Writing by Peter Hilton

Feature roadmap transformation

How to migrate to a now/next/later product roadmap, one step at a time 2023-12-05 #product #roadmaps

Kyle Glenn

Feature lifecycle management helps internal stakeholders prepare for feature rollout. It also creates the opportunity to transform your roadmap. Ditch the Timeline Roadmap explains the benefits of lean roadmaps, and how to get people on board, but not how to get there.

Suppose you start with six months’ worth of major features:

Roadmap features: Request book by ISBN, Share bookshelfie photo, Update status in The StoryGraph

You could do worse than throwing your feature-based timeline roadmap away, and starting from scratch, but can also start from your existing feature roadmap. Use the following steps to rephrase your plan instead of discarding it.

Features → opportunities

Start by making the dates less important, by replacing each feature with the underlying opportunity it addresses:

Roadmap opportunities: Discover books, Connect with other readers

This step works because these opportunities typically have a broader scope, and longer lifetime, than any particular roadmap item. It does assume you know why you put those features on the roadmap; if you didn’t, figure that out first.

Replacing features with opportunities improves the roadmap in two ways:

  1. simplifies - reducing the number of items
  2. rephrases - shifting the language from software solutions to business problems.

In general, releasing a feature doesn’t exhaust the opportunity, and in some cases you could work on an opportunity indefinitely. Instead of planning a feature (with a specific scope), your roadmap plan now identifies a problem that you’ll work on for a particular period, from a few months to a few quarters.

Dates → months

After you have replaced the features on the roadmap, it makes less sense to plan to work on an opportunity until a particular date (no longer a release date). Now you can reduce the time scale precision to whole calendar months:

Roadmap opportunities by month: Discover books, Connect with other readers

Instead of showing how many days you plan to work on a feature for, the roadmap now shows in which months you’ll work on which opportunity. This works works because a product strategy roadmap doesn’t need to show how much effort you’ll spend on each problem. Instead, you show what the team will work on now, next, and later.

Months → now/next/later

Your calendar month (or quarter) opportunity roadmap’s lack of detail makes it more stable, and easier to keep accurate. You could stop here, with a greatly-improved roadmap, but you’ll get even more benefits from a lean roadmap, which answers three questions:

  1. Which opportunity do you focus on right now?
  2. Which opportunity will you address next, given what you know now?
  3. Which candidates have you identified for later, that align with your product strategy?

These three buckets might correspond to what you expect to work on this quarter, next quarter and 6-12 months from now. However, the later column can look even further ahead, and consider more options than you will ultimately pursue.

Now/next/later roadmap: Discover books, Connect with other readers, Acquire books, Trade books

On a date-based roadmap, options for 6-12 months look like definite plans. But with relative prioritisation, you can add options in the later column, and have stakeholders understand that they don’t represent commitments.

Lean roadmap by default

Roadmap transformation help you get used to moving from features to opportunities, and planning without dates. You can also use this approach to explain the difference.

Before long, you can default to an opportunity-based roadmap, and defer feature definition until you actually start work on an opportunity. Then you get more time to focus on product strategy, instead of getting prematurely sucked into solution design.

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