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The Importance of the Agile Product Roadmap

Agile product roadmap

Many teams jump into product development with only a vision in their midst. With the vision floating around, teams dissipate and start creating user stories through scoping sessions with product value teams, which includes customers, business counterparts, end users etc.

Although the product vision is necessary, it is not sufficient to start a program right. In addition to the program vision and charter, invest the time to formulate a product roadmap. The agile roadmap creates direction and context for everyone involved, from the product development teams, to program teams, and sponsors. A roadmap isn’t set in stone from the moment its completed. Instead, it should be treated as a wishlist of what we want to accomplish in the next 12 to 18 months.

The product roadmap feeds directly into the team backlogs and as features are completed by teams, the product roadmap is updated by the product owners. As with real roadmaps, there will be diversions from the planned route. That is the reason product owners should create small deliverable feature that are ranked in priority. Product owners update the backlog when diversions occur, just as we do while we drive and encounter an obstacle in the road.

Make sure your product roadmap provides enough for people to look ahead, comprehend the bigger picture, and understand their role in the bigger picture. There is little more demotivating than working in a team with no direction. If your teams deliver to production on a monthly basis the agile product roadmap should be updated monthly, which is a great motivator for all involved in the program.

The backlogs will change even if the agile product roadmap doesn’t, and that is normal, as we can only work with what we know today. Detailed backlogs should be developed for maximum of three iterations. Anything more than that invites us into the realms of super waste, a state where we are refining requirements that has at most a 90 day shelf life before they start to morph. If you are using Kanban, you should have more cards ready than what the team has visual access to on the board. Use the agile and lean principles to combat waste creation by developing barely enough backlog, just-in-time.

There is always a fine balance between satisfying the need for long term views and creating waste. This is why the product owner role is one that cannot be outsourced to a proxy and is indeed a full time job. A product owner can’t zoom in and out of the role. Teams constantly collaborates with the product owners to prepare stories for the next iteration. The product owner must be available to the team to assist with clarity, answering questions and explaining why we are building what we are building.

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