Why Your Roadmap Should Be Driven by Outcomes, Not Features
Learn how you can use outcome-driven roadmaps to build a better product.
You have plotted your features, your developers have worked late into the night, you've tested, retested, and then fixed your bugs twice over. Then comes time for launch. You're excited and a little trepidatious: your team worked hard on this and that hard work is about to pay off.
Except, it doesn't. The feature either gets stuck pre-launch or launches to customers who greet it with confusion.
"What's the point of this feature?" They ask. "Why would I use this?"
And so, your feature has joined the ranks of well-intentioned features that failed to fit well with their product.
Hopefully you can't relate to this story. But if you can (or you just want a better way of designing your roadmaps), we have the strategy to help you avoid this outcome ever again.
To get started, download our free guide for how to tell if you're achieving your outcomes.
What Are Outcome-Driven Roadmaps?
We'll start off simple. What are outcome-driven roadmaps and how do they apply to you?
Outcome-based roadmaps are what they sound like: roadmaps that focus on the outcome. You map out areas of your product that you want to focus on. The roadmap is not just features that you need to build - it's a map of problems that you want to fix.
By devising your goals first, no feature is developed that only kind of fits with the product. Every feature is rooted in the bigger picture.
How does this help you and your team?
This all sounds great, right? But just switching to a new roadmap type might be daunting (and potentially time-consuming). So we're diving into how goal-driven roadmaps can work for you and your team.
Outcome-based roadmaps are agile.
Goal-driven roadmaps give you the ability to maneuver in a constantly changing environment, which is important because roadmaps are your guide through the coming product cycles. If your roadmap can't change when the rest of the company is moving on, your vision can quickly become outdated.
By choosing to roadmap outcomes, you undertake a much more forgiving path. Feature roadmaps are tempting, but they can lead you to develop features after their purpose has been left in the dust.
Planning by outcomes allow you to stay agile; not only can you adjust your goals, but you can tweak the solutions. Plus, since outcomes are naturally more fluid than features, no one will be too put out when it evolves to better fit product needs. With a feature roadmap, it's very easy to get attached to feature ideas, even if they've outlived their usefulness.
Check out Atlassian's blog, Agile roadmaps: build, share, use, evolve, for more information about the importance of making your roadmaps agile.
Outcome-based roadmaps allow for open interpretation.
Listing goals in your roadmaps instead of features can also give you more leeway with stakeholders. While you know your feature roadmap is a soft map that can change when the need arises, others may fall into the trap of fixating on specific features. This can lead to your stakeholders pushing for features that may have fallen out of scope, but that they feel are still relevant.
Outcome-based roadmaps help alleviate this added pressure by positioning you in a place where features may come and go, but always serve a greater purpose.
Outcome-based roadmaps help keep you and your team focused.
If you have a goal instead of a feature buzzing around your head during development, it will help keep you on track so that the feature is still relevant after many iterations.
You know your goals, your stakeholders are focused on the goals, your team knows your goals.
With an outcome-driven roadmap, the goal is ever present. It's an overarching presence that sits in on your scrums and planning sessions. This focus on the outcome can lead to new innovations or ideas that would have otherwise stayed dormant. When people aren't focused on a feature, they can take in the entire picture and bring their own visions to the table.
If you need more tips for communicating with your stakeholders, check out What Do Stakeholders Really Want From You?
How Should You Come up with Outcomes?
So how do you know what goals you should aim for? Don't try to jump three steps ahead and figure out what features would fit within your goals. This can cloud your brainstorming and trap you in a feature-oriented outlook. Instead, simply ask yourself these questions and make a list of your answers. You can work on sorting through the information in the next steps:
What are your product’s weaknesses?
Where is your product struggling? Is it a single instance or a recurring situation? What usually precedes the struggle? Consider the area around the problem. It could be more than just a single problem, but a string of occurrences that lead customers to the issue.
What could our product do better?
Is there a place that you feel your product should be growing towards? If so, consider where those areas are and what other aspects of the product this growth might affect.
What are your customers asking for?
Have you received any feedback from customers about an aspect of your product that could use work? If so, this is a great place to start. Identify the area of the product that this feedback applies to. Is there any other aspect of this product area that could also use work?
Where could the product be streamlined?
Maybe your product has pain points. Perhaps it's slow in areas or has an unwieldy interface. Take note of these. They could potentially be areas to bookmark for improvement.
Refining Your Outcomes
Now that you have a list of potential goals, you need to weed out the unactionable and the out-of-scope. While the last step was all about unfocusing your vision so you could get all of your thoughts down without distraction, this next step will help you refine the list down into actionable goals.
We've written a guide to this refining process based on an article published by George T. Doran. He came up with the S.M.A.R.T way to create clearer, more efficient goals. Based on his method, we've applied his process in a way to help you take your notes and craft better goals.
Start with Specifics
The first step to planning better goals is to nail down the specifics. Take a look at your list and take note of any parts of your list that are very vague. If you have any random tangent thoughts or vague ideas listed, now is the time to take those and formulate them into an actual outcome you'd like to see.
Make sure your outcomes are specific. While it can be tempting to go with a vague, overarching outcome, it can leave the field too big to navigate. Instead, try to identify certain aspects within that outcome you would like to work on.
For example, a vague outcome would be: we want more customers. You could distill this down into an aspect you would like to give attention to, such as: we want to reduce the bounce rate for the onboarding process.
Make sure it's measurable
Now that you have some outcomes outlined, it's time to figure out how you can measure them. Measuring them is important; you need to be able to tell how you are progressing towards your desired outcome.
If you can attach numbers to the goal, great! If not, you should come up with some method to measure progress. This might be a way to show there is a problem or a way to tell if your implementations are working.
Now that you have come up with a metric of measurement, it's time to figure out where this outcome falls within your team. Where should this be worked on? Is there a subject matter expert that you can bring in for ideas on reaching this outcome?
If the answer is no, is there anyone that you can invest the time in sending to training or researching the topic?
Having people who you know will be able to tackle your goal and bring new ideas to the table is important. Make sure you bring in the right people to make these outcomes a reality.
Realism makes for better goals
Now, look at your goals with a hard eye. Are they realistic? You don't want to throw everything you and your team has into a goal that it's not realistic to accomplish. Make sure the goal matches your resources and doesn't stretch too far.
Now, we're not discouraging you from reaching for the stars. You and your team are capable of great things. However, we do caution you to realize that not every goal is feasible.
Constraints like funding, time, and unforeseen setbacks all can affect your outcomes, so be sure to consider those as you create your roadmap.
Time planning is important
Planning the time goes hand in hand with being realistic about your goals. Consider how much time you have to devote to a goal. What is the scope of the goal?
It can be hard to nail down an exact number of hours because goals are often much more fluid when it comes to success. However, if you have a rough idea of how much time you can afford to spend working toward the outcome, then that's a good place to start.
Once you're on the path toward achieving your goals, you'll want to be able to check in and assess how you're doing.
Download our free guide for some points that indicate you're on the right path.
Outcome-Driven Roadmaps Work Best with SMART Goals
In the end, an outcome-driven roadmap is only as good as its goals. So it pays to run yourself through this process and set yourself up for success by vetting your ideas into achievable outcomes. With a roadmap of goals, you can keep your forward momentum without compromising on relevance.