Creating More Effective Product Roadmaps: Insights from the Women in Product Conference

PRODUCT Dec 14, 2020

By Viviana Gomez, Group Product Manager

To read this post in Spanish, click here.

This year, Commure gave me and my fellow female colleagues in product the opportunity to virtually attend the Women In Product Conference. The conference brought together over 2,000 attendees and 60 speakers in order to share inspiring career stories and actionable product management insights.

One of the most impactful sessions from the conference was given by Abbie Kouzmanoff, a Senior Product Manager at Amplitude called “Featureless Roadmaps: Outcomes not Outputs”. Today, I’d like to share a few product management best practices that I learned from Abbie and have applied to my daily work as a Group Product Manager at Commure.

Better Roadmaps for Better Products

Traditionally, roadmaps consist of a collection of features we plan to build and their associated delivery dates. Abbie presented an alternative to feature-driven roadmaps and spoke about the pitfalls many experience with traditional output-oriented roadmaps, as I summarize below.

  1. Falling into the trap of success theater: By focusing your roadmap on features, you can easily find yourself and your team celebrating for shipping things that you don't even know will have a positive impact, or even worse, things you don’t believe will have a positive impact.
  2. Crippling creativity and team morale: Feature-driven roadmaps don't leave room for designers and engineers to develop a better solution. Committing to features too early limits a team's ability to come up with a better solution to the problem. It also affects morale. People are usually motivated by the why behind their work, not the what, and It is easy to lose sight of the underlying customer problem and vision if the team is too focused on functions.
  3. Wasting time: The most important conversations to have with your team, stakeholders, and leadership serve to drive alignment on the most urgent problems and the business strategy they are tied to. And although talking about the solution and how to execute it is not necessarily bad, doing so 6 or 12 months ahead of the development might be ineffective.

To avoid these problems and move to a more outcome-oriented process, Abbie proposes two methods.

  1. Themed Roadmapping: The first method suggests adding business objectives and themes to your roadmap. Themes are high level concepts you should focus on in order to achieve your desired business objective.

2.  Problem Roadmapping: This is a method where teams commit to solving a user problem as opposed to singularly pushing out a feature. Problem Roadmapping challenges teams to think about user problems more holistically.

Themed Roadmapping caught my attention. I found several similarities to one of the methods I’ve used in the last few years. My team and I define specific goals (two or three per team) that clearly reflect the impact on the customer problem we plan to solve. After that we define high-level epics (what Abbie calls themes), that provide clarity to stakeholders about the work we intend to do, without going into the details of the actual solution.

Once we all agree on the epics we plan to work on, each team has enough space and independence to think about the specific tactics for each epic and for each objective. As I see it, this method not only helps you avoid the problems mentioned above, but also helps you scale your organization by giving your teams enough space to propose new solutions, to be creative, and to learn without sacrificing team alignment on the expected results and the direction to be taken.

While I’ve worked on many different products in different industries as a Product Manager, I find the fundamentals of product management to largely remain constant. When I joined Commure last summer as the result of an acquisition, I had never before worked in healthcare technology. However, I felt right at home based on the product management practices we use daily.

Just in the past few months, I’ve realized that the work Commure does to accelerate healthcare software innovation is critical to advancing the quality of care delivery and to providing clinicians with better software. My work at Commure allows me to not only improve my product management skills, but also make a positive impact on the healthcare industry through the products we build.

If you’re as passionate about product management as I am, I encourage you to check out our jobs board and join the team!

Viviana Gomez, Group Product Manager in Bogota, Colombia

This post is not sponsored by or affiliated with Women In Product.

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