Creating a strategic product roadmap in 7 steps

A woman standing in front of a white wall with post-its on them, while a group of young professionals with laptops watch her.
Photo by Jason Goodman on Unsplash

Thinking about creating a strategic product roadmap? You’re not the only one. With increasing pressure to produce measurable results, an effective strategy has become the key to success in today’s competitive business world.

With a strategic product roadmap, you can focus your efforts on meeting specific goals instead of trying to tackle everything at once. A strategic product roadmap also helps you measure and monitor performance so that you can see what’s working and what isn’t as your product continues to grow and expand.

This blog post is inspired by the workshop and Miro template from Prod MBA.

Read on to understand why you should create such a roadmap, along with tips for how you can do so successfully in 7 steps:

First, let us review the groundwork. A roadmap is a high-level plan for how to achieve a goal. It is often created to help people understand the direction that something is going in.

Product managers use roadmaps to share their plans with stakeholders, customers, and team members. This helps them get feedback on what they should be working on next.

Roadmaps also provide a way for teams to collaborate more effectively by aligning their work and keeping everyone on the same page about what’s happening in the product development process.

A roadmap can be made using various tools such as PowerPoint or Excel, but some companies prefer using software such as ProductPlan, Aha!, or Miro.

A strategic roadmap is a plan for the future. It is not about what to do but about what you want to achieve. It is outcome-oriented and not solution-focused.

Strategic roadmaps are usually made up of a few key outcomes that are selected based on the company’s vision and its current situation. These points are then translated into goals that need to be met in order for the company to reach its vision.

There is often confusion between outcomes and solutions; Outcomes are the results of a process or activity, whilst Solutions are the methods that are employed to achieve those outcomes.

These strategic roadmaps have several key benefits that you can use to improve your product decisions.

Most roadmaps consist of a list of disparate features that do not have the same end goal in mind. Strategic roadmaps help to create focus as you can make sure everything you work on targets the same strategic goal. In order to be successful, you need to focus.

Roadmaps should contain steps in a certain order. However, in product management, we work in the realm of uncertainty and need to iterate on the same concept over time to hit our target. Strategic roadmaps help you with highlighting the uncertainty in the timeline and make it, by definition, necessary to adapt until the outcome is achieved.

When you start a roadmap with fixed ideas about solutions you limit yourself too early. During the development, you might test out new ideas, learn something new, and need to pivot. As long as you focus on the outcome, you stay flexible in your thinking and can adapt.

Sequential roadmaps with a row of features only show progress in terms of output developed rather than the impact that they have achieved. By focusing on measurable outcomes, you can always determine the value of each experiment and feature depending on how well it moves us towards our target outcome and goal.

Strategic roadmaps are great for stakeholder conversations as they keep these conversations on a strategic level. If you show stakeholders a list of features, they will expect said list of features most of the time. If plans change (like they inevitably always do) you are better prepared with a strategic roadmap that highlights how your new plan will push the product towards the goal better than the old plan.

To sum up, strategic roadmaps bring focus, support the iterative nature of product management, do not box us in with fixed solutions, incorporate the uncertainty of product development, and are a great tool for stakeholder conversations.

How do you go about building our strategic product roadmap? Ideally, you do this exercise with a group of diverse team members to get the full range of ideas, insights, and perspectives. Then you will go through each of these steps:

  1. Agree on the opportunity you will focus on
  2. Generate ideas for outcomes
  3. Vote on the most important outcomes
  4. Define a key metric for each outcome
  5. Prioritize and map the outcomes
  6. For each outcome, generate ideas for solutions
  7. Vote on the most impactful solutions

In the next part, let us take a more detailed look at each step and I will illustrate with an example for patients at a doctor’s office.

First, you have to lay the foundation for the roadmap. To start, you need to define who your target audience is — the more specific you can be, the better. For example, they could be people from Germany, who are ill, who have a full-time jobs, and who need to go to general practice.

Next, you need to figure out what the target audience ultimately needs or wants. Building on the earlier example — when they are sick, they want to be healthy as quickly and conveniently as possible. (You might notice that this could already be transformed into a product vision statement.)

