How to Build An Agile Product Roadmap?

Product Management
September 22, 2022
Share

Agile means iteration. It is all about - doing something, seeing how it works, improving and repeating it. The agile methodology does not consider timelines and plans.

On the other hand, product roadmaps are tools for planning. They help you visualize the timeline of a project. Product roadmaps list the plans for the next 6-12 months. They are used when you have everything sorted and set. So, when do you iterate?  

In short, product roadmaps and agile are contradictory. Then, how do you build an agile product roadmap? Is it possible? You must read what an agile roadmap looks like, how product managers can build it, its benefits, and more. 

What is an Agile Product Roadmap?

An agile roadmap is a flexible action plan set to achieve your product vision. The agile product roadmap includes information on the upcoming product releases. Also, it communicates how each feature and epic contributes to the overall product strategy. Considering product management practice, agile product roadmaps seem counterintuitive. 

Agile communicates that the teams involved are flexible. They depend on feedback to make improvements. Thus, the teams are ready to alter plans weekly or daily. It indicates the insignificance of deadlines and due dates.

On the contrary, product roadmaps show the project progress within x number of days. While every team does not create roadmaps along timelines, product roadmaps generally look into the upcoming period. It is a rough plan (if not concrete) to visualize the future beyond daily or weekly jobs. 

So, we have two concepts – one (agile) does not consider due dates, time constraints, or plans. Another (roadmap) is an inherently time-based product management tool. So, we have two contrasting concepts. But we can bring the two together to build an agile roadmap. 

An agile roadmap is a beneficial tool. It fits well into the roadmap concept and enables the product managers and teams to work in an agile environment. 

Can You Have a Roadmap in Agile?

Building an agile roadmap seems like an oxymoron. But the two concepts have similarities as well. Take a look into the aspects that show how both agile and roadmap can merge. 

1. Both agile and product roadmaps change often

The agile methodology works on a few themes;

  • Short cycles,
  • Quick changes, and 
  • A lot of feedback to evaluate the work

All these themes root back to the core idea of flexibility. That means, when you are operating in agile, you need to be flexible. 

A product roadmap is a plan for the project’s progress. You can consider it as a statement of intent, that is, how you plan on going ahead with the project. It is not a literal roadmap that you must follow. 

Your product roadmap is not only about hard deadlines that you must meet. It must be an incremental plan that can adapt to changes. Since plans may change according to future scenarios, your roadmap must be open to changes. 

So, when using agile methodologies, your roadmaps must be flexible to fit into any environment. 

2. Both agile and product roadmaps share a common factor - transparency

The agile methodology gives a realistic view of how your project will progress. It tells you if there are roadblocks or derails. This transparency helps in dealing with the coming situations better. Similarly, roadmaps give you clarity on where the project is headed. It communicates when and how the project will turn out. 

You can merge both concepts in an agile roadmap planning. While the roadmap shows transparency, agile methodology is about operating with transparency. Thus, roadmaps and agile methodology are not really in conflict. Instead, they work well together. 

Hence, we can say that agile and roadmaps aren’t conflicting. The concepts can amalgamate to create an agile roadmap. However, you must ensure to follow the process of building an agile product roadmap appropriately. Also, learning to derive the benefits from both will help product managers conduct long-term project planning. 

Why Should Agile Teams Build Product Roadmaps?

Agile product development companies mostly use product backlogs to track what’s upcoming, at least for a few iterations or sprints. They rely on backlogs for mapping out the short-term initiatives. 

But a product backlog isn’t a roadmap. Hence, agile teams need product roadmaps along with backlogs. 

Here are a few reasons why product roadmaps are necessary for agile teams. 

  • An agile roadmap communicates the big picture. They provide a strategic view of the initiatives to be considered for expanding markets, addressing competition, and creating customer value.
  • Much like a backlog, agile roadmaps can be (and should be) regularly discussed, prioritized, updated, changed, and shared. They provide an opportunity to make improvements based on customer feedback
  • Agile roadmaps communicate where the project is headed but they do not have fixed dates of delivery. Hence, there is no set date by which the features would be delivered. It has the flexibility to adapt to changing situations.

What Does an Agile Roadmap Look Like?

Jeff Gothelf, the author of Lean UX, says ‘’Digital product development is not linear. It is iterative. We build some things. We ship them. We see how they impact customer behavior. We iterate them and ship again.” 

Agile road-mapping allows users to build, reflect and improve. On the other hand, traditional roadmaps are linear. They have a fixed start point and a feature-specific endpoint. They almost have a fixed date for everything, which is an outdated way of product management.

There are different agile product roadmaps product managers can consider during the agile planning process. 

Theme-based roadmap

An example of a theme-based product roadmap would be the Swimlane-style roadmaps. These roadmaps are effective for agile product managers.

Theme-based agile roadmaps are common for the teams working in a pure agile setup. That means, the teams that do not follow ant due dates. This agile roadmap is structured by theme. That means the headers in the structure may relate to the different areas of the product development process. 

