Roadmap or OKR?

In my last article I mentioned that my next article would be about roadmap prioritization techniques.

However, in the beginning of 2016 I wrote about how OKRs were substituting roadmaps at Locaweb. At that time, my understanding was that eventually roadmaps won’t be needed anymore and OKRs would replace roadmaps.

If this understanding is correct, why my last article was about roadmaps? Are roadmaps still useful? Or are roadmaps in extinction, being completely replaced by OKRs?

In August 2016, after 11 years leading product development and management at Locaweb, I decided to move to ContaAzul, a SaaS ERP startup at Joinville, a city in the south of Brazil, to help them scale their product development team. When I arrived at ContaAzul, I noticed that they also used OKRs for the entire company, including the product development team. However, besides using OKR they also use roadmaps and and it didn’t seem it was possible to stop using roadmaps and manage all product development efforts only using OKRs. That made me ponder if OKR can really substitute roadmaps or if there are circumstances where both tools can be used together. And if the latter is true, what are those circumstances.

When discussing this topic with people from the software industry it became clear to me that the use of roadmap or OKR depends on the stage of the product in its lifecycle. I discussed about the 4 stages of a product lifecycle in this article.

As described in that article, the software product lifecycle has 4 stages:

  • Innovation: from all 4 lifecycle stages of a software product, Innovation is the one that holds the biggest amount of doubts. It is also the stage that holds the biggest amount of books. Any book on innovation and startups is helpful when your product is in this stage. The main objective is to create a product that addresses problems and needs of a group of customers. For this reason, during this phase, there’s only one Objective, find product-market fit, and to measure this Objective we can use various Key Results that demonstrate customer engagement and satisfaction. In the Innovation stage we should use neither OKR nor roadmaps. We should use the MVP (Minimum Viable Product) framework of build-measure-learn to reach the Objective of finding product-market fit.
  • Growth: In the growth stage, when the product has been developed and launched, we should worry about how to manage the product during its growth. Since during the innovation phase we built an MVP to reach our Objective of finding product-market fit, our product is quite incomplete, so we should have a roadmap describing which features we will build plus the motivation to build each feature and the metrics that will show us that we are fulfilling the motivation to build each feature as I described in my article about roadmap. Motivation is another word for Objective and Metrics is the same as Key Results. In the Growth stage we should use Roadmaps together with OKR since in the Innovation phase we launched an MVP lacking many features that would make the product more complete and now we need to implement those features.
  • Maturity: After growth, comes maturity. In this phase, our product reached its potential market and consequently doesn’t grow as fast as it grew in the Growth phase. When a product reaches this stage it has all needed features and there’s no need for a roadmap anymore. In the Maturity stage we should use only OKRs to manage the product development since that in this phase we will be optimizing the product to fulfill its Objectives.
  • End of life: After maturity, or when the product is developed but it does not find product-market fit, comes the stage known as the end of life, or sunset, of a software product. In this phase, like in the Maturity phase, a roadmap is not needed since it doesn’t make sense to build any additional features. If your product reached the End of life phase after the Maturity phase, it already has all the features it need to have. If your product reached the End of life phase right after the Innovation phase because it didn’t find the product-market fit, you should not invest any effort in building any additional features. In the End of life stage we should use only OKRs to manage the product development since in this phase our only Objective is to stop serving the product.

For this reason it is clear that OKRs substitute Roadmaps in all stages of the product lifecycle except for the Growth stage where Roadmaps are very helpful to understand where your product is heading, i.e., to understand the future of your product. In the Growth stage we should use Roadmaps and OKRs in conjunction to manage the product development.

Does this mean that roadmaps are used only during a short period of time?

No. Since the Growth stage is the longest phase of a product, normally lasting years, roadmaps will be used during a good period of your product lifecycle and it is very important to understand what is a product roadmap and how to build it.

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