You're Agile — But You Still Need a Product Roadmap
June 23, 2014

You're Agile — But You Still Need a Product Roadmap

by Brian de Haaff

Being agile with scrum teams can save and destroy you — if that is all you think you need to develop a great product. Only those unaware or unafraid will admit that they are not agile converts these days running scrum teams to build what matters. And there is no doubt that more integrated and continuously improving teams achieve more than their rigidly structured ancestors who went from gate to gate.

But why are so many teams unhappy and building unlovable software? We might all be moving faster, but so fast that we are simply creating random acts of software.

There are many reasons for our inability to slow down and think deeply and sprint at the same time. Let’s admit up front that it is hard and most people gravitate towards staring at the next group of trees — especially technical product managers and engineers. But I think the real reason is that we are making poor prioritization decisions because we are listening to too many voices with no way to reconcile truth.

We are also spending too much time staring at the engineers’ navels.

The big picture can rarely be seen within a conference room at the office. The good news is that product development teams are wicked smart and can learn to see the warning signs that they are headed astray.

We should all take a breath and avoid random acts of software which are the creation of usable new functionality that has no real reason to exist.

I suggest that you consider using the following approach to ensure you are creating products that will delight and be sustainable moving forward — even if you are committed to being agile and using scrum teams.

Don’t get us wrong — we think that an agile approach is a useful approach to development. It just can not be the only approach, as it is not designed for setting strategy and product direction. Make sure you have the following — even if you are agile.

Product roadmap At Aha! we try to avoid creating random acts of software by starting with a deep understanding of the customer (product and engineering managers in our case) and a clear vision of where we are headed. We view product roadmapping as the process of setting a product roadmap. And a product roadmap is nothing more than a plan for how the product is going to meet a set of business objectives.

A great roadmap starts with a clear product vision and a canvas that explains the customer and market forces that will shape the product’s direction. In Aha!, we call this plan a strategy, and a strategy has many components which cover: customer needs, market size, company strengths, sales channels, positioning, competition, partners, etc.

Product team Releasing new functionality takes a complete cross-functional team effort. While scrum brings together the folks focused on the bits, you need a broader team to help you. When we talk about launches for software or cloud-based services, teams often confuse rolling out new features with the total customer experience.

A release is the date when the company is ready to deliver a new customer experience and support every customer interaction point associated with it — not just the act of providing access to new technical functionality.

You should pull together a cross-functional team of leaders that can champion your product internally and with customers.

Fresh ideas Ideation is the creative process of generating, developing, and curating new ideas. Better ideas lead to innovation and innovation leads to market leadership. Fresh ideas also help avoid a stale backlog that often results from too many “daily standups.”

So, every organization wants better ideas, but it is tough to actually capture them in a manageable way. You need a unified way to ensure that you are capturing innovative new ideas from customers and the broader team and you need to it be integrated with your roadmapping process. Create a portal and include an email address so that anyone can share their breakthrough idea.

Start with a roadmap, work with a product team, and be open to new ideas. These simple actions separate great product managers and companies from their competitors and can lead to disruptive innovation.

It also ensures that if you are agile or agile-ambitious, you will avoid creating random acts of software and new features that are never used.

Brian de Haaff

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability and The Startup Adventure newsletter. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the journey of pursuing a meaningful life.

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