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Roadmap Flexibility in Times of Change

April 20, 2020

Product Leadership

Just about every team in the world has had the breath knocked out of them. Some will adapt and change to this new reality, while others simply won’t make it through. Some will spot opportunities to ride the tailwinds and come out on top.

I ache for the losses that the world is seeing, both to people and to businesses. While we all desperately want to put it back to how it was, we have to be prepared for a vastly changed world.

As the dust settles on our new working lives, many product people are wondering what it means for their strategy and their product roadmap.

You may have heard the saying: ‘No roadmap survives contact with reality.’

Reality just landed. Hard.

So what does this mean for your product roadmap?

If you’d neatly mapped out your plans into a timeline roadmap, you can be sure that most of those just got thrown out the window. Between the reduced productivity of teams, the slump in the market dragging down eager customers, and in some cases, fundamentally shifted sands in strategy, you can be sure that a lot of goals and deadlines are about to be missed. 

Some people have asked: If a roadmap can just get sideswiped like that, what’s the point of a roadmap at all?

This is where it’s important to look at your roadmap format and process, and how yours is being used. This is also where the lean roadmapping approach (as seen below) shines.

Lean roadmapping

If you’ve been using a lean roadmap format, and your core business isn’t fundamentally shaken by the pandemic crisis (such as those in retail, hospitality, or in-person entertainment), your roadmap shouldn’t have taken a big hit.

Yes, some things might take longer to deliver, but that’s not what your roadmap is for. Your roadmap is there to communicate the problems that need to be solved, and the order that you think you need to tackle them. As Teresa Torres said:

The world has changed, so you might need to reprioritize customer problems to solve. However (with a few exceptions), you should not need to disrupt your entire business. Don’t overreact. Just revisit your priorities.

What needs to change?

Your roadmap doesn’t necessarily need to change, unless it had deadline commitments that are no longer feasible. This is why we try to avoid making those sorts of promises on them. Instead, make sure your roadmap still outlines the main problems you want to solve, in the right order. Be ready to adapt and reprioritize if you spot new problems or opportunities to tackle.

The lean roadmap format wasn’t devised to annoy your bosses by withholding information about delivery dates. It’s specifically designed to allow you to communicate your strategy and adapt as needed. It’s not designed to break the hearts of everyone who’s seen a previous set of ‘commitments.’

The companies who weather this storm the best are the ones who are able to adapt and communicate. Even more than ever, now is the time to ditch your timeline roadmap, your output-driven vanity metrics, and embrace a lean way of working. The world is not done changing.

Why not sign up for a free trial and see the benefits of a timeline roadmap for yourself?

Janna Bastow is co-founder of ProdPad, software that helps product managers plan and deliver better products. Janna also organizes ProductTank events around the world, including Mind The Product, a global community of product managers. She likes to inspire great product conversations by asking: “What problem are you trying to solve?”

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