Roadmap & Prioritization

How To Prioritize a Complex Roadmap
Roadmap & Prioritization

Defining priorities over a well-organized roadmap isn’t black magic.

A recent study on a large sample of startup founders and product managers showed how road mapping and prioritization are such a threatening process. But it’s not! Nothing is set in stone when it comes to planning. Instead, the importance of the process is designing a flexible roadmap and priority system to tackle fast-pacing startup challenges.

Prioritizing a roadmap is the most proven way to obtain tracked achievements in time effectively. A set of practices is required: a framework to collect and track new features, a system to rank their priority scores and a plan to follow the development progress in time.

This essay shares how VENALBE helps startups go through this frightening process smoothly and seamlessly.

A challenge worth tackling

Prioritizing a roadmap isn’t a task to be underestimated. If we look at the top ten reasons why startup fails, we find half of them that are coming from lousy road mapping and prioritization process:

  • lack of focus and alignment
  • not setting long-term goals
  • saying YES to every customer request
  • lacking a scalable infrastructure
  • not being agile

The majority of those points above are self-explanatory; however, they can help us to give a precise explanation of what prioritization is:

Prioritization is all about what to build, why and when

Our goal is to craft an aligned roadmap with practical priorities to bring the product forward while constantly considering its important surroundings and forces (market, competitors & customers).

To tackle significant challenges, we want to break down the process into smaller parts that we can better define and complete.

The whole road mapping process can be divided into three main phases:

  1. Ideate
  2. Prioritize
  3. Manage

Before diving into those three phases, it’s critical to fulfil some prerequisites significantly linked to our “what/why/when” definition stated above.

What we need to have as prerequisites before starting prioritizing a roadmap is:

  • product vision: define a target to focus on and work towards; this target has to be shared and communicated internally and externally and aligned to the organization’s objectives.
  • product metrics: to understand if the product development is moving towards the target identified by the product vision, we need to define metrics to help track the progress. Gathering insights from these metrics might help the product itself pivot towards more beneficial directions throughout the product development.
  • customers: having customers always in mind (Customer Obsessive as Amazon says) is the number one priority for any product-led organization; it’s the essence of the way an organization is building a product.

Phase I: Ideate

The ideation phase is where teams get together, brainstorm, collect, analyze and criticize data, come up with exciting insights and start drafting product features to develop or tweak.

The ideation phase can either be casual or formal, depending on the company and the expertise of the team members. However, it’s a phase that leaves room for mental speculation. Teams can develop brainstorming or question storming sessions to tackle specific problems or specific parts of the product to tweak or evolve.

The importance of the Ideate Phase is to define before starting the gathering a detailed brief of what the team is trying to find creative solutions. The brief objective can be a user problem or a business impact.

Only once the scope is set there is room for creativity!

There are several frameworks other than Brainstorming & Questionstorming that can be beneficial for this phase, such as:

  • Affinity Grouping: team writes down ideas on their own and group together and vote on similar ones
  • Story Mapping: team goes through a specific user flow of a fictional (User Persona) or existing customer

By working with several simple frameworks like the above listed, we will have a semi-sorted outcome for the second phase: Prioritize.

Phase II: Prioritize

It’s time to take the ideated outcome and start prioritizing it. Again, there are plenty of frameworks that will help the task. The only difficulty here is to pick the right one for your product, team and resources.

The top-five most used frameworks are RICE, Impact vs Effort, Kano, Product Tree, and Opportunity Cost or Cost of Delay.

We won’t dive into each of them in this article, but we will provide a brief description to help discern which is more appropriate for your team or context.

Framework Description
RICE RICE balances value and effort.
Impact vs Effort The impact vs effort framework scores features based on impact on the customer and organizational effort.
Kano Model The Kano model weighs customer satisfaction against the cost of implementation.
Product Tree The visual of a tree encourages teams to focus across the portfolio with decisions that positively impact the entire ecosystem.
Cost of Delay The cost of delay combines urgency and value to make decisions on what will deliver the most value right now.

Each of the above frameworks will give a way to prioritize the new features and create a plan for the weeks to come.

For planning, the team can adopt what’s best for them. Waterfall or agile methodology applies differently depending on the products or industry standards. Gantt charts or Kanban boards can be both frameworks to adopt, individually or in conjunction.

The planning of prioritized features will be the bread and butter of the third phase, “Manage”, where we will go through the entire development lifecycle.

Phase III: Manage

The roadmap is a living creature that needs to be nurtured and revisited every now and then. Imagine two different scenarios: the first one, an early-stage startup with its main obvious objective to gain traction and user adoption, versus a second scenario where a well-established organization is tweaking their B2B product or creating an internal tool.

The roadmap of these two scenarios is exceptionally different in terms of content, timeline, and the flexibility of the features.

In the early startup example, the startup will revisit the roadmap during the Manage phase every month to understand if the implemented features have the estimated impact on the product metrics tracked daily.

In the second case, the roadmap will be more rigid and focus on more minor features to satisfy more influential, existing customers.

In the Manage phase, we encounter different levels of prioritization:

  1. Goal level: we prioritize which metrics to track and evaluate (OKRs, KPIs) to follow the progress towards the company and product objectives.
  2. Strategy level: we prioritize the high-level initiatives for the product
  3. Architectural level: where we prioritize scalability, interoperability and other tech challenges
  4. Production level: where we prioritize through sprints, features, user stories, epics, bugs and so on.

Let’s Prioritize, Together

Since 2010, VENALBE has been helping founders and executives tackle the challenges of prioritizing complex roadmaps and delivering customer quality in time.

We are here to support your growth through change and transformation.

Get in touch, and let’s create our future together.