At ePages we regularly do plannings for our product roadmap, where we define the roadmap for an iteration of three months. This has proven to be a good time frame, as it gives our customer facing departments (e.g. sales and marketing) enough information about what they can communicate to our customers, while at the same time, it gives product management enough flexibility to align the roadmap with our changing business needs.
I often hear people questioning, if roadmap planning aligns with an agile mindset, because “planning is so waterfall” and even the agile manifesto says “responding to change over following a plan”. And while I am a strong believer that too much planning is often not beneficial for the outcome of a project and can be a waste of time, I also believe that every project requires some planning to keep delivery dates and such in mind. That’s why the agile manifesto also states ‘while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more’. In this case it means, responding to change is important, but following a plan also has its benefits.
Our product roadmap process at ePages is divided into 5 phases:
While I understand, that the obvious reason for creating a product roadmap is to outline, when specific features for our products will be delivered, the product roadmap has a lot more benefits for the company. Here are my top three:
1. The product strategy gets communicated across the business
This is important for us, because we are currently developing three different products: ePages 6, our long-standing software on the market, ePages Now, our newest product on the market which offers amongst others a completely redesigned storefront, and a new technology platform, that is currently in development and for which we will release an MVP in September this year. You can imagine, how important it is, that everyone in the company understands the product strategy, when you have two products on the market and a new one already in the pipeline.
2. The product vision is put into focus
Whereas the product strategy is important to market our products, the product vision is important to talk about where the journey goes to and what’s the goal for each product. The roadmap planning process is a good opportunity to get an insight if the product vision is understood by all employees or if we have to improve the way our product vision is communicated. This is crucial for our day-to-day work, because it helps product owners to decide which features to prioritize. For the development teams it might have a direct impact on the solutions the developers choose for new feature requests (a feature or component that is directly related to the product vision might get more attention than something that is not as important).
3. Management of the overall product backlog
For each of our products, we have a product backlog that is getting looked after by the responsible product owners. The roadmap planning process is a great time to review the items to ensure that they are still valid and align with our product strategy and vision. The product backlogs will be looked at by the wider business, especially our customer facing departments, like sales and marketing, benefit from this. It helps them to understand what features are in the pipeline for each product.
Although, we plan out the work for three months, it doesn’t mean, that everything is set in stone and can’t be changed until the next roadmap iteration. At the end of the day we are a customer facing company and need to be able to react to market needs (that’s why we are agile, right 😉). To ensure, that the business is aware of any changes to the roadmap, we keep high visibility of the progress on a regular basis. For example, the development teams always give an update what roadmap items have already been finished, what items are currently in development and what items have not been started, at the end of each sprint review. If the relevant product roadmap would have changed significantly, everybody who attended the sprint review will take notice of it. Once a month our Head of Product Management shows the current status in a company wide meeting.
One other important thing, that we do during and after the planning process is to gather feedback from everybody involved. Receiving feedback about what went well or getting ideas what can be improved for the next iteration is great and helps us to make the roadmap planning as effective as possible and to make sure, that our key stakeholders fully understand the process and feel valued along the way.