How to ensure meaningful user experiences with a great product roadmap
A winning product is the result of many different ideas, people, and processes coming together. But shepherding that new product from an abstract concept to an actual, tangible experience that serves your customers’ needs is never easy.
As always, it helps to be organized from the start. Success hinges on your ability to harness the knowledge and expertise of many different disciplines and skill sets and then apply them to a common goal. But for the product manager, this job can be incredibly daunting. So many different plates to keep spinning. So many balls to keep afloat.
To make this happen you need a set of guidelines for your product team — a roadmap for the product journey. Creating a product roadmap will get your team on the same page right out of the gate. Better yet, it will keep them there through all the twists and turns of product development and iteration.
The product roadmap: your battle plan for winning the customer
A detailed, well-defined product roadmap is an integral part of a comprehensive product strategy. Completing a product roadmap helps you to smoothly transition from the strategy phase to product development.
The product roadmap is a practical plan of action. It outlines exactly how to go about creating and delivering your solution to your customers. As such, it is a critical tool in the product manager’s arsenal. If the product manager is the general leading the troops (product team) to victory (solving a customer need), the product roadmap is the battle plan.
But creating that battle plan can be a delicate process. You have to provide specific-enough instructions for your lieutenants to understand their individual objectives and how these objectives support the overall goal. At the same time, there needs to be enough built-in flexibility for creative problem solving when issues inevitably crop up.
To lay a solid foundation of understanding, a good product map should include:
- Key objective — tied to solving the customer’s problem.
- Proximate objectives — smaller, specialized goals that contribute to solving the bigger, overall objective.
- Workstreams — various tracks of the project where work can proceed simultaneously (user research, feature development, marketing).
- Team roster and structure — outlines the make-up of the product team and various subteams.
- Roles and responsibilities — identifies all necessary roles and spells out team and individual responsibilities.
- Calendar/Timeline — a projection of completion deadlines for various tasks, stages, and phases of development and production.
- Metrics and KPIs — used to measure progress toward goals and objectives.
Benefits of a great product roadmap
Having a document that clearly outlines who does what in all phases and stages of your product development and implementation cycle is vital. The transparency such a document provides helps keep all product team members aligned to the overall mission. It also allows everyone to understand how they fit in and contribute to the success of the product.
Creating a roadmap can also help you, as the product CEO, to identify any potential roadblocks, hurdles, or bottlenecks that could prevent or delay your product from reaching your customers. You may not need to have all the kinks ironed out before you start product development and production. But you should definitely be aware of all issues that could impact your ability to deliver your solution on-time and on-budget.
How to add a human touch to your product roadmap
To be most effective, your product roadmap should connect your business goals to customer outcomes. One of the biggest mistakes product leaders make is thinking that building the product is the last step in the product cycle. The last step should be the customer using your product to solve a problem.
Good product road maps help you build a product. Great product roadmaps help you meet customer needs.
Consequently, your product roadmap shouldn’t just focus on product development necessities. It needs to consider the customer and account for all the steps she takes to reach and use your product. That means the product journey should address sales, marketing, and user experience concerns.
You might be building an automated or digital product, but it’s important to remember that you’re working with other people to develop and produce that next outstanding customer solution. So you have to be mindful of personal strengths and weaknesses, professional competencies, communication and work styles, and other potential idiosyncratic differences.
This pertains to two other essential elements needed to create a great product roadmap — leadership ability and emotional intelligence. The need for these skills is perhaps more obvious in the day-to-day management of your product team. However, it is just as crucial at the beginning stages of a project.
Intentionally accounting for your team members’ personal working styles is how you lay the foundation for a harmonious, inclusive, and creative working environment. That means leaning into your people skills early and often to get to know your product team. Then, using those personal insights to tailor a product roadmap to best take advantage of your team members’ talents and individual strengths.
Avoiding product roadmapping pitfalls
A product roadmap is a technical document that clearly outlines the steps in your product development cycle. Creating and documenting a process in extremely fine detail can feel like a fairly mechanical endeavor. But remember, what you’re ultimately trying to create is not just a product, but a human experience. As such, it’s important that you always keep the human element in perspective as you create your product roadmaps.
Keeping the customer experience in mind should also help you avoid pursuing the wrong objectives. Creating a product that your customers don’t know how to use or can’t find won’t solve their need or accomplish your business goals. Always maintain focus on the person using your product, and not just the product itself, in order to problem solve at the proper scope.
That said, you do want to be as specific and detailed as possible in breaking down the customer problem. And you want to maintain the same level of specificity in defining the methods and tactics you aim to utilize in creating the solution. Take care to resolve any confusion in these aspects of your product roadmap. Ambiguity here will hamper your team’s ability to innovate and deliver impactful solutions.
Product roadmaps help you deliver
Many product development projects have issues staying on track. Others reach the finish line only to struggle to gain traction with customers. The only way to make sure your product reaches your customers and meets their real needs and expectations is by creating a detailed, people-centered roadmap that explicitly outlines the product journey from concept to real-life solution.