What is an agile product roadmap? 7 elements of a successful roadmap

Jessi Sparks

VP of Strategy

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy challenged the United States to do the unthinkable, to literally defy reality by putting a man on the moon. Through his vision and ambition to see beyond the moment and into the future, Kennedy taught us that anything is possible with a little bit of vision and planning. At Marxent, we use the same “impossible dream” philosophy when developing agile product roadmaps for our clients: Live in the now, always work to deadlines and immediate business needs, leave room for learning and iteration while always keeping our eyes on the impossible future.

What is an agile product roadmap?

An agile product roadmap is a tool for planning and communicating about how a project will evolve over time, while accounting for learnings and change. Product roadmaps can take many different forms, but the elements that make them most useful are clear measurable goals, communication with key stakeholders, alignment with broader company objectives, and built in time for learning. Here are the seven most important elements that go into creating a useful, flexible product roadmap

1.) Agile product roadmap kickoff: Establish the vision and build a strong team

Every project needs a visionary or project champion within the organization. This visionary can provide the direction and invest in the challenge. Like sending a man to the moon, every project requires an investment of people, ideas, time, and resources. The right crew and support teams are also critical — Neil Armstrong would never have walked on the moon without contributions from a large and committed team. A product roadmap team typically includes the visionary, business stakeholders, end-users, the product owner, designers, and developers who truly believe in the vision.

2.) Research, listen, & learn

Good products are based on assumptions; great products are built on nitty-gritty details. Every bolt of the rocket that landed Neil Armstrong on the moon was inspected prior to launch and this attention to detail makes or breaks a product. At Marxent we approach each project with an attention to detail and an eye to best practices and industry trends. We also take time to understand key audiences and listen to their needs. What if the engineers hadn’t researched the unique nutritional requirements and eating habits of astronauts in space? Aside from not having astronaut ice cream, the reality of food deprivation in orbit might have put the entire mission in jeopardy. Careful research and active listening are hallmarks of good roadmaps and are preventative. Know the needs to succeed.

3.) Plan, communicate, & document

Develop the right flight plan and get buy-in. Every single mission had a detailed flight plan which had been reviewed and approved by everyone from top brass to the engineers. It was a living document used on a daily basis for every decision. This is the same with product development. A product without a clear roadmap will stay on paper and never become a reality. Constant communication helps to set priorities and ease anxiety on the end product. Successful projects are built on the intersection of planning, collaboration and communication.

4.) Iterate often

Room for iteration is the backbone of all great product roadmaps. The race to space didn’t start with a single shot straight to the moon; there was a progression by testing every piece individually and working to longer missions as a whole. We use this process to allow for better user experience and it creates realistic deadlines. The scalable nature of the iterative process reveals places where we can add more value to the product or strip away bloat, depending on the need and priority to the business. This process builds confidence in the team, allowing them to build and design without distraction, resulting in quality-focused work.

5.) Launch on time

Set a launch date and stick to it. A product roadmap with appropriate deadlines is mission critical. It is important to set attainable goals and stick to them, even if they extend to the next release cycle. With an eye to the future, bold ideas and innovative plans don’t get forgotten and sacrificed to a deadline but instead become the next benchmark to a better product. The whole process provides everyone involved with a positive and successful design experience.

6.) Use data to validate or correct

Track the progress and course correct often. In space, data tracking is king. From astronaut health to correct course navigation, data helps mission control determine success or failures in the system. The same is true in product roadmap planning; tracking progress helps determine the health of the product life cycle. From analytics to user experience research, the product gets better with each release because data is validating and confirming the decisions made during the roadmap planning process.

7.) Love the product

Without passion to launch and grow a product, all efforts will fall flat. The most successful products will fail if passion and vision aren’t at the center of a product roadmap. Great products are built on passion, belief in an idea and a team that shares the vision. If the team leader or others on the team don’t feel excited or passionate about the product, take a step back and figure out what’s missing before building big plans.