In a previous JIRA insiders, I showed you how the JIRA Portfolio team combines long-term planning and agile execution using JIRA Portfolio. I also mentioned that “techniques for coming up with a high-level product strategy could fill a separate blog post.” We were overwhelmed by the interest and feedback in that blog (thanks!), so I’m delivering on that promise today by sharing some of the techniques that help us with defining, discussing and presenting a strategic product roadmap and how to translate it to an actionable plan in JIRA and JIRA Portfolio.
What makes a good roadmap
Before we dive into it, let’s talk about what makes a good product roadmap. There are numerous definitions for what a product roadmap is – from detailed feature/function/timeline oriented documents, to high-level vision papers and presentations focused on themes and metrics. Let’s take a step back and think about your roadmap’s purpose:
- It sets the scene and establishes guardrails that help you focus on the right things whilst leaving room for exploring and refining along the way (rather than locking you into a prescribed list of features).
- It identifies sources of customer value creation to be tackled (rather than defining upfront what to build, without validation of whether it will deliver the desired value)
- It provides just enough detail to work out actionable, well-timed next steps (rather than being a top-down project plan).
- It sets the cadence for delivering customer value regularly, at a pace that is sustainable for the team and absorbable by the market.
- It motivates and inspires.
Looking at this list, it’s clear that we need to stop thinking of roadmaps as only feature lists and Gantt charts. A great roadmap is a strategic communication tool for all stakeholders involved in the process. As such, it’s essential to not only get the content right, but also the presentation – crystal clear, and accessible for everyone. Remember: your marketing and support teams need to plan their work based on the roadmap, too.
We need to stop thinking of roadmaps as feature lists and Gantt charts. Great roadmaps are strategic communication tools
There are three methodologies we like to use at Atlassian throughout the regular road mapping process:
- The product vision board captures the essence of the product strategy on one page. It helps us stay focused and decide whether feature ideas fit the overall strategy.
- The metrics on the move framework outlines metrics to improve in order to deliver on the overall product strategy, underpinned by product or service improvements to help get us there.
- The message house method fuses the marketing and technical aspects of the product to create a set of messages that are not only inspiring for our audience, but also accurate and 100% in sync with what the product delivers.
Define the product vision
Before proposing a roadmap of changes, actions to take and features to build, it is essential to capture the ideal future state in a crisp product vision. We create product vision boards to capture underlying assumptions about target users, their problems, and what the product is intended to do – all on one page.
We adapted the original product vision board to include success factors as well as the unfair advantage we have in the market. Success factors are the kind of “make or break” aspects that are crucial for delivering on the vision. Whilst this is partly covered in the solutions section, we found it helpful as guidance for the team when designing and building new features, as it covers important non-functional aspects of the solution.
Next to that, in a highly competitive global market, it is important to hone in on unique benefits and capabilities that are hard for competitors to copy or acquire. A solution by itself might be great at satisfying customers’ needs, but if anyone can copy it, your business is at risk. For this reason, we call out the unfair advantages of the product and make sure we continue to stay ahead of the game.
Coming up with the product vision is a team effort and for us, nothing beats a whiteboard, sticky notes, and Sharpies! Draw the canvas on a whiteboard, brainstorm each section, do some affinity mapping to group similar elements into categories and distill it down to 3-5 bullet points within each section.
Take the JIRA Portfolio vision board: if the “solutions” section contains “bringing data across multiple JIRA projects into one place to share status and progress”, a key success factor could be “frictionless integration” since having all data in one place isn’t enough – we have to make it really easy to set things up, and keep things up to date.
From there, we transfer our vision board to Confluence and share it. This opens up a discussion with the entire JIRA team since everyone can comment on it, and allows us to visualize the health of each bullet point on the canvas.
Defining metrics and themes
Once the vision is established, it’s time to create a plan for bringing it to life. The vision board and the statuses we gave each canvas bullet point are a great starting point, but there are other sources of information as well: customer feedback, customer interviews, data from in-product analytics that shows usage patterns, trends in support tickets, what your competitors are doing, etc.
Success means moving the needle on your metrics, not just shipping a feature.
We tend to think in terms of metrics first, rather than defining features. Shipping a feature on time used to be the primary measure of success. Now the more important question is: did it deliver the customer value we were hoping for, as measured by the metrics we’re watching? This sets the stage for iterating on solutions that actually move the needle on those metrics. For example, a “hero metric” for JIRA Portfolio could be “number of successful teams using Portfolio”, as measured by a combination of active users and satisfaction expressed in customer net promoter score (NPS), with an example sub-metric “setup time” as measured by the average time for new users to see a realistic roadmap based on their data.
Once we’ve defined the hero metric and sub-metrics, we can then decide on themes: strategic areas that tell us “where we should be spending our time” in order to achieve our metrics. For example, a theme focused on improving the setup time metric could be called “instant value”, with possible features such as a simple on-boarding process that sets up a plan automatically from existing JIRA Agile boards and projects.
Thinking in terms of metrics rather than product features also leaves room to consider other means for improving this metric like short tutorials helping users getting started – anything that helps users get started quickly.
Building a message house
Roadmaps are essentially about communication. Not only internally, but also to the outside world of customers. Cue the message house. The message house is great at aligning marketing and product teams because it forces marketing messages to be supported by product development right from the start. This relationship brings up questions like “how are we going to tell users about X feature in Y product?” before a feature is even in the works. If you can’t put a strong message behind a feature, that’s an indication that something is amiss.
Above is an example of a message house blueprint. You build its foundation on a strong understanding of your product’s future: high-level, motivationally-driven statements that are equal parts emotional and practical. Atop the foundation are key messages. These are value propositions that describe why customers should pay attention to your product – pain points and solutions are popular things to focus on here. The foundation and message pillars hold up your umbrella statement (aka, the roof). The umbrella statement describes the product positioning and/or any important tag lines. Make it concrete and attractive to customers.
Work on messaging even before building a feature to keep marketing and product 100% in sync.
The JIRA, JIRA Agile, and JIRA Portfolio teams all build message houses at the beginning of a release to guarantee that marketing and product teams are on the same page. We find that by working together early on in development, there are very few (if any) surprises when release time arrives.
Getting roadmaps right
It’s important to look at the future of any product from short-term to long-term and to keep roadmaps documented in order to keep everyone on the right path. We put our product strategy and roadmaps in Confluence, and when the time is right, transfer them over to JIRA, JIRA Agile and JIRA Portfolio in the form of themes, initiatives, epics, and stories. To learn more about how we combine long-term planning and agile with JIRA Portfolio, read this blog.