What is a Strategic Product Roadmap?

Product Management
September 22, 2022
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When they say, strategic product roadmap do you sometimes wonder what  they exactly mean?

Well, a strategic product roadmap is a high-level document (executive summary) that defines the vision behind your product. It acts as a guideline throughout your product development process.

The strategic product roadmap answers these 3 questions for a product manager:

1. What product are you creating? 

2. Why are you creating a product? 

3. How will it benefit your end-user? 

 The Strategic Product Roadmap has the answer to all these three fundamental questions. 

Your product development should be aimed at creating user-centric products. In order to do that, your strategic roadmap should address the unique needs of your target customer. One important point to note here is, that while you create this strategic course of action, you must involve all your team members for everyone to be on the same page. And once your strategic product roadmap is figured out, your team knows exactly the subsequent course of action in your product development. Thus it makes for a streamlined execution.

Now that you know what a strategic product roadmap is, you may be curious as to why create a strategic roadmap before you begin your product development, right?

Well, let me enlighten you here. Lack of focus is one of the top reasons behind start-ups downhill. It even gets exacerbated when you don't listen to customers. Creating a strategic product roadmap saves you from these disastrous occurrences. Here are the top 3 reasons why a strategic roadmap is non-negotiable in your product development effort. Here you go:

  1. End User-Centric Approach
  2. Adaptability to market changes 
  3. Solving The Right Problem

3 Reasons Why A Strategic Product Roadmap is The Way to Go

#1 End-user centric approach

A strategic roadmap is a bridge between the problems your end-user is facing & how you plan to solve them. This ensures that your product solves the user’s problem. And not a superfluous addition to your product line that makes no sense to your customers.

The user-centric roadmap in another way stems from quality over quantity mindset. Where you develop products with only a few features that focus on quality to bring actual value to the end-user. So would you rather create a customer-centric product? Or make tons of features in a product that has little value to the end-user. It’ll be clear to you why you want to follow a strategic product roadmap.

#2 Adaptability to market changes

Another advantage of having a  strategic roadmap is that it’s not a static document. Rather, it’s an effective tool adaptive to market changes as you’re developing your product. The market is subject to change while your development process is going on. Having a roadmap helps you identify features that need change. Without a roadmap, how will you decide which path to take in your product development after all? No roadmap & your product ceases to add value to the customers.

#3 Solving the right problems

Your product can solve a multitude of problems. It’s essential to know which problems are worth solving that have the most consequential effect. Carrying out customer research while you create your strategic product roadmap will give you the needed clarity. What will add value to your users & what won’t? Using a design thinking framework in creating your roadmap is an effective way that brings you clarity on your market and user base. 

How does it differ from  other roadmaps?

Now you're quite well versed with the what and why of the strategic product roadmap. This explains where you are & anticipates decision points that will change our path & collect data to help make those decisions. Now let’s have a look at how it’s different from the other two roadmaps– the misleading (linear) roadmap and the honest roadmap.

The strategic roadmap overcomes the flaws of honest and misleading roadmaps by factoring in real time data and facilitating needed implementation into product development.

Misleading Roadmap

This roadmap follows a linear path from zero to an inevitable goal & has milestones along that path. It has no connection with realistic expectations, hence they’re misleading.

Honest Roadmap

These roadmaps are improvements over the former one. It has an optimistic view of the near future. Yet factor in the uncertainty of the future. So it’s more realistic than the linear model, still missing out on giving important insights as to how you can handle future uncertainties.

Strategic Product Roadmap

Here comes the strategic product roadmap. It eliminates the flaws of the previous 2 roadmaps. It’s the ultimate realistic path that is built on real-time data. The design of this path is –you know where you are today, and anticipate decision points that will change your path. You intentionally gather data to reach those decisions.

What makes a good strategic product  roadmap

A strategic product roadmap ensures your product development process is in line with customer -centric approach. Simply put, the product development process prioritises customer’s need above innovation.

Let’s have a look how a leading liquid repellent supplier implemented a strategic product roadmap to have a streamlined product release process. Earlier the individual customer feedback guided their product development. It caused multiple new products , stalled projects and a longer timeline to market their products. It proved to be cost inefficient. 

The T-Plan(technology plan) strategic roadmap is designed to facilitate the product development to be completely focused on market drivers and addressing  customer problems. It combines  the technical and commercial functions to support communication , linking technologies ,capabilities and resources with their products that accommodate customer needs and the market drivers.

The process took the form of a series of four half day workshops conducted by IfM Engage . There was a core team of 8-10 people from the Executive Team, engineering ,technical and customer facing teams in each workshop. 

The relevant employees got involved at each stage of the roadmapping process that helped  them make sense of the micro level(at the particular stage ) decisions  & also how that fits into the macro level(the whole process).  For example, the engineers could now understand how their  product ideas would shape the actual development of the product that gets released into the market. 

