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Creating roadmaps with purpose

Updated: Jan 30, 2023


Your heart rate rises, your palms get a little sweaty. You’ve just presented your Roadmap to all your stakeholders and they love it, the enthusiasm in the room is palpable. Then, typically the most senior person turns to you and asks the dreaded question…


“So, when will this be done?”


Panic! How do you answer? You figure that sending them the wonderful posts about Roadmaps by Janna Bastow probably won’t work, nor will explaining all the reasons why you have absolutely no idea how long, for example, it will take to increase conversion by 5%. So, how best to respond and not deflate all that enthusiasm?

I’ve found this to be an acute problem for Product teams in IT departments, and there are several reasons for this. However, to stay focused on the problem at hand, we need to look at two things:

  1. What our stakeholders need and want at this moment

  2. What a Roadmap is there for — and what it is not


Stakeholders — take a moment to walk in their shoes


I’m a huge fan of Brené Brown’s work and all she says on empathy. Empathy is a superpower and a good place to start when you are facing conflict.



Let’s think about this particular stakeholder. They are impressed with your Roadmap, it demonstrates you have a sound understanding of the problems at hand and they agree with how you’ve prioritised to tackle them. They are excited about the impact your product will make. Next, they start thinking about what it means for them and the team/area/function they run; hence the question.


Not only is this thought process understandable, it is exactly what you were aiming for. Now, how to not undo this?


Roadmaps are an articulation of your strategy


I think what a lot of people miss about Roadmaps is what they are there for. A great Roadmap should be an articulation of your strategy, enabling you to link that inspiring vision for your product to the day to day work that will bring your product to your customers.



A Roadmap serves as a great communication tool between you and your stakeholders on what you are planning to do, why, and the impact you hope to make. It can serve as a tool to bring your stakeholders together and get agreement on the direction you are taking for your product.


What a Roadmap does not do is show you the features you will be building, the dependencies that exist, or when each feature might be live. It is just not the job it is tasked to do.


So whose job is it anyway? Not yours…


Here is our dilemma; we understand why the stakeholder poses the question but we also know that our Roadmap can’t answer the question. In fact, you should be able to look at all the things you produce as a Product Manager and see that none of them answer that question.



I’ve found a common error is to assume that Product Managers have all the answers, that they run the product so they run everything. They don’t. There should be someone in the team who is responsible for delivery but it is not the Product Manager.


Different organisations will do it differently, it could be the Engineering Manager, Delivery Manager, or even a Project Manager. Whoever it is, it will be their job to shepherd the stories you write (assuming you use an agile based methodology) through to production. They will know at what point, and with what certainty, they can communicate dates to stakeholders. How they choose to do it may be through Gantt charts, a Release Roadmap (my favourite), or something else.


Teamwork


makes the Product work


I love being a Product Manager — one of the biggest reasons why is because I cannot do anything alone. I need to bring together different people with different skill sets to make amazing products. Product Managers have a leadership role in the team but they are not the only ones, and often have a peer in the person responsible for the delivery.


So, as you have your Roadmap that articulates your strategy, the person responsible for delivery should have a way to communicate what they need to about the execution of the technology that will bring your product to life.


So next time you get the dreaded question there is no need to despair or panic. You just need to know exactly who in your team is going to pick up the baton.


Want to level up your Roadmapping skills? Contact me to find out how I can help.



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I completely agree with the importance of empathy and teamwork when it comes to answering the dreaded "when will this be done" question. As a Product Manager, it can be tempting to try to provide a specific date in order to satisfy stakeholders and maintain their enthusiasm, but this is not always possible or advisable. Instead, it's important to remember that the Product Manager's role is to focus on strategy and direction, while the person responsible for delivery should be the one to provide information about timelines and specific dates. By working together and leveraging each other's strengths, teams can create roadmaps that effectively communicate their plans and goals, without getting bogged down in unrealistic expectations.

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