Beginner’s guide to agile roadmapping – learn how to keep product development on track, one feature at a time
It’s been yet another successful year for Agile. According to the 2018 State of Agile Report, 75% of respondents adopted an agile approach within the last year, with the aim of accelerating software delivery. The results? Over 60% cited that Agile improved their time to market, project visibility, team productivity and management of changing priorities.
So what are the tools and resources behind this success? In the day to day running of a software project, project management tools, like Atlassian and Asana, help Agile teams with task and workflow management in order to bring software to market efficiently.
But to focus their attention around a common goal and prioritize features accordingly, product development teams use agile roadmaps. Roadmaps represent the overall vision for software development and keep teams focused.
So if you’re looking for a way to think big, ship fast, and keep moving (the words of Janna Bastow), we’ve got you covered. Our post covers the basics of agile roadmapping, who should get involved, how to get started and common pitfalls to avoid.
What is an agile roadmap?
As defined by Atlassian, a roadmap is a plan of action of how a product of solution will evolve over time. Agile roadmaps are characterized by short time frames, frequent adjustments to allow for changeable feature estimates and continuous software testing, and allow teams to confidently look beyond the next major release.
Agile roadmaps are built to reflect product strategy but also to respond to changes, such as shifts in the competitive landscape, value propositions, and engineering constraints. Agile roadmap resources like as ProductPlan enable teams to track milestones, features and product strategy in order to make better-informed decisions and prioritize their tasks.
Breakthrough products don’t come from thinking small. They don’t come from the fear of losing ground, either. They come from thinking big and responding to change better than everyone else. Janna Bastow, Co-Founder of Mind the Product and ProdPad
And while non-agile product roadmaps are defined by features and timelines, agile roadmaps for product development revolve around desired goals and outcomes and provide crucial context for a software team’s daily tasks. It is common for multiple teams to share a single agile roadmap.
Why use an agile roadmap?
The Agile roadmap helps teams focus on the big picture, something they can’t do with other agile resources and methods.
Agile teams work with scrum product backlogs. The backlog is a prioritized list of features, each containing a short description of the desired outcome. The scrum product backlog helps teams break down features into bitesize chunks that they can digest (and work on) more easily. However, backlogs often get baggy and prioritization between user stories can become overly complex.
As Justinmind’s Product VP Victor Conesa explains: “prioritizing major product changes against small tweaks becomes impossible with everything piled together in the backlog”. And with a list of 200 user stories that can’t be divided into categories, there’s a risk that Product Owners may avoid heavy new feature stories and just focus on the low-hanging bug fixes, or vice versa.
In contrast, the agile roadmap discourages definition of specific items,instead focusing on setting goals and defining desired outcomes in the form of epics and themes.
By combining the backlog with the roadmap, teams are thinking both big and small and can use each method for what it was meant for. While the roadmap communicates vision, the backlog translates specifically how they will deliver this vision. But remember, one doesn’t cancel the other out.
Who needs an agile roadmap?
The simple visualization that agile roadmaps provides enables software product owners, product managers and agile scrum masters to better align teams, track progress, prioritize the product backlog and loop in stakeholders more easily. But agile roadmapping isn’t just for leadership.
Anyone looking for an efficient way to communicate product vision and desired customer outcomes and deliver strategy should consider using an agile roadmap in product development.
How do you start an agile roadmap?
Step 1: start with strategy (vision and goals)
Leading product roadmap software Aha! advises that everything begins with your strategy. Clear vision articulates the problem you’re trying to solve for users and helps you identify your product requirements. Consider using a tool that helps you capture your requirements visually, like Justinmind. This will make it easier to divide them up between themes (Step 2).
Then, define your goals. Goals map out how you want to accomplish your project’s strategy, using metrics to measure the progress of your goals. Your roadmap should coordinate your short and long-term business goals with the resources available to meet those goals.
Step 2: identify main themes
Themes or logical groups of high-level objectives will help you build up your product backlog, where you should place the full list of features that make up the scope of your product.
Themes should be defined according to your requirements – common categories include usage flow, business needs and most importantly, your long-term initiatives.
You may want to define your themes with pen and paper so that you can move them between categories and keep track of them easily.
Step 3: tie user stories to strategic themes
At this point, it’s time to link your product backlog and your roadmap planning. Aha! reminds us that our project’s goals are a great prioritization guide for our backlog’s features. Then, features can be broken down into technical requirements help organize them into sprints with estimates (Step 3).
Step 4: create loose estimates
Create estimates that provide loose time frames for the phases of your product development life cycle. You need to be creating estimates in terms of:
- Effort (the difficulty of a task or requirement)
- Estimate (the numeric value of the estimated effort of the task)
- Priority (determining the urgency of a task in relation to other tasks)
Step 5: create your roadmap timeline
Your timeline should map out each sprint and what your team’s goals are for each. Avoid using specific dates unless completely necessary, and instead, use sprints and/or milestones.
Fill in your roadmap timeline with your project goals and themes, using versioning to help you organize them. Don’t forget to include your estimates.
And remember, your roadmap will change constantly, and you’ll need to update it with metrics along the way, to help you measure the progress of your goals and evolve the roadmap according to the priority of features.
The challenges to agile roadmapping
Agile roadmaps for product development are a great way to stay on top of your software development project. To ensure that your first roadmapping experience is a positive one, here are some things to think about before getting started:
- Too many priorities. Your roadmap should remain high-level to avoid you and your team falling into the trap of building a little bit of everything, but not really finishing everything: a feature soup. ProductPlan advises to identify a single clear priority (e.g. revenue, user acquisition, learning etc.) that is more achievable
- Changing your roadmap too frequently. Not only does this require effort to keep the roadmap up-to-date, you’re likely moving further away from your defined goals.
- Aligning multiple, diverse teams around product vision. This can generates serious communication in product information. Communication is essential! Learn how to close the communication gap in your agile projects here.
If you’d like more tips on creating your agile roadmap, read our post on agile product roadmap dos and don’ts here. We hope with our post you’ll soon be building roadmaps that everyone on your team can get behind. Good luck!