The Fundamentals of Roadmapping

High-level Roadmap Framework © Julia Austin 2020
Strategic Roadmap Example © Julia Austin 2020
  • rates and reflects on last quarter’s results;
  • reviews upcoming quarterly goals;
  • adjusts assumptions and factors in any new information (market shifts, product/revenue changes, etc.) for the next 6th quarter;
  • communicates the updated company plan across the organization; and
  • has each team create a tactical roadmap that lines up with the quarterly goals.
Example One
Example Two
  • If your company is very early stage, expect to pivot the vision and the roadmap a lot as you learn and grow. Create guiding principles for when and how you would adjust a True North and/or Vision Statement. What factors must be true? What assumptions are you making about the market and/or target persona that may prove wrong or different than what was expected? Will you lean into these new findings and shift the direction of the business or keep testing those assumptions in different ways to learn more? Even the earliest staged companies should have a true north as they get started.
  • Avoid peanut buttering! One of my favorite terms, this suggests spreading many things across a broad surface vs. being focused on a few key initiatives. It is scary — especially for early stage companies — to commit to only 1–2 things when it’s so unclear whether either/both will be a success and there are so many other things to try. However, by spreading limited resources across too many things, it’s more likely nothing of substance will get done, or things will move too slowly OR each thing will be done with poor quality while possibly burning out your team. Pick those 1–2 focus areas and set time-boxed milestones that will drive next steps or a change in direction. For example, “we must reach 20–30% conversion rate with the current MVP over the next two quarters or shift to the other product idea.” Commit to these milestones and agree how close you’d need to be to reaching that goal to keep moving forward vs. cutting bait and moving on.
  • Appoint a roadmap owner who can oversee the process across the organization. This is typically a senior product manager/head of product or Chief of Staff who is empowered to drive decisions and prioritize based on the 12–18 month vision. This role may be supported by a program/project manager who maintains the details in whichever tool or platform you use (e.g., updates the spreadsheet, inputs changes into Trello, etc.)
  • Be mindful of how much time your team is spending on roadmapping and the measurement process. If it’s taking more than a few hours per quarter to discuss, update and communicate the roadmap and OKRs, it’s costing your company far too much time and money. This process supports productivity, it doesn’t become the work itself! If it’s taking up too much time, it’s likely the goals and measures are far too detailed and/or there are too many people involved in the process.
  • Establish Rules of Engagement (ROE) for times when an opportunity or challenge may disrupt the roadmap. For example, what size/nature of a new customer opportunity would disrupt the roadmap? Can it only be for initiatives that were already on the roadmap, but further out? Will the sales team have points they can “spend” per quarter to reprioritize something? What about a major bug/performance issue? How bad would they have to be to disrupt the current plan? Once the ROE are set, these too should be managed by the roadmap owner. If the ROE are not adhered to, they’re useless, so only have a few and keep them simple. E.g., unless a new customer could grow revenue by x% and what they need is already on the roadmap, we won’t do it. OR if a bug is creating more than x% churn or denying service to a critical mass of customers, it’ll be fixed in accordance with the roadmap.
  • Prioritize the backlog and tech debt as part of the process. These are just as important as new features and the longer they are put off, the harder they will be to schedule and get done. Set aside anywhere from 3–10% of resource allocation dedicated to these efforts. It largely depends on how severe issues are, whether upcoming roadmap initiatives have dependencies on these issues and/or how long they have been festering. It can be useful to “age up” backlog/debt items to raise their priority.
  • If a new request or critical issue bumps something else, always communicate the tradeoff(s) made and the positive or negative impact they will have on OKRs/KPIs.
  • Developers hate roadmap thrash! So try not to disrupt it too often.
  • Remember, for projects already underway, a reprioritization is not a 1:1 swap — there will be a J-curve in productivity each time a team has to stop something, start something new, and return to the old project later.

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Senior Lecturer @HBS, Executive Coach, Founder GoodForHer.co, Advisor & Angel Investor. Former CTO @digitalocean, VPE @vmware & @akamai. Mom, Artist & Yogi.

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Julia Austin

Julia Austin

Senior Lecturer @HBS, Executive Coach, Founder GoodForHer.co, Advisor & Angel Investor. Former CTO @digitalocean, VPE @vmware & @akamai. Mom, Artist & Yogi.

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