Product Roadmap and Backlog Grooming

The product planning process is something that’s important for businesses to understand but is also difficult to master. You may be working with a digital agency on your next app, but understanding what goes into building a product roadmap can make it easier for you to work effectively.

Your product roadmap is going to be the main driver of your digital project. That’s why it’s important to understand what it takes to build a successful roadmap and plan.

If you want to create a truly comprehensive agile roadmap, you’ve come to the right place. Keep reading if you want to learn how to build an effective product roadmap and the best way to handle backlog grooming.

What is a Product Roadmap?

In its most basic terms, you can think of a product roadmap as a visual representation of your plans to create your product and release it to the public. It’s supposed to be a high-level summary that can help sum up the why, what, and how behind what you’re building.

The product roadmap is going to play a crucial role in your overall product strategy. Ideally, it should be able to be something nearly any stakeholder can look at and understand where you’re at in the building process.

If you’re making a product roadmap, there are so main goals it should achieve:

  • Describe your overall product vision and strategy
  • Be a high-level guiding document that helps people execute strategy
  • Help align internal key stakeholders
  • Open up discussions for planning and different product options.

The True Benefit of the Agile Roadmapping Process

When you’re ready to build your product you may wonder why some people put so much effort into roadmapping. After all, you know what needs to be done and have plenty of department leads on it. If everyone knows what they should be doing, why put more work into fleshing out and revising your roadmap?

Your product roadmap does a lot more than plan out your strategy and scope of work. When product roadmapping is done right, it can help make it easier for your product to succeed in a highly competitive digital landscape.

The main benefit of taking an agile approach to your product planning is that it’s designed to be flexible. You’ll build your strategy in a way that makes it easier to adjust, introduce, or remove certain features for your product.

Being able to make a quick pivot in your product plan is important. A new user study could show that a seemingly important feature you had planned no longer resonates with your target audience and that you could go down a different route. Your competitor could release a similar product, and you could have to make some quick changes to differentiate yourself from your customers.

Remember, the digital world moves fast. You never know what news could come out that could change your initial plan. Having the ability to quickly pivot and prioritize can make everyone’s job much easier.

A Note on Minimum Viable Products

One of the big values of utilizing agile road mapping is that it helps you easily plan your minimum viable product (MVP). The term MVP is just what it sounds like, it’s the most basic functionality you’ll need to bring your product to life.

When you start thinking about your MVP, you essentially ask yourself, “what is the fastest and least expensive way we can start learning and building?”.

A well-built MVP can help your team learn a lot about your product in the early stages of the development process and also save valuable time and money. It gives you insight into your product’s potential and allows you to focus on the right things.

The agile road mapping process was made for creating the perfect MVP. You’ll already be focused on the most important parts of the product creation process to nail everything you’ll need for your MVP.

How to Build Your Own Product Roadmap

You know a bit about what a product roadmap is and why it’s important. Now we can focus on best practices for building your own roadmap.

We could write an entire series of blog posts on all of the different agile planning methodologies you could use to plan your roadmap. While it’s true that there are a variety of methods and systems you can use, agile planning comes down to a few important core principles.

If you want to follow an agile road mapping process, make sure you keep these things in mind when you’re planning everything out.

Nail Down Objectives and KPIs

Before you start working on your roadmap, take time to think about why you’re building this product. Whatever you’re building should be able to meet a business objective and help your target customer.

Is your product meant to improve upon an existing digital experience? Are you making this product to appeal to an entirely new demographic? Sit down with key stakeholders and talk about your overall vision, goals, and initiatives around your product and how they can help your business.

Once you have a clear sense of the “why” behind what you’re building, think about the KPI’s you’ll use to measure success. This may seem like something that could wait, but understanding what success truly means for your product in the early planning stages makes it easier for you to reach certain goals.

Review, Assess, and Rank Ideas

The early stages of the product planning process are exciting since there are so many new ideas. Your product has nearly unlimited potential at this point, and you’ll want to be sure you don’t dampen that by trying to do too much at once.

Stakeholders, customers, and people working on the project are going to have a lot of ideas about what needs to be done. Give everyone time to express their thoughts, then take time to review everything with stakeholders to prioritize what you want for your first release.

It’s important to keep in mind that an agile product plan isn’t just flexible, it’s also iterative. Instead of trying to fit every single new idea and feature into your first release, your agile plan can make it easier to prioritize certain things over others. It sets you up for sustainable growth and continuous integration.

You can think about features in terms of what’s absolutely critical for your product, what could be nice down the line, and then as completely aspirational ideas, you could do in the future.

When you’re thinking about which features matter the most, don’t forget to think about your overall goals and objectives for the product. If you can say that everything you’re prioritizing fits into your overall product vision and goals, you’re on the right track.

