Whether you’re working with an external company or just working in-house, a roadmap is an essential planning element that you shouldn’t ignore. In laying out everything in one session, it can help you to uncover all sorts of challenges and opportunities facing your business or product.
From there you’re able to identify what needs to be done and who will be doing it. Here’s a guide to running a roadmapping session that will set you up for the new year.
Even if you know the project inside out, that doesn’t mean everyone in the session will. Take your time at the start to look at the following areas.
The problem – This is the chance to look over what problems need to be overcome in order to get your project where it needs to be. This might be as simple as a flooded market and the challenge of finding your USP, or it could be as something a complex as finding the right resources to develop a new product.
The payoff – This is the chance to think about how the success of the project might affect the business. Ultimately, you need to think about the financial benefits and the return-on-investment the project will bring.
For large-scale projects, a planning meeting with a small, core group can help keep a session with a lot of people on track as Nick Davies of app development company Short, Bald & Lanky explains: “We've found that an initial meeting listing the questions we want answered in the session helps us stay focussed on what we are trying to achieve. The roadmapping session then has a clear agenda and everyone is on the same page so we can just crack on.”
If you don’t already know, establish what success looks like. It might be a profit on the project, hits on a landing page, newsletter subscribes or something else entirely. Once you know what success looks like, you’ll be better placed to work out how to get there.
Before you even begin to think about how the work will get done, you need to look at the risks associated with the project, what might stop it from being successful? Get your team to come to the session with the risks that might affect the project’s momentum and ultimate success. These could be things like competitor presence, budget, a tight timeline or the amount of research and experimentation involved.
Davies says: “In my experience, the biggest risks we’ve found in launching our game filter messaging app, Huayu, is the stability of the app itself. It’s been built on iOS and Android, which means we are delivering to users with thousands of different handsets and operating systems.
“Visibility is another risk, it’s a very crowded market but you need to cut through that to be seen by your target audience.”
Once you have your risks outlined, the purpose of the rest of the session is to work out ways to mitigate these risks. In the case of Davies and the messaging app, they might work rigorous testing and market research into the roadmap for Huayu.
Treat this as a mini branding session where you identify your key customer. You don’t have to go as far as creating a customer profile but make sure you understand who this product is intended for and how they’ll use it. What do your customers need to do to ensure the success of the project?
The Huayu logo from the first art launch, aimed at students
Davies understands the importance of knowing your market, he says: “Get to know your target audience like they are family. Once you understand them you can plan your launch and development.
“With the right information, you will know what appeals to your users and where you’ll be able to maximise your visibility in places they’ll see, whether online or off.”
Think about others who might interact with the project. They might be developers, a marketing team and admin staff. Work out who each of these people are and the role they have to play in your project.
What actions would these people need to take to ensure the success of the project and are there any risks here?
Depending on where you are in your project, you might look to stats from other brands to give you an idea of how your product might be received. If you’re a bit further along, you might be able to use your own market research and initial findings to plan the next steps.
Davies says: “With Huayu, we added a percentage to the difficulty level when choosing a game so users could see that only 20 percent of people are able to complete it. This was a feature some of our users loved because the felt they’d achieved more if they beat it and entered into that elite top 20 percent.
“Your target market will always surprise you in what they think of your product and how they use it. A small feature could be something users really enjoy and a big feature could be something they don't use at all. Try to ensure you build what your target market wants by getting early feedback from focus groups and beta testers as this will help you to plan for further development and marketing.”
Take time to look at how will the costs of this project be recouped and if there is any way to shorten that timeline?
At the end of the session go back over those risks and see if your plans have made those concerns redundant. For example, you might have combatted the risk of a tight timeline by choosing to put more people on the project.
The idea of a roadmapping session is to eliminate a number of risks while giving potential solutions to others. Most new projects have associated risks, the key is to minimise these through proper planning.
As you go through the session, you’ll start to see a roadmap forming. This will show you the next steps for your project over the coming months, even years. The key things to include in the write up of the roadmap are as follows:
Deliverables – Make sure everyone know what they are supposed to be delivering.
Deadlines – For each task and deliverable, make sure you have a sensible deadline.
Accountability – Make sure the correct people are assigned to each task.
Dependencies – Make sure it’s clear from your roadmap which tasks rely on other things being done first.
The ability to be shared – It’s important for the heads of teams to be able to share the roadmap with people who may not have been in the session. This means you need to share your roadmap as a PDF, as a private webpage or as part of one of the many web-based planning products out there. This way people can refer to it when moving onto a new task or collaborating with another department.
A roadmap is an integral part to planning any project, no matter how large or small. It not only acts as a visual reminder of where your product is going but the session itself can help you to work out ways to overcome some of the many hurdles associated with a new project or the launch of a product.