The Product Roadmap is like the north star. The same way a sail boat is guided by a trustworthy, never changing light source, the Product Roadmap is there to give a team direction and comfort that they are moving in the right direction.
The goal is to get the team to be intrinsically motivated about the Product Roadmap. I’m making the assumption that if you’re reading this post you probably agree that selling a roadmap to the development team is a difficult undertaking.
In order to be able to provide direction and comfort, the Roadmap has to have the team’s buy in. In the remainder of this post I will describe the way I believe a team should be approaching the definition of a successful Roadmap.
The teams are made of a number of skills. Some teams can have just two tiers (or just one when the leadership is provided from whithin the team) while in larger organisations there can even be a structure such as the one below.
| Product Manager
|| Ultimately responsible with the delivery of the product
| Technical Lead
|| The technical go to person for the entire team (cross skill)
| Team Leader
|| Responsible with the entirety of a skill (e.g. developers)
| Team Member
|| BA, Designer, Developer, Tester, etc
In reality, the more tiers there are in a team the higher the risk that there will be voices that have not been heard or that certain individuals will end up not feeling represented. Later in the life of the product these are most likely to become the least motivated or the least engaged team members.
I believe that people’s motivation disappears when the Roadmap is enforced top down. Too much energy has to be spent on selling a roadmap epic as opposed to discussion the merit of that roadmap entry.
Instead, I suggest a bottom-up approach. I call this, the Pyramid of Trust. I will describe how this works by looking at a complex team structure. In a simpler situation, pyramid levels could simply be removed.
The Pyramid of Trust … is built from the ground up
Step 1 – Ask the team
Everyone takes part in this exercise. Allocate enough time to allow people to collect ideas and to have a couple of minutes to pitch them. There are no bad ideas at this point. Think of it almost as a brainstorming phase.
This first step is also the most important one, because this is where trust starts being built. Here are some guidelines on how to approach it:
- Remind the team about the company values / mission / priorities
- Ask them to suggest a limited number of ideas (no more than 3). These ideas must be good for the product, for the end user, and for the business
- Once the team have spoken, it’s time for their leaders to contribute with their own proposals
- Lastly, the Product Manager / Business Owner is going to present their own idea
Step 2 – Find the themes
Realistically there will be many ideas that the team simply won’t have time to build. Some ideas might just be plain bad. Other ideas might need resources that simply are not available. These are just a few reasons why in step two, the Team Leaders should get together with the Technical Lead and the Product Manager to:
- group these ideas by theme
- discard themes / ideas that are not suitable
Delegating or sharing this responsibility with the Team Leaders is beneficial because:
- it gives comfort to the team members who know that they are represented in the selection process
- teaches the Team Leaders about responsibility and pragmatism
- is a healthy process that enables excellent technical proposals to survive the selection process
Step 3 – Isolate the Epics
It’s time for the Technical Lead and the Product Manager to make the final selection for the Epics that will make it into the Roadmap.
This is the step where emotion is put aside and the business and the technical skills get together to figure out the best ways forward. At the end of this step the Product Manager will have mandate from the development team to pitch a Roadmap to the business.
The Technical Lead will need to figure out ways to plug the holes in the team’s skills set, resource and prioritise appropriately, find training and upscaling opportunities. All these will help the team be as prepared as they can be when they come about implementing this Roadmap.
Step 4 – Pitch the finalised Roadmap
The Product Manager is now under pressure from the team to represent their ideas when pitching this Roadmap to the wider business or to the stakeholders. Compromises usually need to be made and not everything will work according to “plan”. The bright side to this approach though is that the Product Manager will have the confidence to speak on behalf of the team knowing that if their suggestions make it into the agreed Roadmap then the team are likely to be motivated and engaged as they are, in fact, co-owners of this Roadmap.
Conclusion and next steps
It’s important to remember that if an idea that was generated by a team member makes it into the final roadmap, this person should be involved in the phases to follow: exploration, research, strategy, implementation. This way credit is given where it’s due, the sense of ownership and belonging is reinforced and this becomes a good example for the roadmap sessions that will take place in the future…
A good idea would be to make the roadmap as visible as possible, in a way that does not use actual dates. The focus should be on sequence more than anything. I would suggest three monthly updates on progress. These would also serve as reminders of the common team purpose.