This strategic product roadmapping process helped  the participating organisation mapped their ideas onto the actual product development. It also helped them prioritise their projects based on a comprehensive SWOT analysis generated by the process .

Viewing  Strategic Product Roadmap  In A Top Down Way

Taking on a top-down approach to strategic planning is a surefire way to ensure your product roadmap falls in line with your business objectives & long-term aspirations for the product. It helps define quantitative goals (i.e., measurable) that not only measure progress but help you prioritise your decisions in product management.

In above figure, you can see, top-down the strategic planning process  is pretty uncomplicated

You start by defining your high-level (top layer) product vision. Then using it, you derive actionable, measurable product goals. Your vision & goals feed into your product roadmap. In turn, your product roadmap sits above your low-level (down layer) release plan & backlog.

This top-down approach in the context of product road mapping starts with your product vision. This production vision or mission statement is your high level, an aspirational statement that describes the ‘why’ of your product. It represents your intended direction.

From this product vision, you obtain your product goals. This step contributes to making your product strategy into an executable plan. The goals should be quantifiable & readily turn into trackable metrics & key performance indicators.

Many companies set different tiers of strategic objectives for different time frames. Say, they may set some benchmarks for where the business should go 3 years from now. Then break down these benchmarks into smaller, short-term milestones along the way so that it keeps them on track to meet their long-term goal. From those goals, many product managers find it convenient to fetch even smaller objectives & key performance indicators (or metrics) to be met along the way.

How to Create A Strategic Roadmap

If you made it this far, it’s evident that you’re quite up for creating your strategic roadmap yet don’t know the steps involved in it.

Here’s your step-by-step guide for helping you create your strategic roadmap from scratch:

Step1: Customer Challenges & Problems

The first step is to define measurable objectives or value propositions that take into account the primary customer challenges and problems your product is intended to solve. This will help you stay focused on your intention as to why you’re creating the products. It will also help you prevent unfruitful resource allocation to add features in your product that fail to add any value to your customer, meaning it doesn’t solve the problems intended to be solved.

Step 2: Objectives

Once the problems & challenges are defined, you now try & quantify your customer value. These are the values you seek to offer your customers. Measuring it & building the feedback loop to constantly test your value proposition will ensure all the downstream features ( with all their associated cost & resources) are better aligned to further drive the value proposition.

Step3: Capabilities

This step involves defining capabilities your product must have to go in line with your core customer value proposition. This is the missing link between the value proposition & the detailed product features. These capabilities set key attributes your product must offer to the customers that address & solve the challenges & problems you intend to solve and add value to them.

Some examples are:

Intelligent Product Forecasting

Customer Drop-Off Prediction

Support Request Fulfilment

Security Management

You can also determine which capabilities are worth your most effort & investment.

This helps in further clarifying where you need to focus and drive priorities that are in sync with customer value propositions. 

Step 4: Features ( Course of Action)

Now that your key product capabilities are set, you need to identify which features will exactly deliver those capabilities. For each of your prioritised capabilities, identify the features required.

You can also allocate ballpark or ROM(Rough Order Magnitude) costs against each feature. This is for better prioritisation & budgeting downstream. 

Step 5: Releases (Initiatives)

At this point, you have clarity in terms of what customer challenges you’re solving & your core value propositions. You also have a list of prioritised product capabilities and an initial backlog of product features at your disposal.

The next step is to fit all these together into a prioritised strategic roadmap for execution. But before creating the roadmap, let’s develop a minimum feature set and release your minimum viable product(MVP) that has these features. It will help you get feedback and test your value hypothesis. With each MVP iteration, you gather feedback, reevaluate the customer challenges you’re solving, revisit your value proposition and readjust your product roadmap.

After several cycles of running this feedback loop, you finally get close to the required solution & eventually make the product that’s market fit. 

Step 6: Product Roadmap

Now you have defined your product increments, map out your timeline on a simple grid. Map out your horizons,e.g., months, quarters, and product stages as the column headers. On the rows, enter the key customer challenges or objectives we are solving for. Alternatively, you can use the major product capabilities you’re delivering against. Make it according to what makes the most sense to your product. Plot each of your initiatives on the grid in an executable sequence. Identify dependencies between these initiatives. And make sure you don’t try to do too much too quickly. 

Once you’ve created your strategic roadmap, you can then fine-tune each of these features & manage the delivery using your preferred execution tool.

Strategic Roadmap Creation Checklist

So I’ll recap the steps involved in the Roadmap Creation in a list here:

  • Identifying Key Customer Challenges & Problems Your Product Is Going to Solve
  • Define  Your Value Proposition That Captures The Values You Seek to Offer 
  • Identify the capabilities your product needs to offer to address the problems & challenges you want to solve for them.
  • Identify & prioritise the capabilities that are most worth solving & develop features around those.
  • Release Minimum Viable Product with a minimum feature set to test out your product & run the customer feedback loop to optimise your final product. 
  • Trace the entire roadmap on a simple grid for better trackability.
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