As product leaders, one of our primary roles is as evangelists for a product, getting everyone involved excited and onboard with the product vision and invested in seeing the product actually come to fruition. It’s our job to craft a clear and compelling narrative that articulates and communicates a product vision, builds consensus among stakeholders, and creates top to bottom alignment, from the business and product strategy level all the way down to planning, execution and delivery. The most important tool for accomplishing all of this is indisputably the product roadmap.
What is a product roadmap?
At the core, a product roadmap is two things. First, it’s a visual story of the product vision based on user value and business impact that connects stakeholders with the journey so they walk away with the most pertinent information.
Why visual? Studies have shown that while people tend to only remember about 10% of what they hear and 20% of what they read, they remember around 80% of what they see. In short, the brain processes visual cues better than written or the spoken word. For this reason, a visual framework is a powerful tool for getting buy-in and creating alignment.
Second, a product roadmap is a concise tool for business empowerment, providing an executive view showing when and how a product’s capabilities will be deployed. It tends to be focused on the longer term (think 6-18 months out) and is not to be confused with a backlog, which may look more like a detailed project plan, providing functional requirements and accounting for technical dependencies and constraints etc..
An effective product roadmap will provide stakeholders with:
- Clarity: telling the story of why we are doing what we are doing now
- Alignment: keeping teams (executives, stakeholders, support and product team members) aligned around a shared focus
- Answers: reducing questions about long-term and short-term priorities and product direction
- Accountability: tracking progress and impact of features to product goals as well as target dates
To create a product roadmap that does all of this not only requires upfront customer and stakeholder research but often multiple roadmap work sessions where stakeholders and key decision makers can share ideas, engage in constructive debate, and prioritize. To do so effectively requires a skilled product leader equipped with tools and frameworks for visualizing and prioritizing the roadmap.
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Six useful frameworks
When it comes to choosing a framework for your product roadmap, there is, unfortunately, no one-size-fits-all framework. Different factors relating to things like the complexity of the product itself; the size, composition and maturity level of your team and and/or organization; and how you plan to use the framework and in what context will all need to be considered when deciding which framework is right for you. Below are some commonly used frameworks I recommend for prioritization, with suggestions for when and in what kind of situations they might be most effective.
1. Impact vs Effort
Great for quick prioritization and presentations
Also known as the 2X2, Lean Prioritization, and Value vs. Risk, the Impact vs. Effort framework is a simple and straightforward matrix for quickly prioritizing product features and updates based upon how much impact they will have and how much effort it will take to achieve them. Seeing what appears in the lower right quadrant (highest impact, lowest effort) can help your team align on what product features or updates are going to be slam dunks for your business and your customers and which are likely to cause bottlenecks. You can also customize and redefine the axis points as needed.
2. Quarterly List
Great for larger portfolio product roadmaps
Also a broadly used framework, the Quarterly List is a way to factor in time to your prioritization. A typical view will include a list of deliverables organized by time and possibly OKR or theme (marketing, servicing etc.) and can be coded by priority level. Note that to be able to provide this view, other frameworks and models will need to be used behind the scenes but the Quarterly List is a good way to get larger organizations with multiple product teams all on the same page.
Great for defining an MVP
Frequently employed when planning a new product launch, MoSCoW is an acronym used to determine which features will make it into a new product:
- M – MUST HAVE this feature, it is non-negotiable as the system cannot be used without it
- S- SHOULD HAVE this feature. It has high business value, but (if necessary) the product could function without it
- C – COULD HAVE this feature, but it is less critical, considered nice-to-have
- W – WON’T HAVE feature with the least business value – and will not be included now, but in the future, also known as wishlist
While this framework is useful for defining an MVP, it not only requires user feedback as an input to reduce subjectivity but also necessitates that some of the requirements be known or elicited in advance, as you’ll need to be able to know what those requirements are in order to rank them using this framework.
4. Buy a Feature
Great for internal teams and user research
This framework is a fun and simple tool for collaboration that fosters engagement, gets participants excited about the process of prioritization, and gets people thinking more realistically as it employs the use of “money” as a way of gauging interest.
To use this framework, you list out the product features that are on the roadmap, assign a price to them (you can even go so far as to base the price on the relative cost to develop the feature), hand out a specific amount of “money” to each participant and ask them to buy features. Seeing where people “spend” the most “money” determines your priorities. We’ve also had success using this framework both with customers in user research and with stakeholders and then comparing the results to understand where the businesses’ priorities align with those of the users and where they don’t.
5. Weighted scoring
Great for linking the business with the customer needs alongside technology
This is the framework we use most often at Cake & Arrow. It combines a little bit of everything. Using our formula, we are able to take a look at business objectives, OKRs, user interest or impact and use a likert scale to weight each category to ultimately come up with a net score for prioritizing product features. It provides a holistic and nuanced way to account for the goals of the business and the customer alongside technology. By ranking strategic initiatives and major features in this way, product leaders can facilitate a more productive discussion about what to include on the product roadmap.
Weighted Scoring Framework
Our weighted scoring template provides a holistic and nuanced framework for prioritizing your digital product roadmap. Download our ready-to-use template to start prioritizing your digital product roadmap today.
6. Rice & Ice
Great for more established product roadmaps and when interested in scoring without too much detail
Like Weighted Scoring, RICE and ICE are frameworks for scoring product features. They are very popular models for prioritization because they define OKRs for you. If you have not yet defined OKRs, RICE and ICE are a great place to start. However, each OKR is weighed equally and while that can be great if you have equal business targets, weighted scoring might make more sense if you want to weight your OKRs differently. If you do have OKRs, it is best to benchmark with those in mind and weight them accordingly.
No matter which framework you choose, remember that prioritization is not about what your competitors are doing, what sales leads are requesting, or what technology says is easy. It’s about what is best for your business and your customers. Prioritization is a moving target and should always be:
- An interdisciplinary, team exercise. Those outside the product group have valuable insights into your users and market.
- Based on user research, customer feedback, and innovative ideas from your leaders, experts and stakeholders.
- Able to answer “why” and help you defend your product strategy