers along the journey. In this post, we examine the innovation lead’s role in navigating that path.

Building software isn’t about the features you add – the bells and whistles. It’s about helping your end users be more successful. Any notion that a product with more features is by definition better than a product with fewer features is a misguided one.

Innovation leads help their clients and teams discover the difference between adding features for features’ sake and adding features that solve problems for users and create business value for clients.

Our journey starts with Vision, which directs everyone’s effort and investment toward making users more successful. In addition to vision statement – a declaration of objective – innovation leads help teams strategically derive two additional artifacts: the product strategy and the product roadmap.

Product Strategy

Product strategy wears many hats. It represents the team’s approach to achieving your objective. It serves as a vehicle that communicates that approach to your team, your client, and your own internal management. And it’s a guide for transforming vision into reality.

In his post, My Product Strategy Model, product management expert and friend of ITX Roman Pichler writes that coming up with product strategy requires us to make 4 important choices (paraphrased here):

  1. Selecting the precise user/client needs the product should address. We learned in blog one of this series that much of this knowledge is gained through Discovery activities in the Foundation stage (and later applied in discerning our product vision).
  2. Determining the market or market segment. This represents the scope of individuals we believe will benefit most from using the product. Product Momentum podcast guest Neha Bansal recommends starting with an atomic network.
  3. Choosing standout features that set the product apart from competitors’ offerings. More on this, below.
  4. Setting realistic performance and business goals. Innovation leads help their teams establish product (pKPIs)and business (bKPIs) key performance indicatorsto evaluate the engagement’s overall success.

Making these choices is no small task. Saying “yes” to some and “no” to most is hard work and requires discipline – along with a healthy dose of diplomacy – especially when choosing between options that add value and stakeholders that have influence.

All the more reason to secure alignment and commitment early on.

Product Roadmap

Not long ago, travelers used to unfold poster-sized maps across the car’s dashboard to envision the route to their destination. These days, GPS plays that role. But then as now, we were able to visualize the exact route we wanted to take.

Coupled with “turn-by-turn” instructions, the product roadmap helps us capture the activities to be completed, in the precise order and within a given timeline, to achieve our goal.

Now, anyone who’s heard “re-calculating” from their car’s GPS knows that there’s more than one path to every destination. Unlike vision, a roadmap is not static. Adjustments can be made; pivots executed; resources increased or reduced based on market conditions and user needs.

Innovation leads use the roadmap as “a plan to diverge from,” constantly monitoring progress against goals to frame conversations, prioritize decisions, allocate resources, and evaluate dependencies.

The Key to Effective Roadmaps: Outcomes > Outputs

In his blog, A Guide to Roadmaps and Release Plans for Software Product Teams, ITX product strategist Zack Kane shared the following:

“The product roadmap is intended to be dynamic and flexible. It’s designed to flex and adapt to changing circumstances. So it should change and evolve, and you should be revisiting it regularly and refining it as needed.”

Roadmap checkpoints, he adds, should be framed through the outcome-based lens of “what problems are we solving?” instead of the outputs-based perspective that leans toward “what features can we build?”

We get to innovation not by generating additional features, necessarily, but by investing the time needed to study problems. When you do that, your roadmap assumes exponentially greater value.

Jared Spool
Maker of Awesomeness at Center Centre – UIE

Roadmaps & Release Plans

For the same reason we should not confuse vision and strategy, we need to remember that your roadmap is not – and shall never be – your release plan.

Your roadmap answers the why? and the what?.  Why have we chosen to solve those specific problems? What problems are we solving for our customers?

Your release plan is not – and shall never be – your roadmap. The product’s release plan is derived from your roadmap; it answers the when? and the how?. When can we forecast the solution to be delivered? How are we going to deliver?”

The release plan supports your roadmap as a tactical artifact, Zack continues, that forecasts when specific milestones will be met and, in most cases, when new features or feature-updates will be delivered to end users. It also contains more granular details about what you’re delivering, including schedule dependencies, budget information, dates, and release versions.

As the team rolls into the Development Stage, they are supported by the creation and maintenance of requirements documentation to guide their progress, including:

  • Theme/Epic/User Story Mapping + Scope Refinement 
  • Feature and Roadmap Prioritization + Release Planning 
  • Dependency Mapping & Risk Analysis 
  • Establishing + Maintaining a Healthy Backlog 

The transformation of product vision to product strategy and product roadmaps requires a mix of strategic thinking, market research, technical savvy, and communication skills. The innovation lead brings this unique blend of skills to the process.

In our next post, we’ll look at how the innovation lead works with the client team to find just the right balance and blend of collaboration to optimally steward the client’s investment.

Jesse James Garrett, Rich Mironov, and Radhika Dutt are set to headline ITX’s Product + Design Conference 2023.
June 22-23, in Rochester, NY. Early-bird tickets available until April 21. Learn More.

Peter Sullivan's portrait Picture

Peter Sullivan is Producer of ITX’s Product Momentum podcast and a student of Product and Design processes that work. As ITX’s Marketing Content Lead, he spearheads our efforts to deliver thought leadership that helps Product makers and UX designers understand and shape the future. 

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