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Jillian Kaplan

Formulating a Product Strategy and Roadmap

Jillian Kaplan

  • Aug 19, 2020
  • 5 Min read
  • 3,571 Views
  • Aug 19, 2020
  • 5 Min read
  • 3,571 Views
Management
Product Management
Product Discovery
Design Thinking

Introduction

Creating strategy is a key area of expertise for product managers and where "it all begins." How do you formulate a product strategy and roadmap?

We are going to define both product strategy and roadmaps and discuss how to execute on both.

Product Strategy

Strategy starts at the top down. Make sure you look at the overall company strategy and where it is going before you define your products and your product strategy.

There are three things that are important to do with product strategy:

  • Set the strategy

  • Execute on the strategy

  • Ensure product launches and the product lifecycle are aligned to the strategy

When we talk about setting the strategy, this could be at many different levels. As I mentioned, strategy setting does happen from the top down, so that means it will cascade. The level of strategy you set depends on the size of the company. If you are at a company with one product or one subset of products, then the company strategy is going to be the product strategy. However, you can be at a company with many different BUs (business units) and each business unit could have its own strategy. They all need to align through the chain of command up though the company strategy.

The company you work for may be so large that you own one product within a business unit and you are setting the strategy for that one product. However, you need to make sure that strategy aligns with the other products in the business unit as well.

The next step is to execute on the strategy. This may seen obvious, but you need to make sure that what you do coincides with that strategy you set. If you are looking to build the product, the strategy will guide the way.

As you execute the strategy you will have product launches for new products as well as product lifecycles for existing products. In fact, you will know you are executing the strategy if you are having launches and going through product lifecycles. If you are not doing these things and are staying stagnant, I would guess you are not executing on your strategy, which would put you back at Step Two. And if you don’t have a strategy to execute on, you would go back up to Step One and start by setting the strategy.

Product Roadmap

What is a product roadmap? A product roadmap is a shared source of truth that outlines the vision, direction, priorities, and progress of a product. It is action-oriented and will help you "check boxes" to ensure short- and long-term goals for the product are met. Basically, it is what you are going to launch for the product and when. The roadmap needs to align the strategy you set as well as execute on the key features.

What you need to do to set up a successful product road map:

  • Set a timeline for launches

  • Track using project management

  • Set key features

Product roadmap launches should be set in a regular cadence that can vary from monthly to quarterly to yearly and so on. It doesn’t matter what timeline you set for roadmap launches, but it does matter that it is regular and that you track how these launches are done with your core team of stakeholders.

How do you track this roadmap cadence? Usually, a project management tool or software is used. You can use things such as Trello, Confluence, Teams, etc. Usually, it’s a company-wide decision and something that is given to use to manage the product.

Key Features On the Roadmap

Key features tie into the roadmap because, quite simply, key features are part of the roadmap. The roadmap will help you lay out the key features you are going to deploy. When we think about key features, we need to ensure we can answer several questions:

  • What are the key features of the product? This needs to be a solid definition.

  • Why are these key features? Do these make sense and are they what the customer wants?

  • What is the evidence that these should be the key features deployed? You could conduct research to establish this. Check out my guide Conducting Effective Surveys to learn how to show these should be the features

  • How is are these features going to be released as part of the product roadmap?

As you are working to build out these key features, it is important that you become the SME, or subject matter expert, so you can carefully explain these to product marketing. You will work with them closely as you launch and develop these features as part of the roadmap. My course Managing Product Marketing will teach you more how to closely work with this team to ensure all the hard work you put into the product strategy and roadmap is executed on.

Conclusion

Almost any product manager job you see listed will talk about formulating a product strategy and then setting the roadmap. These are the two biggest tasks in a product manager’s role.

Almost every task you do needs to be aligned with the strategy and execute on the roadmap.

Then, as your portfolio grows, you will "rinse and repeat" as more products come into the pipeline. Make sure to check out my Executive Briefing on Product Management to learn more about communication with executives and what is expected from you.