Sprint roadmap

Sprint roadmaps are ideal when you work in a structured agile environment. These agile roadmaps are organized by cycle or sprints. However, the sprints are not related to any specific due dates.

Fuzzy time roadmap

Fuzzy time roadmaps are structured based on time. However, the agile teams do not use specific due dates in these agile roadmaps. Instead, they use loose time frames like Due Soon, In-progress, Completed, and Future.

Agile-ish Roadmap

These are perfect for agile teams, but they still incorporate elements of traditional or waterfall project management. 

These agile product roadmaps have specific due dates, but with a condition. That means the dates that are closer to the present are more specific, whereas the further along dates are more fuzzy or abstract. If all the dates would have been specific, it wouldn’t be an agile roadmap. 

How is an Agile Roadmap Different from the Traditional Waterfall Approach?

An agile development plan is different from the waterfall approach. Here are the main differences between the two. 

Evolving and interactive in nature

One of the principles of agile methodology is adaptability. Hence, agile roadmaps are always evolving. Users can change the roadmap design, structure, and deliverables. 

However, it is not the same with the waterfall approach. Traditional product roadmaps include a prescribed activity set with their specific due dates. The waterfall methodology is highly-structured, rigid, and straightforward, unlike the scrum product roadmap, which leaves less room for change. 

Incremental development

Agile roadmap planning follows an incremental approach. Nearly all agile teams go for an incremental development strategy. In agile, every successive product version is usable and each version is built upon the previous by adding new features. 

However, the waterfall approach is sequential. In this approach, the steps are carried out sequentially and once you complete a step, you cannot go back to the previous one.  

Flexibility 

Agile roadmaps replace rigidity with flexibility. The structure of the roadmaps offers the opportunity to course-correct. That means you can make changes in the plans or stages whenever needed. The process is iterative. 

But in the waterfall approach, you cannot make changes to the already completed phase. 

Customer involvement

As mentioned, agile is an iterative approach. It involves customers throughout the process as the project changes are made based on customer feedback. 

However, the waterfall approach involves customers only at milestones. There is a relatively lesser collaboration between the development team and the customer.

Top Benefits of Agile Roadmap

Product roadmaps offer several benefits to all the stakeholders involved in the project. They assist product managers, help the project teams to collaborate, ensure a clear view of the process, etc.

Check out the benefits of agile product roadmaps below.

Stakeholder collaboration

Agile roadmaps require the team, customers, product managers, and other stakeholders to collaborate to make the product successful. It facilitates teamwork and helps the stakeholders to understand how they can contribute to product success.  

Creative problem-solving

Agile roadmaps are open to change. They involve customer feedback throughout the agile development plan. This leaves room for the stakeholders to collaborate and find out creative solutions to address customer issues.  

Adaptability

Agile product roadmaps can adapt to changing scenarios as they do not attach the project objectives to specific due dates. Since it is an iterative approach, the building and review phases happen simultaneously. That means, the team can change the roadmap as the situation demands or based on customer feedback. 

Communicates strategy

An agile roadmap provides a realistic overview of the product strategy. It focuses on the product goals, aligning all the stakeholders to the vision. The roadmap communicates the purpose and the direction of how the product will develop in the coming months. 

Feature prioritization

Agile roadmaps help with prioritization. Here, the product features are prioritized, and problems are resolved based on priorities. It allows product managers to state when a feature will be implemented. 

How to Build Agile Product Roadmaps?

Most agile roadmaps look similar to any other product roadmaps. It includes releases, features or user stories, timelines, etc. What makes agile roadmaps different is the approach to defining each element and the willingness to adapt to changes.

Consider the following steps when creating an agile product roadmap. 

Set product strategy, KPIs, and goals

Focus on product goals. Before you begin to draft the product roadmap, identify the product goals, objectives, and associated KPIs. Ensure that product goals rather than features drive the roadmap.

Know your product vision

After setting the product goals, create your vision and how it will deliver customer value. The product vision must be concise. It must be prepared in a way that you can overcome any unforeseen obstacles without affecting the overall goals. 

Do the groundwork

The groundwork involves identifying your product strategy. It is the path leading to your product vision. The product strategy helps to create the actionable roadmap as well. So, create a product strategy. You can use a vision board to brainstorm ideas for the strategy.

Interact with customers

Though you will have a rough idea of the product, ultimately it is the customers who can help you plan the roadmap. Meet the customers to identify their needs and the solutions to their pain points. Gain insights from candid interviews with end-users and internal customers. 

Define and prioritize product themes

After customer interactions, make a detailed list of all the problems that you are trying to address with your product. This list of issues will then be your product themes around which the roadmap will be built. Further, prioritize the themes based on the set KPIs and product vision. 

