@johncutlefish's blog

Keep Features Off Your Roadmap

Published: February 26, 2017

I received some questions this week about mission/outcome driven roadmaps. I’ll write more in the coming weeks, but I took a quick stab…

Why omit features from the roadmap?

  • Features alone are not outcomes
  • We tend to fall in love with our ideas. What if a better solution exists?
  • Once you’ve described and shared a specific feature in a roadmap, there are few opportunities to switch things up
  • Shipping a feature is not the end of the story. Thinking in terms of features ignores challenges like adoption, validation, and iteration
  • By listing features, you are positioning the product as the order-taker
  • As the initiative progresses, you’ll be able to provide more specifics on the how/what Bad:

Add tags to work ordersGood:

Help our ~7,000 in-house maintenance coordinators process work orders 50% faster. From submission to payment-received … make it effortless, and let them focus on finding new customers, not paperwork. No more “I’m overwhelmed, and can’t find anything! This takes hours!”#### What do we do instead?

  • Enlist teams to tackle missions and create outcomes
  • Describe roadmap as a series of missions and desired outcomes
  • Reorient organization to think about outcomes not output. Take the lead and set a good example by how we communicate goals
  • Move away from project terminology like Project _____, Phase, Version, etc. Bad:

User Permissions Phase 1Good:

Confident admins with an improved NPS (from 31 to 55).
Unblock our land-and-expand strategy by making it safe for admins to let other internal departments start trial projects. For our 900 30+ seat customers, increase the number of read-only trial users by 150% by end of Q3 2017#### Inspire Creative Solutions

  • Avoid solutions in the roadmap. Don’t douse creativity
  • Your developers (and the rest of the org) have creative ideas as well!
  • You will learn a great deal in the early stages of the effort
  • Or, perhaps, someone will figure out how to trigger the outcome without building anything! Bad:

New Login and Onboarding FlowGood:

From “that’s interesting” to “my first book sale” in 30 minutes or less for 95% of new customers starting April 2017.#### The Why

  • When someone reads the roadmap item, will they immediately grasp the why?
  • Why are we doing this? Why are we making the investment? Why us? Why now?
  • Try to encapsulate the Why in a short, tweetable blurb
  • Will this mission capture the imagination of the team?
  • Will people join you in the quest?
  • Keep testing and tweaking your roadmap missions until everyone “gets it”. This is essential. You should be able to walk up to anyone in the company, show them the roadmap, and have them grasp where you are going Bad:

Launch WidgetCo Value-Added ServiceGood:

Reduce the time it currently takes our customers with in-house 4–7 person marketing departments to create and launch a campaign from 3d to <1d. Move 25% of first-month trials to paying plans. Brag about it at CampaignCon 2017!#### The Who and New Realities

  • Whenever possible, reference a specific customer or user segment
  • Use words that everyone will understand
  • Be specific. How would someone query for those customers/users?
  • How will their reality change? What outcomes will now become possible? What will you observe if you are successful? And no, “I’ll observing them using Feature X” is not a great answer Bad:

HopPredictorGood:

SMB beer retailer customers closing >$450k in revenue, with users in our “savvy tech adopter” category (about 40% of those customers), can expand their businesses by an average of 8% by enhanced consumer outreach. Smarter recommendations and reminders!#### Storytelling

  • You don’t have much room on a roadmap
  • But, you can still tell short but powerful stories
  • Think about conflict, resolution, and catalysts Bad:

Harden our deployment pipelineGood:

Faster feedback. Fewer sleepless nights. Deploy code with 100% confidence and be able to test new features with early-adopter customers in a matter of hours not days. Reduce pager duty alerts from an average of X weekly, to Y.#### Should you put it on a calendar?

  • It can be helpful to visualize the rough investment for the mission
  • Then again, you can achieve that in other ways. Putting things on a calendar can inspire some dysfunctional behavior
  • Can you extend the effort if you are seeing better than expected results?
  • Can you stop early?
  • Are you giving a false sense of “predictability” ?

    What else?

  • Roadmap items should have a brief available internally
  • Don’t try to cram all of the information on to the roadmap
  • Anyone should be able to access the brief get up to speed quickly
  • Importantly, include a cost of delay estimate. This, in my opinion, is more important than an duration estimate for the effort
  • The brief might also cover things like: current state, success measures, how the effort will be funded, key assumptions to validate, key risks, key actors, etc. Tailor this to your situation

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