Why is roadmap collaboration for remote teams essential?
Distance can make collaboration more difficult. With remote work becoming the new normal, product development organizations must find a way to bridge the physical distance and still work effectively.
A shared vision and understanding of the plan the organization is attempting to execute is an essential element in making everything work smoothly. Without it, things are left to open to interpretation, and murky objectives and motivations can result in misalignment, confusion, and inefficiencies.
Product roadmaps are the ideal tool to keep teams informed about the latest strategic plans for the product and how it aims to achieve them. They translate what might seem like an abstract set of goals into prioritized actions.
Even in Agile environments, product roadmaps are still necessary and essential. When done correctly, don’t limit the ability of those teams to be responsive and independent in their implementation decisions. They provide a shared point of reference for all team members, particularly those working remotely who may not be as plugged into the day-to-day happenings of the office.
5 steps for remote roadmap collaboration
For a product roadmap’s value to be fully realized, the entire organization must feel connected to the promise, engaged with its contents, and aware of any changes or updates. How product roadmaps are built, maintained, and communicated can mean the difference between an ignored artifact and a vital asset.
1. Ditch the static roadmap
Like many documents, a product roadmap can be out of date before the ink is dry. While it will hopefully not change too often, so many factors can necessitate a tweak or revision that any printout, email attachment, or shared PowerPoint or PDF is liable to be less than up to date.
Not only will this old product roadmap be inaccurate, but it can also cause lots of trouble if it’s still being referred to by members of the implementation teams, executives, or sales and marketing. No one wants customer promises made, inventory ordered, or code to be written based on outdated information.
To eradicate obsolete product roadmaps from being referred to or shared, product teams should switch to an online product roadmapping tool. Stakeholders are provided with a link instead of an actual file, so they will always be accessing and viewing the current version.
This model can also offer a few other advantages. First, it’s far easier to create customized views using filters or other settings instead of spinning up different versions for various audiences every time there’s a revision.
Additionally, stakeholders can receive notifications whenever there’s been a modification, with a “track changes”-like digital trail noting the updates. This way, individuals don’t have to scrutinize the latest edition and try to deduce what’s different.
2. Establish alignment
Product roadmaps are only as useful as they are understandable. For this reason, a visual roadmap has a distinct edge over text-heavy presentation formats.
Using legends, color coding, and a visual hierarchy, viewers can more easily interpret what they’re looking at, the overall context, and the overarching themes that are driving the strategic plan. With an online product roadmapping tool, they can then drill down into various aspects of the product roadmap for more details, but that big picture overview remains.
Regardless of the look-and-feel of a product roadmap, if stakeholders don’t comprehend the underlying rationale for things, it’s just a bunch of pretty boxes and arrows. To truly get everyone on the same page, the product roadmap must also convey the major objectives of the plans for the product.
One way to transform a product roadmap from a bunch of seemingly random features and dates is to organize it by themes—it provides several benefits for the organization.
A theme-based product roadmap abstracts the casual viewer from specific features. Instead, it illustrates what the product team is trying to accomplish for a particular release or series of sprints. The takeaway shifts from “we’re going to add a button here and a form there” to “we’re going to offer personalization opportunities to increase engagement and usage.” With this approach, everyone understands the “why” and the “what” and “how” are merely implementation details.
Relying on themes also gets product managers and development teams out of the trap of committing to particular features and dates. With the focus on achieving business goals in broad swaths, the details and nuances can be sorted out and prioritized when it’s time to work on that theme. It allows decisions to be made on the latest information and available resources instead of trying to honor arbitrary promises made six or nine months ago.
Elevating the product roadmap above the minutiae of features and deadlines to concentrate on themes also reinforces the business goals and objectives that the company has strategically selected. It can help everyone keep those broad ideas in mind when remote employees are working independently and making decisions about what and how actually to implement and deliver value.
