How To Create & Prioritize a Product Roadmap
When struggling with conflicting priorities for a new business, use these helpful tips to figure out what should come first.
Here are three useful steps for turning your product vision into a product roadmap
For any new business, conflicting priorities are a given. You have infinite projects with only a limited amount of time and resources you can dedicate to each of these priorities. Creating and prioritizing a product roadmap can be a powerful tool to keep yourself, your team, your investors and most importantly your customers informed and aligned on where you plan to take your product offering in both the short and long term.
Here is a simple quick starter guide on how to translate your product vision into a product roadmap:
Step 1: Create your Product “Wish List”
The first step in creating a product roadmap is to identify all sizable projects that you and your team are considering working on. The more complete the “wish list” the better because it will help you start thinking about the long-term vision of your product and even the projects that fall below the line can be a great fundraising tool to show investors what could get done with additional cash. Some important themes to consider when building a product wish list include customer feedback, long term vision, team feedback, and burn.
What are customers asking for? If you don’t know – spend time surveying or interviewing your customers to find out what their wish list is for your product. A great way to get regular customer feedback is to set up a Customer Advisory Board. Customer feedback from a paying customer should be your most valued asset in building and prioritizing your product roadmap.
Long Term Product Vision
Where do you see the company going over the next year or two? Are there projects that you should be doing now to lay the foundation for your product’s future?
What’s your team telling you? Team feedback can be overlooked when you are sprinting toward customer demands but it is important to make sure you have a pulse on your team’s feedback and pain points. For example, if your engineering team is performing manual tasks that they need time to automate or your sales team needs an upgraded instance of Salesforce to do their job effectively, these projects should all be part of your product wish list to make your company more efficient and give your employees more time to build and sell your product.
What does your cost structure look like? Are there projects you could be working on to increase efficiency, slow burn, and increase the time before your next fundraising cycle?
Step 2: Size the Projects
The second step involves assigning ownership and sizing each project. This step will help you begin to put some quantifiable and standardized metrics behind each of your projects as an input for prioritization. Sizing projects is often the most challenging step because it usually requires some level of swag but it’s important to assign as many metrics as possible to help determine relative effort and cost amongst projects.
A simple but important step in sizing projects is assigning an owner or owners for each project. This step can be insightful for future staffing needs if you find a large majority of projects are falling on a single person or group of people.
Take a stab at sizing each of your projects based on the effort required from each person or team. It’s best to standardize the effort to one metric so you can easily compare the effort required across projects. For example, you could use two-week sprints, a two-week time period for one person, etc., to utilize as your effort metric.
Each project on your list will have a cost in terms of people resources which we covered under effort, but some projects may have additional costs associated such as increased software or licensing costs. Make sure to record these costs when sizing the projects for budget purposes.
Lastly, what’s the payoff for this project? Is it increased revenue, reduced cost, increased customer acquisition, increased employee morale? Lay out exactly what the company payoff will be for each project, doing your best to quantify a payoff metric for each project. Payoffs don’t have to be perfectly precise, having a metric is better than having nothing so use a little swag when necessary.
Step 3: Prioritize
The last and most rewarding step to creating a roadmap is combining the quantifiable metrics with your vision for the business to determine the direction of the company. Prioritizing a roadmap is best done with stakeholders from all parts of the business so multiple points of view are heard but also make sure to timebox the discussions so there’s a hard stop and decisions get made in a timely manner.
Determine your timeline
Typically, product roadmaps are created and re-prioritized every 3-6 months. It’s important to choose a timeline to commit to so you have a plan on when you will reprioritize your roadmap as well as how far out in the horizon you are planning your team’s bandwidth and budget.
Determine your team bandwidth
Find out what your limits are based on resourcing. If your engineering team has two back-end engineers, then your backend engineering team will have a capacity of 52 two-week sprints over a 6-month time horizon. Therefore, you are constrained by taking on any projects over the next 6 months that require more than 52 sprints of backend engineering work.
Determine your budget
How much capital do you have to spend over your determined timeline to support these projects? You should have a cap to make sure your product roadmap comes within your allocated budget.
Prioritizing a roadmap is as much an art form as it is a science, but it’s best done with multiple points of view being discussed and debated. Choose a group of stakeholders and ask each participant to put together a prioritization list for a prioritization meeting based on the project wish list, determined timeline, team bandwidth, and budget constraints. The prioritization meeting can be used for stakeholders to listen and debate different points of view before coming to a consensus on final decisions.
Don’t get discouraged if the first exercise isn’t perfect. With each iteration, you and your team will get better and more precise at sizing project effort and payoff. The important part is to start somewhere and continue iterating. The result of this exercise should give you a clear vision for where your team will be focused in the short term, a tool to track progress, and a longer-term view of where your product is heading for your customers and investors.