Tips and Tricks to Roadmap Creation from Product Insight Consulting
There is nothing better for a problem solver than to lay out a plan of attack, because accidentally solving a problem is… well… cheating.
The sense of accomplishment is in establishing a well thought out course of action, hitting roadblocks and swiftly navigating around them, and through perseverance and ingenuity ultimately succeeding. For this reason, for a Product Manager there is nothing more exciting than creating and delivering upon a successful roadmap.
After 25 years in Product Management, I have been able to learn, iterate, and develop a methodology for roadmap creation. This by no means is the only method, but this blog will share a framework and tools that Product Insight has used to help software companies and product managers develop strategic, value driven roadmaps.
Step 1: Ensure you know where your product falls in the ‘Growth Share Matrix’
Whether you have a single product or a portfolio of products, I recommend you start with an objective assessment of what stage your product is in its growth cycle. I love the Boston Consulting Group’s Growth Share Matrix. Created in 1970, this tool is still indispensable 50+ years later to enable a Product Manager to be objective about how to invest in their product.
The BCG matrix is a 2x2 grid comparing a product’s Growth stage to its Market Share. Originally the matrix was designed to help a company assess its Portfolio of products, so that companies can decide how to prioritize their different businesses by their degree of profitability. This still applies, but you can also adapt it to compare your individual product to competitors in your market.
At Product Insight we deal mostly with modern software companies, so we have modified the BCG Growth Matrix to utilize more applicable naming for SaaS-based technology products.
Star: These products/businesses are high growth offerings. They may still be cash flow neutral, but they are fueling expansion and differentiating one’s portfolio or brand.
Anchor: These products/businesses are traditionally described as ‘cash cows’. They are playing in a mature market where growth has slowed, but the products/businesses yield strong margins / cash for the portfolio.
Rising Star/Question Mark: These products/businesses are typically in transition and thus traditionally described as ‘question marks’. However, they may also simply be ‘rising stars’. Their earnings may be low, or they might be cash flow negative, but they either show promise of moving toward being a “Star” offering or transitioning to being a “Value Portfolio” product or business.
Value Portfolio: These products/businesses traditionally were considered “pet products / businesses” because while their earnings were low and cashflow negative, they did not show signs of growth potential and had not yet been divested. However, this overly negative view did not consider that some products/businesses provide value in rounding out a portfolio and addressing gaps. While they themselves do not generate growth, they facilitate growth in of other portfolio offerings.
Appreciating your place in the Growth Stage Matrix helps you to be objective, but it also helps you in determining your roadmap strategy which will become evident a little later (stay tuned).
Step 2: Complete a full Technical and Market S.W.O.T. on each product
Another oldie but goodie is another 2x2 matrix used to assess your products Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. The S.W.O.T. framework originated in 1965 with credit to both Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration and Stanford Research Institute (they can thumb wrestle to decide who should get the credit). Over time, many have aligned Strengths and Weaknesses as internal attributes and Opportunities and Threats as external attributes, but I do not like that approach. For example, I have observed a lot of internal threats such as poor staff retention.
Instead, my approach to performing an objective and thorough S.W.O.T. is to complete both a technical and market oriented S.W.O.T. Here is how it can work, gather internal technical resources (Developers, Architects, QA, Support, and Product Managers) in a room (virtual is fine) and have them place sticky-notes into each quadrant of the S.W.O.T. 2x2 matrix based on their technical view of the product. Separately, gather external facing resources (Sales, Marketing, Customer Success, Product Management) in a room and have them do the same exercise, but this time have them focus on the market’s perception of the product. Now as the PM, aggregate and correlate all the perspectives into core themes for your overall S.W.O.T. and share it back to both groups together to refine.
Like the growth matrix, the S.W.O.T. brings an objective view to your offering and when combined with the BCG growth matrix results, can really bolster your roadmap strategy.
Step 3: Identify ‘strategic guidelines’ for your Products based on the Growth Stage and S.W.O.T. analysis
At this point you are probably wondering if there is anything truly original in this blog. I believe Step 3 hits the mark, but you can be the judge. By combining where your product fits in the Growth Stage and examining the themes of your S.W.O.T., we have developed the following Product Insight Roadmap Framework providing you with guidance into what you should invest in for your roadmap.
Step 4: Prioritize
Much like I will not talk about religion or politics at any dinner party, I will not recommend any one prioritization approach… It is a personal choice as far as I am concerned. There are great techniques you can explore like RICE (Reach, Impact, Confidence, Effort), Value vs. Effort, Kano Model, MoSCoW Method, Opportunity Scoring, and others all found in this great article “9 product prioritization frameworks for product managers”.
But whatever framework you use, one of the most common issues I see within companies is the failure to establish consistent criteria to assess each roadmap item. If your prioritization criteria changes for each roadmap item, how will you ever know what will provide more value?
In many SaaS-based companies I do work for, we develop some variation of the following criteria to assess each potential roadmap item:
Common Criteria Categories for Feature Prioritization:
New Sales Growth
Differentiation / Game Changer
Long Game Strategy
% Of Customers Who Benefit
But remember, not all criteria should be weighted equally. We can borrow from the Product Insight Roadmap Framework for how to apply weighting.
Star Products: Weight ‘New Sales Growth”, “Differentiators / Game Changer”, and “Competitive Equalizer” high in comparison to other category weights
Rising Star / Question Mark Products: Weight “New Sales Growth” and “Differentiators / Game Changer” high in comparison to other category weights
Anchor Products: Weight “Add-On Growth”, “% Customers Who Benefit”, and “Competitive Equalizers” high in comparison to other category weights
Value-Creation Products: Weight “% Customers Who Benefit” as high in comparison to other category weights
Another common issue with Prioritization of features is eliminating noise (too many features to prioritize). For this, I offer another 2x2 grid (surprise):
Consider each candidate feature and place in appropriate quadrant
Quadrant 1: Ignore any of these features, they provide low value
Quadrant 2: Requires business case to justify, should create differentiation or be a strategic goal. Make sure these features enable you to achieve your business goals, otherwise do not waste your energy
Quadrant 3: Ignore any of these features, they provide low value
Quadrant 4: Prioritize these features to the front of the line as they have high value and low cost / risk to develop
Step 5: Socialize, Validate, Iterate
Once you have your roadmap, take it out for a spin. I typically start with a sneak peek to a few friendly customers to get a dose of reality (perspective) and then review with internal stakeholders (e.g., sales, dev, execs) to get buy-in. Inevitably you might have to do some small tweaks to gain alignment. Once tweaked, then take a broader group of customers (perhaps a Customer Advisory Board) and some trusted market analysts. Gather feedback and if warranted, iterate. Once you have the roadmap tuned up and ready to run, then take it on an internal and external tour. The internal tour is critical to have ensure everyone is heading in the same direction and the external tour is key to gain new customers and retain existing customers.
Make no mistake, creating a roadmap is difficult. Whatever your approach, I highly recommend you:
Take a step back and first objectively assess your product
Use your objective observations to determine areas for investment
Establish consistent prioritization criteria that aligns to your product goals
Hopefully the tools and approaches I have shared are helpful. And remember, we are always here to help at Product Insight.