The Problem with Traditional Product RoadmapsA look at common problems with product roadmaps and how to overcome them when working with Government clients.
As a Product Manager, the most common question you get asked is "What is the roadmap for the next month? Quarter? Year?". A Product Roadmap is a strategic plan that outlines the intended development trajectory of a product. Product roadmaps serve as the backbone of any product management effort, offering a high-level summary that maps out the vision and direction over time. While these roadmaps are foundational to product management, their effectiveness differs across organizations. In the corporate world, methods like Agile and Lean dictate roadmaps, with a focus on revenue. However, how do these apply in unique settings like government agencies, where the aim isn't revenue but public service or fulfilling specific mandates?
Why Do We Have Roadmaps?
The response might fluctuate depending on who you consult, but generally, roadmaps are conceived by upper management and/or product managers. They delineate a series of features to be developed within a predetermined time frame, aiming to offer:Strategic Alignment:
A high-level view that aligns product strategy with overall business objectives, ensuring everyone is on the same page.Communication:
A tool for conveying the vision and direction to both internal teams and external stakeholders.Prioritization:
Guidance in resource allocation by highlighting what needs to be focused on and what can wait.Accountability:
A framework for tracking progress and holding teams accountable for achieving set milestones.
However, while these reasons sound promising in theory, the stark reality is that roadmaps often result in a less than ideal situation.
As Melissa Perri, CEO of Produx Labs, a Product Management school in New York, argues "The roadmap has become the symbol in many organizations of everything that is wrong with how they develop products."
So Why are Roadmaps, in the Traditional/Corporate Sense, a Problem?
Traditional roadmaps can trap organizations in a fixed plan, limiting adaptability—which is vital in dynamic environments.
They often don't adjust to market shifts, user needs, or competitive landscapes, making products feel outdated upon release.
Stakeholders often see roadmaps as promises/obligations, leading to friction when changes occur. This mismatch in expectations can erode trust and collaboration. For instance, at Harled, phrases like "it's in the roadmap" have lost trust with our users, being seen more as a denial than a future plan.
Features vs. Value:
While roadmaps ideally highlight valuable features, they sometimes prioritize feature delivery over actual value, stifling innovation. This presents a dilemma: are features chosen for their perceived value, or does valuing certain aspects drive feature selection? Striking a balance is essential to ensure products are both functional and genuinely beneficial to users.
High Idea Failure Rate:
Users might not engage with or adopt every released feature. It's a tough pill to swallow, but not every feature will excite users as much as it does the team. There will always be people that notice the 'lack-of' rather than 'in-addition too'.
Traditional roadmaps don't factor in this high failure rate, leading to wasted resources and unmet user expectations.
How do we Apply this to a Government Setting?
Government agencies, with their unique challenges of lengthy operational cycles and bureaucratic constraints, require a distinct approach to roadmapping.
Roadmaps in governmental contexts should be tied to a KPI, their overarching mission, and/or policy objectives. For instance, at Harled, we ensure features align with the core mandates of our clients, such as enhancing the RCAF's quality of life and operational time savings.
While staying anchored to the mission, execution strategies should be built with inherent flexibility to accommodate the evolving needs and constraints. Government operations have diverse stakeholders; it's essential to incorporate their varied insights into roadmapping. At Harled, we prioritize this through weekly stakeholder meetings and monthly detailed reports, ensuring our strategies align with the needs of our client and the RCAF.
Given the plethora of stakeholders in government, roadmaps should incorporate diverse insights. Harled, for example, conducts weekly meetings and monthly detailed reports to keep all stakeholders informed.
Different stakeholders require varying depths of information. From detailed insights for internal teams to high-level overviews for client leads, clear communication methods, including concise language and visual aids, are essential. For external stakeholders,it should be the operational stakeholder's responsibility to communicate the plan with an emphasis on the value and impact.
Regular evaluations ensure roadmap initiatives align with mission goals, allowing for timely strategy adjustments.
Balancing innovation within bureaucratic boundaries is crucial. This means advocating for reforms while fostering a culture of adaptability. Always ensure transparent and continuous communication, allowing feedback and roadmap refinements.
What Does This Mean?
When roadmaps are seen as vital to product success, it's key to understand their true role.
Roadmaps aren't merely project management tools like Gantt Charts or Work Breakdown Structures, but product-oriented guides. They shouldn't be overly detailed or set too far in advance. Instead, they should be centered on KPIs and outcomes, targeting problems to solve or impacts to achieve. This approach fosters flexibility, aligns with agile methodologies, and ensures the product brings genuine value to users.
It encourages teams to be more introspective, focusing on data-driven discovery over just task completion. While having a feature list is useful, the primary goal should be continuous learning and improvement, which means actively seeking feedback, testing, and being ready to pivot. A roadmap should facilitate this learning process, allowing for the incorporation of new insights and adjustments to the plan.
Particularly in settings like government agencies, where change can be slow, it's essential to frequently review and adjust roadmaps to stay aligned with user needs and emerging best practices.
Figure 1 showcases a basic rendition of our adapted roadmap at Harled, used in collaboration with the RCAF. It highlights user challenges, paired with targeted initiatives to tackle them, and the anticipated results or effects. This method transitions from a strict feature-driven approach to one that's user-focused and solution-oriented, yet adaptable and dynamic. It's adjustable to include additional metrics, user engagement data, links to tools like JIRA/ADO, product marketing details, and more. The format can also be expanded into visual aids such as timeline product maps.
|User Problem||Core Initiative||Sprint||KPI: Hours Saved (Estimated)|
|Users encounter delays and difficulties in processing expense claims via email, leading to frustration, large cycle times and impacting their quality of life.||Claims||10||3000|
|Users are frustrated with frequent logins due to short session durations, disrupting their workflow.||Session Duration||11||1300|
|Too many unnecessary notifications, so users miss/ignore important updates and messages causing delays and miscommunication.||Notifications||12||200|
|Navigating the platform is challenging without a static organized navigation and bookmarks, leading to inefficiency.||Navigation||13||1000|
In sum, while traditional product roadmaps come with their set of challenges, especially in non-typical settings like government agencies, an adaptive, mission-centric approach to planning can help navigate these issues. We're constantly learning how to navigate this unique domain, and tThis approach not only ensures that our products and features resonate with users but that they also aligns with ever-evolving external conditions and stakeholder requirements.
Interested in joining a mission-driven team committed to improving Canada? If so, please take a moment to look at our open positions!.