How often should roadmap planning happen?
Product plans are dynamic. Product managers have to continually plan for and adapt to organizational changes, shifts in the market, and evolving customer needs. The best product managers see these evolutions as opportunities — to build a better product for customers.
A product roadmap is a visual timeline for how you will create that future. Roadmaps illustrate how you will achieve the product vision and meet business goals — why you are building, when you will deliver releases, and what features will be included. The "why" should be fairly static. But the "when" and the "what" may shift. Your roadmap needs to be flexible enough to allow for ongoing changes.
The frequency at which you update your roadmap will depend on multiple factors — including product maturity and the market you operate in. If you have a new product in a highly dynamic market, be prepared to adjust plans more often.
Update frequency also depends on the type of roadmap you are building and how often you present updates to stakeholders. Most product managers update a features roadmap on a weekly basis to see the progress of new features and functionality. You may update the strategic roadmap just as often — so stakeholders can see how high-level efforts and initiatives contribute to achieving the product goals.
Outside of these scheduled updates, there are other times that product managers adjust the roadmap. Any major organizational change, such as a strategy shift or new business investment, will require you to reconsider product plans. Let's look at some of the biggest changes that drive roadmap planning.
Product managers typically align product goals with one or more business-level goals — such as revenue growth or market expansion. Changes at the business level will impact goals and initiatives at the product level.
For example, business leaders may choose to expand into a new market. Or if you introduce an initiative based on competitive analysis or a newly discovered customer need. Ideally, shifts in business strategy occur somewhat predictably and in advance. If business plans are well-communicated within the organization, you are better positioned to adjust the product strategy and roadmap accordingly.
Of course, changes in strategy may precipitate fairly considerable changes to your roadmap. It is wise to communicate the impact broadly. The engineering team needs to understand the bigger picture so the shifts in their work make sense. Customer-facing teams may need to help reset customer expectations on upcoming priorities. Strategy shifts can be some of the most demanding for the product team — so communication is key to keeping everyone informed and in sync.
Product managers track lots of data to report on progress against business goals. If you monitor key performance indicators (KPIs) on a product dashboard or within specific reports, you will likely spot trends, spikes, or drops in data that affect ongoing plans.
These kinds of discoveries require you to make trade-off decisions about which features will have the most significant and immediate impact. You may need to reprioritize your roadmap to deliver new or updated features. But do not get so boxed in to product data that you lose sight of the product vision. Fluctuations in metrics can be normal and should not be the reason you revamp the entire product direction.
Trends in customer feedback
Customer feedback also influences roadmap planning. After all, your customers are the people you are building for. As you collect and review customer requests, you will likely identify new initiatives, features, and enhancements that you would like to add to your roadmap. Evaluate these new ideas against product strategy and identify the requests that will deliver real value.
As customer feedback impacts product plans, your release plans will change too. Typically this happens at the feature level, rather than the initiative level. For example, you may need to de-prioritize a feature set that the engineering team is planning. Or add a new set of functionality to the product backlog.
Major changes in resource planning and capacity
No matter how well-considered your plans, you cannot always anticipate cross-team challenges. Perhaps you share resources with another product manager and a group of engineers is pulled over to a new project of immediate importance. Or an upcoming feature set gets delayed due to an unforeseen cost or technical issue.
Updating the roadmap in these cases takes more than shifting dates and pushing back deliverables. Considerable changes in resources and capacity typically require you to change direction or re-scope plans. As with any change to the roadmap, it is important to inform cross-functional teams and stakeholders.
A roadmap is simply a visualization of your strategic plans. When circumstances change, adjust plans according to what you know now. Big shifts in strategy, data, customer feedback, and resources require deep consideration. Look at product plans holistically and take a thoughtful approach to build the new direction.
Of course, roadmap planning and updating can be onerous if you create it in a spreadsheet or static document. As you shift product plans, your roadmap stays a step (or more) behind. Simplify roadmapping by using purpose-built software that automatically integrates strategic planning with roadmapping. Try Aha! Roadmaps for free for 30 days to build, manage, and share roadmaps in real time.