The product roadmap is often a team’s holy grail. But having a rigid roadmap can be a problem when unexpected changes pop up. Because we work in a fast-paced and ever-changing setting, the product roadmap works best as a “living document” that’s updated and reprioritized over the course of a project.
Of course, keeping your team and main stakeholders aligned to your product roadmap as it changes can be difficult. Having strong alignment at every stage of the development process allows teams to pivot and refocus as needed. But how can you maintain this alignment? Let’s go through some tips for aligning multiple teams towards a living product roadmap.
Ensure alignment across teams
Creating powerful alignment at the start of the project can be done with a few key steps. To get your teams to think user-first and break down assumptions, it’s important for leaders to set up an environment for listening and open-mindedness. This can be done in the following ways.
Take your time during the discovery phase
Don’t rush the discovery phase. It’s tempting to jump right in and start building, but the discovery phase is often when teams get a sense for the problem they’re solving and brainstorm potential solutions. It’s also when teams get to know each other, build rapport across departments and feel motivated to work with their new teammates. Allowing initial space for this relationship-building can do wonders for boosting collaboration and saving time down the road.
Set your “north star” for a consistent project vision
The product roadmap may take some detours, but teams should always have a “north star” of where they’re headed. Setting this project vision will give your team members a guardrail to follow when the project goes through ups and downs. Often the project vision is the user challenge your team is tasked with solving. In this way, your teams can orient all their tasks towards this vision, instead of getting lost along the way.
Cultivate a shared understanding about methods and milestones
The initial team alignment is also about setting expectations. This is when you can start to put together milestones towards your project vision. However, the most important expectations aren’t about next steps, but rather working methods. Creating a shared understanding of how your teams can and should collaborate is essential. You can set the tone by hosting regular stand-up meetings, creating Slack channels and recognizing collaborative mindsets. Often the specifics will depend on each team, so we recommend setting these working expectations early.
Maintain alignment throughout the development cycle
Maintaining alignment can sometimes be more challenging than creating it. As your project undergoes changes, you’ll need to make sure your team is on board. There’s no sense in moving in a new direction, only to find that half your crew has jumped ship or is still headed in the old direction. Your team should be aligned towards the project at all times. As a leader, you’re responsible for helping them adjust to new realities.
Cultivate an “off-roadmap” mindset
Maintaining alignment often relies on your team’s working methods. Whenever possible, you should cultivate an “off-roadmap” mindset. In other words, team members should be used to pivoting as necessary and stay flexible when you go “off” the roadmap. This also goes hand-in-hand with your company culture: are you hiring, developing and rewarding team members who are able to stay agile in the face of change? We recommend prioritizing the “off-roadmap” mindset in your company’s professional development.
Stay trustworthy and transparent with teams
There’s really no such thing as over-communication. Update your teams on changes, explain why they’re necessary and get them oriented to the new direction. Sometimes during realignment, teams can feel like all their hard work meant nothing. It’s important that you recognize their efforts and clarify that they’re still doing a great job. Some changes can be hard to swallow and it’s key to get your team realigned – and re-motivated. Staying transparent can go a long way.
Motivate teams with real user stories
Changing course during a project can impact your team’s morale. If you’re struggling to get your team excited during a realignment phase, try recreating the enthusiasm of the discovery phase. Remind your team what problem they’re trying to solve and get real user stories about how your client will benefit from your work. Doing so may boost your team to get back to creating that solution.
Align working methods while reprioritizing the product roadmap
The product roadmap always changes. Period. As you reprioritize the roadmap and mark your route to success, you must also ensure that your working methods function in parallel. Your team may be ready to realign, but your processes should also accompany these changes. It’s essential for your working methods to have built-in flexibility for reprioritization.
Undergo a constant feedback loop
Your working methods should be resistant to change. Specifically, you should have feedback loops built-in to your milestones so that the end-solution can be redefined during the course of a project. These feedback loops should be constant to avoid bringing the project to a full-stop.
Ramp up documentation of reprioritization
Any reprioritization should be well-documented for both your teams, clients and shareholders. Documentation sounds tedious, but it can be quick with the right protocols. For example, often remote teams keep Slack channels with documentation of changes to look back on. Or, with greater technical capacity, some companies are creating automated data dashboards in order to pull information on the go. Having updated information and documented priorities is vital for your team to realign.
Make side-by-side roadmap comparisons
The initial roadmap is a great tool to work from and compare with. When teams undergo big reprioritization, it’s worth comparing old and new roadmaps of the project so that your team doesn’t lose its way. Doing so can be helpful to avoid straying too far from the core values of the project.
Ultimately, the product roadmap is never perfect and often requires updates and redirections based on business needs or changes in “What success means”. As your team realigns during changes, these tips can help it go smoothly. Even when something big and unexpected happens (ahem, COVID), you can create a change-resistant team and flexible working processes. In this way, you’ll be prepared for the worst and ready to create the best.