A project roadmap is a vital component of project management. Roadmaps are a way to visualize the overall scope of a project, track progress, and communicate objectives and workflow. There are several roadmap planning tools to choose from. In addition to different templates and software tools for planning roadmaps, there are also different philosophies and mindsets that project managers and teams can use as a framework when roadmapping.
In this article, we’ll be discussing one such framework: Agile.
Agile, a philosophy often applied to development and teamwork, is a great tool when it comes to roadmapping, as it addresses many of the most common issues of project roadmaps.
These common issues include roadmaps focusing too much on features and not enough on high-level elements such as themes and epics, and roadmaps being too linear, rather than iterative. Software development is not a linear process and priorities can often shift. In fact, changes in priorities are one of the top 5 reasons why projects fail. The Agile mindset is designed to be adaptive to changes. When you create your roadmap with the Agile mindset, you design a big picture plan that has flexibility built into it, so changing priorities won’t cause your project to fail.
The Core Values of the Agile Mindset
When you have an Agile team, every facet of the work, including roadmapping, should take into account the 4 core values of Agile. These core values are:
- Individuals and Interactions over processes and tools
- Working Software over comprehensive documentation
- Responding to Change over following a plan
- Customer Collaboration over contract negotiations
How To Apply These Core Values to the Process of Roadmapping
Flexibility is key. When Agile roadmaps have timelines, they should be broad and not tied to specific dates. One format that can be helpful is the ‘now, next, later’ sequence. Since processes in development often build upon one another and priorities can change with customer feedback or shifting company goals, a vague timeline makes a lot more sense than hard deadlines. In order for a roadmap to truly be Agile, everyone on the team, and those with input outside the team, must be on the same page and have the understanding that the roadmap is a big picture guideline and is designed to accommodate changing priorities and timelines.
Communication should be frequent and the process collaborative. Many Agile teams meet every single day, even if only for a few minutes just to share updates about completed milestones or share other valuable information. Communication should also be frequent with customers. Agile teams place a high value on collaborating, not only internally, but also externally with the clients they serve. Frequent communications with customers save time in the long run and customer contributions can be integrated quickly.
Consider setting up a dual-track Agile roadmap. As the name suggests, a dual-track roadmap has two separate streams of activity. These are often divided into discovery and delivery tracks. The discovery track is dedicated to market research and figuring out if a product is feasible and discovering which features customers would find most valuable before the development team gets to the delivery track. The delivery track is the one dedicated to the actual creation of the product. By setting the system up this way, you can have the research and development team working at once. This is a very efficient way of working and upholds the Agile core value of Working Software.
Steps to Create an Agile Roadmap
Depending on the nature of the team and the workflow, some of these steps may overlap or be repeated at different steps in the process. We already covered the concept of a duel-track, so we know that these steps may not necessarily be linear. Agile roadmaps are always flexible, efficient, and iterative. Take these steps into consideration, knowing that the order, and whether or not any of them are done concurrently, will depend on the specifics of your team and the goals you hope to achieve.
Step One: Set Goals. These goals will need to be communicated to stakeholders, so they should take several big picture elements into consideration. This means thinking about your company’s long-term vision, as well as what you hope to achieve with this particular product. Think about business objectives and KPIs. Setting your goals with your Key Performance Indicators will make it simple for both your team and your stakeholders to gauge whether or not your team has successfully met its goals.
Step Two: Consider Resources and Map Out General Timelines. While Agile roadmaps try to steer clear of hard deadlines, your team should have some sense of a timeline. Even when working with the ‘now, next, later,’ sequence, a general timeline is helpful. This may mean working in terms of quarters, rather than specific dates. It also may mean setting a deadline as a guess, but communicating to everyone, including customers, that the deadline is flexible and may change. When setting these timelines, it’s important to consider all of your resources, including how many people are on your team, what their strengths are, and how quickly they can complete specific tasks. Factor delays into your plans, because delays are inevitable.
Step Three: Get Customer Feedback. The software doesn’t work unless it works for your customers. What do they need? What features and tools will be most beneficial to them? Remember to speak to both external and internal customers.
Step Four: Figure Out Your Product Roadmap’s Building Blocks. The building blocks of your roadmap can be broken down into themes, epics, and user stories. Because Agile roadmaps don’t focus on features and outcomes, but on a much broader big picture vision, it’s useful to create a theme-based roadmap. Under themes, you’ll have epics. Epics are smaller clusters of tasks that fit under each of your themes. Lastly, beneath epics, you’ll have your user stories. This is where epics are broken down even further into smaller tasks and are usually written as if they are a request coming from a potential user of the product.
Step Five: Plan and Prioritize Collaboratively. Creating a roadmap will entail a good deal of setting priorities, and figuring out which goals are the most important. This is a process that should be highly collaborative, not only because a variety of perspectives will lead to more effective prioritization, but also because it integrates the Agile core value of ‘Individuals and Interactions.’
Step Six: Build and Iterate. As your team moves into the development phase, the roadmap should be updated frequently. This is a planning tool that is designed to be malleable. Think about the plan, work on the plan, but adjust the plan as needed as roadblocks occur and priorities change.
A roadmap is an essential component of project management. There are many different tools for creating roadmaps. One of the most common is Gantt charts.
Agile is a mindset that teams can apply to the process of roadmapping. By creating an Agile roadmap, teams can benefit from flexibility. Uncertainty is factored in, so unexpected variables aren’t detrimental to the project.
Agile can be applied not only to roadmaps, but to every aspect of a team. The Agile mindset for development teams leads to greater efficiency, teamwork, and a more cohesive big picture vision.