Understand Your Requirements

Now that your overall product strategy is coming together, it’s time to dive into how you’re going to bring everything together through design and development.

Once you’ve pinpointed the features you want your digital product to have, you can start building out user stories that back up your vision. Those user stories should contain plenty of detailed requirements that can give people on your engineering teams the context they need to move forward with work.

This is when you’re going to lean on your design and development team leads the most. It’ll be up to them to figure out the best way to bring the product’s overall vision to life.

Keep in mind that this is also a phase when things could change. You may find that a feature you wanted is too complicated or expensive for a release. If that happens, don’t think of that as bad news! Now you know that you have something you can save for the backlog and revisit later on.

Theme Your Work

You have a good idea of your requirements, so now it’s time to move on to organizing those features and work into themes.

Don’t just make a list of popular features you know you want to add to your product. Think about some of the goals you mentioned at the beginning of the road mapping process and the problems you want to solve. Make what you come up with your overall themes for the roadmap and prioritize your work and features around them.

This approach makes it easy to make your product’s overall objectives the main focus of your design and development work. You can take your process a step further and group things in terms of your internal development capacity or gearing them towards a specific launch.

Plan Sprints

We’ve said before that the agile process is designed to be iterative. Now that you have your main work prioritized and organized, it’s time to start planning sprints.

Sprints can help break up work into manageable chunks that make the building process easier. Lean heavily on your project managers to plan reasonable sprints and help move work along.

It’s also important to be clear about timing when you’re planning sprints. Some people never like to put concrete dates on the roadmap. Other people swear it is the only way to get things done. Regardless of your style, make sure you’re giving everyone on your team a good idea of when you expect things to be done.

Revisit

It’s important to not think of your roadmap as a static thing. The plans you make should be able to evolve with your product work. Make sure that you frequently revisit your roadmap throughout the building process.

Hold meetings with important project leads to ensure that work is being done on time. Don’t be afraid to push back certain deadlines if you truly need more time. It’s better to release a stellar product a little behind schedule than a buggy one on time.

Backlogs, Grooming, and Your Product

Once you’ve reached your first product release, your work isn’t done. Now is the time to gather data around app usage and to dive into your backlog.

Tasks have been piling up while your agile team has been hard at work releasing your product. Bugs have been found, new ideas have been thought up, user insights have been learned, and roadblocks have de-prioritised certain features and prioritized others.

You can view your backlog as your repository for all of the project work you still need to get to. Like with your original product roadmap, the backlog is ever-evolving. That’s why it’s important to spend some time periodically grooming your backlog.

Backlog grooming is important for the overall success of your product. Keeping your backlog organized makes it easier for your team to prioritize work and see what needs to be done next. It can help keep key stakeholders in the loop about what still needs to be done, and helps ensure that you aren’t spending time on features you’ve deemed irrelevant.

Tips For Successful Backlog Grooming

Sorting through a product backlog can feel overwhelming, and that’s especially true if your roadmap changed a lot during the building process. There is a lot of work that needs to be done, but it’s possible to get done the things that matter most.

If you’re having trouble planning your first grooming session, just focus on these important tasks and you’ll have a clean and accessible backlog in no time.

Remove Outdated Stories and Tasks

It’s possible for the most diligent workers to forget to close out tasks. Take time to come through everything to ensure that it still fits into your current design and development priorities.

When you’re removing old stories and tasks be sure to take time to add new ones. Your new stories and tasks should showcase any new user insight you’ve gained and reflect your updated priorities.

Add Context and Depth to Stories and Tasks

You may have some user stories, tasks, and old features in your backlog because they were too vague to work with. Now that you’re cleaning up the backlog, take time to add a little context and depth to some of the more “broad” things you have.

Are you have trouble clarifying certain steps or telling someone decisive next steps? That could be a sign that you need to bring in someone else, or that it may be time to drop the task altogether because it’s too vague.

Revisit Estimates

Team members go on vacation, people get pulled into different projects, and scopes of work can change. That’s why it’s important to make estimation a part of your grooming work. Take time to make sure that your original estimates are still accurate and make updates when necessary.

Involve the Right People

It’s possible for some project managers and leads to periodically check the backlog. However, you should plan on having larger grooming sessions that bring in key stakeholders.

Make sure you’re all in agreement on what needs to be prioritized next. Learn about work capacity from team leads so you can see which features can be worked on.

Meet Your New Roadmap Partners

Your product roadmap plays an important role in your overall product strategy and release. Creating an agile roadmap and maintaining a well-organized backlog can be tough. Luckily, we’re there to help you every step of the way.

We’re here to be your partners for all of your digital product needs. Whether you want to build something from scratch or give your existing product a tune-up, we’re here to help.

Are you ready to start working together? Contact us today so we can have a conversation about the best way to help your business.

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