If reframing how you approach roadmaps is on your list of resolutions in 2023, then you’re in the right place.   

Bruce McCarthy, serial entrepreneur and co-author of Product Roadmaps Relaunched, recently joined the Productboard Product Makers community for an event discussing roadmaps and stakeholder alignment.

His webinar, rich with best practices, is yours to view in the recording below. And if you’d like a quick sense of the highlights — keep reading for the secrets he shares.



Secret #1: It’s a trap! Build, ship, repeat 

It’s easy as a product professional to get stuck on the roadmap as a guide to everything you’re going to build rather than the outcomes you’re ultimately working to achieve for your customers and the company. According to an often-quoted study, slightly more than half of the features shipped from roadmaps are seldom or never used by customers. 

Standish Group Chaos Study

While the specifics of the data are worth further examination, the lesson of caution remains: decisions about what to ship shouldn’t be based on a gut feeling, a coin toss or a sense of ironclad obligation to a roadmap that might be outdated. They should be based on what drives business and helps customers solve their problems.

The definition of success should be “we’ve shipped something useful, powerful or effective” vs “we’ve shipped”. 

Secret #2: Sometimes you have to break up with your roadmap 

If your roadmap process is broken, it might be time for a breakup. Need a cathartic exercise? Try writing a roadmap breakup letter. Seriously. 

Bruce McCarthy Roadmap breakup letter

 You could be creating beautiful, incredibly detailed roadmaps, but if there’s no story in them, your stakeholders are less likely to be invested in them. 

Any seasoned product professional can tell you: it’s never wise to put hard and fast dates on a roadmap! After all, a roadmap is not just a project plan with features and dates.

It’s a strategic communication tool for you to engage with your stakeholders and customers in a conversation about the intent and direction of your product. Ultimately you’re shifting from an output focus to an outcome focus. They’re obviously related. Outputs (the things you’re building) will hopefully lead to the eventual planned outcome (the issue you’re trying to solve). But they are separate things — ones you don’t want to conflate.

Secret #4: There’s no one right way to roadmap but there ARE five key components 

Roadmaps can take many different forms: Kanban boards, slide decks, spreadsheets, purpose-built roadmapping software. That doesn’t matter as much as ensuring you communicate the five key components in a format your stakeholders will understand: 

  1. Product vision: How a future world will benefit from your product when it’s fully realized
  2. Business outcomes: What will be measurably different for your organization? 
  3. Timeframes: Guidance on sequence and timing; avoid hard and fast dates, instead use “coming soon” or now/next/later frameworks 
  4. Themes: The problems to be solved in order to realize your product vision 
  5. A disclaimer: None of this is guaranteed!  

So you have a plan – how do you now get buy-in on this plan, from all the different groups that are crucial to its success?  

Secret #5: Treat stakeholders like customers 

Yes you need to consider the actual customers, but also think of your stakeholders as a special type of customer you need to solve problems for and do jobs for, finding product-company fit rather than product-market fit. 

Instead of using a traditional org chart to try and identify the stakeholders you’ll need to sell on your roadmap, consider a 2×2 frame of influence vs. interest to really understand the different personas and dynamics at play. Bruce refers to this as his TIPS Framework: 

Bruce McCarthy TIPS framework

If the 2×2 framework doesn’t speak to you, consider other visual formats that will still map out the relationships you need to consider for stakeholder buy-in. 

If you have no idea where to begin with this, ask yourself these questions to get started in identifying power players: 

  • What department did your CEO come from? 
  • Which department has the easiest time getting hiring requirements? 
  • Which department asks more questions about your roadmap? 
  • Which department rewards people from other departments? 
  • Which departments have a “Chief” rather than a VP? 
  • Who does the CEO have coffee with in the morning? 

Once you’ve identified your stakeholders, meet with them 1:1 initially. Interview them, asking for their input – say specifically “I need your input on the roadmap I’m working on” – and use the resulting discussion, debate, and feedback to shape your direction and shift things from your roadmap to our roadmap and a feeling of co-ownership. Only then should you bring all stakeholders together in a team meeting to ensure overall alignment, eventually presenting “our” roadmap to the executive team. 

If you run into the issue of someone trying to push too many things into the roadmap during this process, step back and ask them “How does this idea support our business objectives and/or product vision?” or “What would you propose to drop or deprioritize?” if it’s an issue of resources. 

Final thoughts 

The job as a product maker is to lead people to alignment and the roadmap is a key tool for this effort.

Want more? Join the Productboard Product Makers community to see the full discussion, including all of the post-presentation Q&A, and to sign up for future events!


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