Now, you move one level lower and look at the opportunities that you could focus on for the target audience. What you will do is take a problem or frustration that the target audience faces and inverse it to create an opportunity.

One problem sick people in Germany have is long waiting times at the doctor’s office. The inverse would be reducing waiting times for sick people at the doctor’s office.

You can generate up to three opportunities and then focus on the one that will have the biggest impact on your product vision.

It is very important that in this step you do not start listing solutions already, like hiring more doctors. It is a knee-jerk reaction and a common mistake, you do not want to focus on features or solutions just yet. In doing so, you could run into the trap of pumping out features or solutions with totally different outcomes.

Post-its that cascade down from top to bottom. Highest post-it says target audience: Sick people in Germany with full time jobs in need of a general practice, the next below that: Need or Want, Become healthy as quickly and conveniently as possible, then comes the Problem / Frustration Long waiting times at doctor’s office and the next is the inverse of the frustration: reduce waiting times for sick people at the doctor and below that we will later add the outcomes
Opportunity Tree

Now, take the opportunity you want to focus on and start generating ideas for outcomes. Be wary not to focus on solutions now. If you happen to create solutions, ask yourself: “What will happen if that is implemented”? Then you have your outcome. Make sure you keep your outcomes aligned with the company vision.

Take 10 minutes and write down a detailed idea for an outcome every minute, focus on quantity over quality. One of the most common mistakes that people make is to think that their first idea is the best, whilst the truth is that you need to generate a lot of ideas before you find one that is perfect.

For our example outcomes could be

a) Reducing the wait time at the doctor’s office

b) Making doctor appointments faster

c) Improve the quality of diagnosis

After creating all these outcomes, dot vote on the outcome that will be the most impactful for your target audience. Dot voting is a technique where each person can vote for as many items as they like. The more votes an item receives, the higher it ranks in the final list.

Dot voting is a powerful tool because it allows people to vote for what they want, rather than what someone else thinks they should want. It also provides a ranking system that makes it easy to see which items are most popular and most relevant to the group.

Afterward, select the 3 highest ranking outcomes.

A row of post its — each row for a participant and each column is one minute until 10 minutes. Some post-its have blue dots from the voting exercise
10 ideas in 10 minutes with multiple participants

After selecting your top 3 outcomes, agree on what key metric could define success for each. The metric will help you track and monitor your progress.

For example, reducing the wait time at the doctor’s office would be measured by the waiting time of patients in the doctor’s office. Make it really specific and define success as the reduction of waiting time of patients in the doctor’s office by 50%.

Take your top three outcomes and metrics and map them on a 3-Step strategic roadmap like in the picture below. Place them from lowest effort to highest effort to create your strategic roadmap. This will help you put all of the pieces together to create a strategic roadmap that is easy to follow and understand. By mapping them like this you can also see how each outcome is related to one another.

A Map of your outcomes with trackable metrics = A strategic product roadmap

Look at your roadmap and you will notice how many ideas your brain starts to come up with for reaching each outcome.

Yes, now you can finally let that voice in the back of your head, that was pestering you with ideas the whole time, speak out and map these ideas to each outcome. For example, a digital waiting room for your doctor that notifies you in time when you have to be at the doctor’s office to have minimal waiting time. I recommend using the Crazy 8’s method from Google Design Sprints.

Take out your dots and vote on the ideas that will have the highest likelihood and lowest effort of achieving the outcomes you have defined.

Afterward, you can flesh these ideas out into epics and fill your backlog with items that have a measurable impact on your strategy.

We went through the core definition of a strategic product roadmap, its key benefits, and how you can create your own in 7 steps. This exercise can be invaluable during all phases of development. It can provide the needed alignment and direction in the early phases but also can bring focus to the product development efforts later on. Get buy-in from your stakeholders and use this strategic roadmap to strengthen your product decisions and ensure you create measurable results.

💬 Please let me know what you think, I always appreciate your feedback!

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