3. Create a consistent and well-understood prioritization process
There might be no more significant source of conflict, frustration, and anger than figuring out why Thing A is more important than Things B, C, and D. Everyone has their pet projects, their biases, their hunches, and their preferences. But the judgment of where to expend resources must be made based on how things advance the corporate strategy, improve KPIs, delight customers, and have a compelling return on investment.
To prevent the appearance that these decisions are made frivolously use a prioritization framework. A prioritization framework provides a process and structure that adds transparency and consistency to the top of the queue. Participation by a cross-section of stakeholders is critical to both the framework’s efficacy and for different parts of the organization to fully buy into the results.
Since some or all of these participants are often remote, product teams have a couple of choices. One option is to conduct these prioritization sessions live via a video conference or a screen sharing session. With proper videoconference etiquette and an “equal time” provision in the moderation of these sessions, everyone can play their role in using a framework such as the RICE scoring model or Buy-a-Feature.
The alternative is leveraging an asynchronous prioritization process, letting people provide their input on their own. These submissions can then be aggregated and tabulated by product management, who can then share the final results with everyone at the end of the exercise. DACI & MoSCoW are prioritization frameworks well-suited to an asynchronous model.
Regardless of how the expanded team tackles prioritization, socializing the outcome and offering transparency are more important than ever in a remote environment. When everyone knows how the sausage is made, they’re less likely to complain about how it tastes.
4. Tracking progress and milestones
Visual product roadmaps are forward-looking tools, but they also add value as a guide to what you’ve delivered and how other items are progressing. Leveraging this resource as both an indicator of the current status and what’s to come is extra helpful when dealing with a distributed workforce.
As you complete product roadmap items, their new status should be updated to reflect that change whenever anyone accesses the living, online product roadmap. Get everyone on the same page for the completion status, what’s in progress, and what’s on the docket.
Beyond that, product roadmaps can also include key milestones that are meaningful for the audience. We’re generally not big fans of including specific dates on product roadmaps, but there may particular ones that are significant enough to warrant inclusion.
Milestones could be major product release ship dates, key sales and marketing activities, or enterprise customer engagement dates. They add an additional layer of context to the product roadmap and ensure proper attention and focus is given to important objectives or dates.
5. Regular reviews
Although a living, online, visual product roadmap should be self-explanatory and a continually referred to resource for the rest of the organization, it’s still worthwhile to conduct periodic sessions with key team members and stakeholders. These dedicated meetings hopefully garner their full attention and are an excellent venue to touch on key points.
The best product roadmap reviews restate the vision, goals, and objectives, discuss any significant updates, and touch on the status of items in progress. These reviews are informational and can help solidify alignment across a remote organization about the big picture and how the work individuals are doing plugs into that.
Communication and inclusivity
In any fully or partially remote work environment, it’s easy to assume others are in the know and feel included when the facts on the ground may not match that assumption. That’s why making intentional efforts, overcommunication, and well-defined processes are a must to ensure the entire team feels like they’re actually part of the team.
Product roadmaps have an integral role to play in this department for any organization delivering products or services. They relate to every aspect of the business, folks are generally interested in what’s on them, and they can serve as a single source of truth in a sea of disparate data and systems.
By introducing a live, online product roadmap that emphasizes the key themes and objectives for implementing the product strategy, distributed organizations can stay aligned on the big stuff while they go off and work on their tasks and projects. The product roadmap provides everyone with the same path to success and offers the guideposts and direction they’ll need to find their way, regardless of whether they’re in the cubicle next door or sitting an ocean away.
Jim Semick believes that great products don’t happen by accident—it’s exceptional leadership that truly makes a difference. As Co-founder and Chief Strategist at ProductPlan, Jim helps empower product teams to build successful products that solve real customer problems. Today, ProductPlan roadmap software is used by thousands of product teams at the world’s leading companies. Previously Jim helped launch GoToMeeting and AppFolio. Jim also writes, mentors, and speaks about product management, entrepreneurship, and how to build disruptive, winning software solutions.