I recently searched for the definition of "roadmap," and the results were intriguing:
1. A map designed for motorists, showing the roads of a country or area.
2. A plan or strategy intended to achieve a particular goal.
Notably, both definitions lack a crucial element - time. Why, then, do we consistently associate roadmaps with a delicate dance of deadlines?
Consider your projects as strategic bets to enhance your business and customer experience. You anticipate that a new onboarding process will improve adoption, and you hope that the latest feature will captivate users. However, certainty is elusive, and you need a straightforward way to discuss tactics and risks with your team.
Enter roadmaps. They provide a platform for the team to deliberate on all the ongoing bets, optimising their sequence. Are we delivering the right value at the right time? Are we taking on too many risks simultaneously? Should we consider reordering our priorities? These are the pivotal questions the team should address, questions that tend to dissipate when timelines take centre stage.
Timelines make you focus on deadlines rather than value
Imagine a timeline as a game of Tetris for your projects. It resembles an attempt to fit different-sized and coloured rectangles into blank spaces. Unfortunately, this often steers discussions towards capacity concerns rather than the actual value a project can bring.
Picture the scene:
"There's a bit of space left here!"
"Maybe we can add this small thing then."
The catch is, there's no such thing as a small project. Suddenly, you have two team members dedicating their full time to something that was never a priority. Unforeseen challenges emerge, scope expands, and in the end, you significantly delay other valuable improvements.
The moment you introduce the time axis into the equation, the conversation shifts from "Should we do this first?" to "Can we ship it faster?" This subtle shift leads people to debate the shapes of your project rectangles rather than questioning why those shapes exist in the first place. The true essence of the projects - why they are crucial and what value they bring - often gets lost in the rush to meet timelines.
Now, Next, Later to the rescue
Now, Next, Later is a simple yet powerful tool to rescue your roadmaps from the pitfalls of traditional timelines.
Visualise your plan with three columns:
1. Now: This represents the current tasks your team is tackling.
2. Next: A preview of what's on the horizon after the current tasks are completed.
3. Later: Items in the backlog, not deemed urgent but valuable.
Unlike traditional timelines fixated on due dates, this format emphasises the strategic order of tasks. It's a game-changer, aligning seamlessly with the principles of OKRs (Objectives and Key Results). At the beginning of the quarter, you set objectives and key results to establish a clear direction. Your projects are the means to achieve your goals.
Weekly KR check-ins become your compass:
- KRs trending positively? Fantastic, stay the course.
- KRs veering off track? It's time to reevaluate the roadmap.
The beauty of the Now, Next, Later approach lies in its adaptability. While the Now column remains constant, representing committed work, the Next and Later columns offer flexibility. Swiftly reorganise tasks based on evolving priorities. Unlike timelines, which are capacity-driven, this format prioritises value, offering a dynamic and responsive way to keep your projects on track.
The synergy of OKRs and roadmaps
Embracing an outcome-driven approach doesn't imply a rejection of outputs. Instead, it involves a strategic shift – beginning with defining success before determining the best path to achieve it. This relationship between outcomes and outputs should be perceived as an ongoing feedback loop.
Here's how it unfolds:
1. Define success first
Start with clear Objectives and Key Results (OKRs), outlining your desired outcomes. Identify the overarching goals that signify success for your team or project.
2. Choose outputs strategically
Once your outcomes are defined, select the most effective outputs or tasks that align with achieving those outcomes. Consider how each output contributes to the larger picture of success outlined in your OKRs.
3. Treat it as a feedback loop
Outcomes guide the selection of outputs, ensuring that your efforts are purposeful and directly tied to success. Results from implemented outputs offer valuable insights. Analyse these results to refine and adjust your ongoing outcomes and outputs.
This approach establishes a dynamic relationship between outcomes and outputs, which promotes ongoing improvement. It is not a fixed selection between OKRs or roadmaps, but rather a flexible combination of both, with each component informing and enriching the other. This collaborative approach guarantees that your team not only sets clear objectives but also works on outputs that strategically drive the desired outcomes, creating a comprehensive and efficient operational framework.