Duffy: Product Roadmap Stuck in Traffic? Let’s Talk.

by John Geletka, EVP Digital Strategy at Duffy


Every successful product launch demands a well-mapped workflow, and that means a clearly defined roadmap with milestones, calendars, dependencies … blah blah blah. (You’ve started to tune me out already, haven’t you?)

Sure, a roadmap articulates the long-term strategic vision and desired outcome, then aligns that with a tangible set of tactics, and so on. That’s the digital file version that can be plugged in by any junior PM. That static document will not put you on the path to an awesome (or smooth) product launch.

The most important part of the roadmap is not what you’re going to do. It is how you will communicate what you’re doing. The modern roadmap must move beyond the static to become agile. That means it sets the guidepost for communications, governance and platform decisions. The roadmap is as much or more about how the work, progress and flow are articulated than actually doing the work… So let’s get down to business and start talking.

1. Get Creative in Articulating the End State

Make it easy, make it fun. Consider adding some design love to the document. Another great way to communicate is to make a quick video from your mobile and post to the roadmap. Other more progressive ways to get people involved include a simple way for people to comment and add other visuals or even audio responses. It doesn’t have to be perfect. And it is important that this is made clear so no one is inhibited.

Extra Hint: Ask the team to try and role play to communicate the product vision from a customer experience perspective. Ask them to be the customer and talk about what problem this product is going to solve for them.


2. Create Strategic Communication Tactics

Once you’ve nailed the problem you’re trying to solve, the team needs a little brainstorming to prioritize. Which features should come first? What are the dependencies and potential obstacles? Most teams have a roadmap meeting where the static document is reviewed and there is little room or time for inputs. Believe me, there are always inputs, but usually in the form of siloed grumbling. To capture some of these thoughts, build an internal survey tool into the roadmap. Ask them to prioritize. Get input on the milestones and timelines. Make it easy to capture inputs and the roadmap meeting will be smoother and any adjustments will be grounded in reality.

Extra Hint: Occasionally ask the team to evaluate the quality of the work in progress. This can be a simple evaluation on a scale of 1-3 for Great, Good, OK. It will serve to keep everyone focused on being great and provide an opportunity to discuss why the survey showed a particular ranking and what to do about it.

[Related: Letting Go: Skills You Need for a Successful Product Launch | Duffy: Future-Proofing Your Design Agency]

3. Communicating Changes

The best road maps are also excellent at managing the arrival of new product ideas or enhancements. This is the difference between our agile, DevOps world and the waterfall of yesteryear. But it is amazing how many road maps still look a lot like a crumpled, folded map that’s been in the glove box for years. The ongoing, creative process of capturing, prioritizing and implementing new ideas is what the journey is all about, right? That’s why you A/B test. The key to getting the best ideas into the build—and weeding out the novel but not worthy—is managing the new ideas that come in. You need a scalable way to capture, review and rank all incoming ideas. More important, if you can’t explain why a new idea will (or will not) be promoted to a feature, the team becomes frustrated and you go off the map. And how does that happen? This one has to be in person. But if you’re doing a good job collecting thoughts as recommended above, you’ll have a much more productive in person meeting with a group that is already sharing and interacting.

Extra Hint: Consider starting some of these review meetings by replaying the videos of team members role playing customer problems and requests. How do the new enhancements or features address these and solve them? It’s a quick way to refresh the vision from the end user POV without getting bogged down in the biases of individuals or departments.

Good luck with your talking roadmap, and please communicate with me directly with questions and feedback!

Learn more about creative strategy and managing designers in Douglas Davis’ online course, Creative Strategy & the Business of Design.