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Redefining Product Roadmaps: From Fixed Commitments to Flexible Outcomes

Updated: Feb 29


Output vs Outcome based roadmaps

Introduction

Product roadmaps are vital tools in the strategic planning process of any product-oriented business. They offer a visual representation of the direction and progress of product development, aligning teams and stakeholders around common goals. However, the traditional approach to product roadmaps is fraught with challenges that can impede the innovation process and lead to misalignment between expectations and deliverables.


The Two Inconvenient Truths of Roadmaps


Truth 1: The Misconception of Commitment

One of the primary challenges with traditional product roadmaps is the perception among stakeholders and team members that every item listed on the roadmap is a committed deliverable within a specified timeframe. This perception creates a rigid environment where deviation from the roadmap is seen as a failure, stifling flexibility and the ability to adapt to changing market conditions or customer needs. The reality is that innovation and product development are inherently uncertain, and the value of some ideas can only be fully understood through exploration and iteration.


Truth 2: The Iterative Nature of Value Creation

Even when an idea is determined to be valuable, desirable, feasible, and viable, it often requires multiple iterations to refine and deliver the expected business value. This iterative process is a fundamental aspect of product development but is often underappreciated in traditional roadmap planning. Stakeholders may expect immediate results from the initial implementation, overlooking the fact that refinement and adaptation are crucial for achieving long-term success.


The Necessity of Commitment and Deadlines

Despite the challenges outlined above, commitments and deadlines are an unavoidable aspect of running a business. They provide essential milestones that help teams prioritize work and allocate resources efficiently. However, this doesn't mean that roadmaps must be rigid and inflexible. By adopting a different lens—one that emphasizes discovery and iteration—teams can approach commitments more thoughtfully.


This approach involves allowing teams to engage in low-fidelity prototyping and iterative development to explore ideas and validate assumptions before making firm commitments. Once a clear direction and set of goals are established, teams are better equipped to commit to delivering specific outcomes. This method aligns with agile principles, emphasizing adaptability and continuous improvement.


The Dual Purposes of Roadmaps

Product roadmaps serve two critical purposes in a corporate setting:

  1. Ensuring Teams Focus on Valuable Work: Roadmaps help management ensure that teams are aligned with the company's strategic objectives, working on projects that offer the most value to the business and its customers.

  2. Meeting Business Commitments: Roadmaps also play a crucial role in enabling companies to make date-based commitments. These commitments are vital for planning product launches, marketing campaigns, and other business activities that depend on the timely delivery of new features or products.


An Alternative to Traditional Roadmaps

The limitations of traditional roadmaps have led to the exploration of alternatives that focus on outcomes rather than outputs. This approach shifts the emphasis from delivering a set list of features or products by certain dates to achieving broader business outcomes, such as improving customer satisfaction, increasing market share, or driving revenue growth.


Benefits of Outcome-Based Roadmaps

  • Flexibility: Outcome-based roadmaps allow for greater flexibility in how goals are achieved, enabling teams to adapt their approach based on feedback and changing circumstances.

  • Focus on Value: By concentrating on outcomes, teams are encouraged to think creatively about the best ways to deliver value to customers and the business, rather than being confined to a predetermined set of deliverables.

  • Enhanced Collaboration: This approach fosters a more collaborative environment where teams work together to identify the most effective strategies for achieving shared objectives, breaking down silos and encouraging cross-functional teamwork.

  • Improved Stakeholder Alignment: Outcome-based roadmaps help align stakeholders around common goals, facilitating a clearer understanding of strategic priorities and how individual efforts contribute to the overall success of the business.


Conclusion

The traditional approach to product roadmaps often falls short in today's fast-paced and uncertain business environment. By acknowledging the inconvenient truths about roadmaps and embracing a more flexible, outcome-focused approach, organizations can foster innovation, adaptability, and alignment across teams and stakeholders. This shift requires a cultural change towards valuing discovery, iteration, and collaboration over rigid planning and strict adherence to predefined outputs. Ultimately, the success of any product roadmap lies in its ability to guide strategic decision-making, facilitate effective communication, and drive the delivery of tangible business outcomes.


What's Next?

  • Have a look at our SAFe Product Owner / Manager (POPM) certification course that unpacks roadmaps more.

  • If you're looking for what's next after POPM then we'd encourage you to look into Agile Product and Solution Design course. Contact us for more info.

  • For a custom workshop on roadmaps please get in touch with us here.

  • Read more blog posts here.

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