Determine time incorporation

Find out if time is relevant to your product roadmap. Most internal roadmaps include dates so that team members can track the execution and progress of the work. For external roadmaps, you can avoid showing the timelines. However, ensure that the roadmap does not include specific due dates for the entire product development and delivery process. It will set unrealistic expectations for stakeholders. 

Determine cost

Like any other project, come up with the estimated costs like material, labor, utilities, licenses, facility, infrastructure, etc. involved in the product development. It will help you get the project cost and create the budget as well. 

Build your roadmap for specific audiences

Roadmaps align stakeholders with team members to ensure better communication and collaboration. So, ensure that you know the roadmap audiences or users. Understand what is important to each audience. For instance, you must consider both a strategic overview for the management executives and a detailed roadmap showing tasks for the development team. 

Review and adjust regularly

Check in daily with the roadmap. Hold meetings with your stakeholders and review the roadmap as often as required. Ensure keeping the roadmap updated with the latest changes and product strategy. The roadmap must always reflect the more significant business priorities. 

Types of Agile Roadmaps

There are three types of agile product roadmaps that product development teams generally use.

Goal-oriented (GO) product roadmap

The GO product roadmap focuses on the product goals. It states each product version's date, name, goal, feature, and metrics. 

The GO product roadmap enables users to steer on the outcome instead of the work involved. Also, the roadmap supports you in thinking about the most valuable product features that will ultimately enable you to achieve your goals. 

For instance, the roadmap will force you to pick the three most important features for the product release. The other features you can add later on. 

Further, this product roadmap also gives you information at a glance. The roadmap overview lets you know the next releases, updates, and manageable stakeholders. 

Now-next-later product roadmap

The now-next-later product roadmap is an easy-to-understand product vision. Regardless of the project complexity, this roadmap can make it easy for every stakeholder to understand the development plan. 

The ‘now’ includes the stuff you are working on currently, the ‘next’ part tells the soon upcoming work, and the ‘later’ part communicates the work that has not been prioritized yet. 

This roadmap has no space to mention dates, metrics, or releases. It is more focused on the work packages or features instead of the product goals. 

Story map

Story maps are excellent for new projects. They are detailed and contain an overview of all the product features that are important for your product. However, it does not mean the list of features will be unlimited.

A story map provides the starting point to facilitate creative feature ideas that can be later on added to the product. 

Story maps also provide an overview of the user activities that must be covered by the system. It enables you to create user stories that can be developed and delivered to customers iteratively. 

story-mapping

Tips for Creating an Agile Product Roadmap

You may choose any agile roadmap type you want. Also, you can represent the roadmap as per your business needs. But there are certain tips that you must follow. 

  • Create the product vision

Set the goals you aim for and describe why you want to create the product – the customer issues it will address.

  • Describe and validate product strategy

Develop the product strategy. Describe key features, target market, customer pain points, business goals, etc. 

  • Maintain simplicity

Keep the product roadmap simple. Do not add too many details like in a product backlog. It may create confusion.

  • Stakeholder collaboration

Collaborate with stakeholders to ensure that everyone remains on the same page and contributes to the product's success.

  • Define KPIs

Make the roadmap measurable. To track the project progress, add measurable KPIs or metrics, milestones, and goals.

  • Consider the audience

Tailor the roadmap based on who sees it. Knowing your audience (stakeholders) means you know who you are catering to and what expectations to set

  • Review and adapt your roadmap regularly

Review the roadmap daily or at regular intervals. Update it to ensure that all the stakeholders are familiar with the changes made to the project as soon as they take place. 

When to Use Agile Roadmaps vs Traditional Roadmaps?

Agile roadmaps are best for iterative, objective-driven projects. You need agile roadmaps when;

  • The project is focused on product strategy and overall objectives
  • You want to reach the product goals and visions
  • The project approach is flexible
  • The project adapts to changing customer feedback

Furthermore, if you want to;

  • achieve your product goals;
  • incorporate changes according to customer feedback, and
  • deliver customer value faster; 

choose agile product roadmaps over traditional roadmaps. 

Traditional roadmaps benefit linear projects focused on deadlines and specific deliverables. You need traditional roadmaps when;

  • The project is more focused on specific deliverables, tasks, and features
  • You want to achieve milestones within specific due dates
  • The project has a rigid structure (not subject to changes)

Wrapping Up

Now you know that product roadmaps do belong to agile environments. It is possible to build agile product roadmaps. In fact, agile roadmaps provide a more realistic view of the product development plan compared to traditional roadmaps. 

So, get ready to start building your agile roadmap. Take help from platforms like Zeda.io that offer the best features to help you with product development. 

With Zeda.io, you can build live product roadmaps and share them with your internal and external stakeholders, including your customers. You can also prioritize product features with built-in prioritization frameworks

These up-to-date roadmaps can also be customized as per requirements and it offers a clear overview of the product development plan.  

Book a demo to know more!

Like the article? Share it with your friends!

Join 5000+ product managers

Subscribe to get our weekly product newsletter and helpful resources right into your inbox.