Behind every effective agile roadmap is a well-thought out plan. As true (and cheesy) as that statement is, it’s also a bit of a weird statement since a roadmap is meant to be a (flexible and transparent) plan that aligns stakeholders across your organization. So what we’re saying is you need to plan for your plan. A truly effective agile roadmap (i.e. plan) is one that people will have confidence executing. And without proper thought put into that plan, you’ll be hard-pressed to find individuals willing to stake their time, money and energy on your roadmap.
You might be asking: what’s the point in planning for an agile roadmap when it will ultimately change? You’re not wrong—your agile roadmap should be a statement of intent that you update frequently. But you should be updating your roadmap to reflect changes brought on by your agile environment, organization and market—NOT because you poorly planned your roadmap. Prep work for your agile roadmap can prevent unnecessary changes and even complete overhauls of your plan.
For all the PMs we’ve spoken to, roadmap planning is a key step in their workflow—particularly in agile. So before you open up your roadmapping tool (or app or whiteboard or spreadsheet *shudder*) to create your agile roadmap, here are five steps you should take for effective agile roadmap planning.
Step 1: Set your goals
So you’re creating an agile roadmap to communicate and align with all your stakeholders, but what are you trying to address? Even if you have a list of impressive features you want to release, the big picture must be considered. If you’re a smaller startup, your big picture could be achieving product-market fit. If you’re more established, the mission could be launching more “sticky” features to keep customers coming back. Whatever the goal, your roadmap should convey to its audience that this is your plan for achieving your high-level strategy.
Without established objectives, expect stakeholders to walk away from your roadmap with different ideas of product priorities (basically the TOTAL opposite of what you’re trying to achieve with a roadmap). Your roadmap should always tie directly back to your primary goals so that stakeholders are clear about your product strategy. When planning your document, ask yourself: does my agile roadmap speak to my company and product vision?
Bonus question: If you want to get reallyyy specific when planning your roadmap, also ask yourself what key performance indicators you want to focus on. Planning out your main KPIs will allow you to create a roadmap that explains how you’ll hit those targets.
Step 2: Evaluate your resources
If you have ten developers, but two are on vacation and one is being shared by the marketing team, how much can you ship in your next sprint? The answer: probably not as much as you could with a fully available team of ten developers. Planning for your agile roadmap should address your available resources and their constraints. Knowing what’s blocking your resources will let you create an agile roadmap that is honest about what can be achieved.
Another thing to plan: the speed at which your resources operate. You’re always going to get pushback on how fast (or slow) your team is delivering on your plan—even in agile. Plan what cycle length works best for your agile team—especially if you’re choosing to represent time on your roadmap. Even if you don’t visually represent your cycle lengths on your agile roadmap, determining your team’s speed will help you develop a plan grounded in reality.
Step 3: Check-in with your users
It boggles our minds when organizations build roadmaps solely based on quantitative data on their market. Your users’ needs go much deeper than what statistical research portrays. Speaking first-hand to customers during the planning phase of your roadmap can give you insights into investments you never would have thought of making. Before you commit to anything on your roadmap, it just makes sense to understand if your users, you know, actually want these things.
Additionally, user research will help you make a really, really strong case when getting buy-in. User research shows stakeholders that the agile roadmap you’re creating isn’t just a random, aimless plan you’ve pulled out of thin air. It’s a plan developed from authentic user needs; something that will inspire confidence in the roadmap audience. It’s pretty hard to refute real user needs.
Step 4: Determine your building blocks
You’ve established your goals. You know what’s blocking your team. You also understand your users’ wants. Next up: figure out the big initiatives and break them down. We’re talking major themes to focus on and the features that fall under each of those themes. You can break it down further into epics and user stories. Just keep hacking away at the collected information until you have all the building blocks you need before putting it onto your roadmap.
From there you can develop high-confidence estimates on the features, epics and stories you’ll include on your roadmap. You can also identify any dependencies that could potentially hold you back. If this seems like a lot of work to do before creating an agile roadmap, we say to you: planning these elements will prepare you to address (and defend) the choices you’ve made when changes do pop up. And if you do need to make changes, you can speak to the impacts and trade-offs that must be made to accommodate those alterations.
Step 5: Hold planning sessions
This step isn’t so much isolated, but more of an ongoing one that works in conjunction with the steps above. Chances are you’re not creating this roadmap by yourself (and if you are, geez, please ask for help!). Make your agile roadmap planning a team effort by getting your whole product team into one room. This is your opportunity to really understand together your use cases, your discovery work and your objectives before you make any investments to your roadmap.
This step gives everyone a good look at the plan you’ve developed so far. Think of this as a way to get buy-in for the plan for your plan (again—strange, we know). Early buy-in from your product team during your planning stage will be beneficial when getting official buy-in and public affirmations from your stakeholders.
A handy checklist for your agile roadmap planning
To give some structure to the agile roadmap planning process, find below a handy checklist. Follow this checklist for steps you should take, as well as the questions to ask and things you’ll need each step of the way.