12-month rolling roadmaps

I already explained what is a roadmap, how to build it and what they are used for (planning and communication). During my time at ContaAzul and now at Gympass my teams and I have been using a roadmap structure that has been very helpful for us to achieve the two main goals of product roadmaps, planning what are the next steps of the product and to align the view of the product future with the entire organization.

12-month rolling roadmap example

We call this roadmap structure the 12-month rolling roadmap. I know that some people will comment that having a 12-month roadmap will prevent you from being agile, that we should have no more than 3 months planned ahead, ideally we should have no roadmap and we should use only OKRs. I tend to agree with all these comments. However, my experience has shown me the need for roadmaps depends a lot on the product development culture maturity of the company. Probably companies like Google and Facebook have such maturity of product development culture that roadmaps are not needed and the product is developed only based on OKRs. This is also the case when we are managing mature products.

However, if you are working on a product in its innovation or growth phase, and your company does not have yet a mature product development culture, roadmaps in general and the 12-month rolling roadmap that I will present here can be very helpful.

The motivation

When a product manager present to stakeholders a 3-month roadmap, it is not unusual that the product manager gets asked questions like “what about feature X?” or “when will we put more energy on objective Y?”. The answer is normally something in the lines of “it’s planned for future quarters but I believe that what we planned for the coming quarter are the most important things to work on, do you agree?”. This answer will probably generate some frustration. 

If a product manager decides to not use roadmap and only use OKRs to present her plans for her product to stakeholders, the questions she will get will be in the lines of “how do you intend to reach objective Z?” or “why don’t you do W to get to your objective faster?”

For this reason we created the 12-month rolling roadmap. It helps product managers communicate the view of the future of their product and, consequently, this will elevate the discussion to a more strategic level. Here’s an example of a 12-month rolling roadmap for a team that takes care of invoice issuance in an ERP product for SMBs.

Elements and how to use the 12-month rolling roadmap

The basic elements that should be in a 12-month rolling roadmap are:

  • objectives and metrics: it is placed at the top of the slide because this is the most important thing of the roadmap, what you are planning to achieve by doing the things you plan to do and how do you measure that you achieved. From these, you create your OKRs.
  • deliveries: here we have what is planned to be delivered by each team to achieve the objectives. It’s important to note down when a new team will be hired and onboarded. Normally it takes some time to hire people and have them onboarded with enough knowledge in order to deliver something. The deliveries are boxes of one or more months. That does not mean that delivery will happen only once per month. Teams should be deploying in production every week, every day, every hour if possible. This means that these deliveries are high-level deliveries, composed of many smaller deliveries that are one level down of details from what is shown in the 12-month rolling roadmaps. For those familiar with agile methodologies, think in terms of themes, epics, and stories. In the 12-month rolling roadmap we are at the level of themes and epics, we don’t go to the level of detail of stories. Note that deliveries for the upcoming quarter are in darker green while the others are in lighter green. This is by design, to show that we are more certain of the things that are closer. It is the job of the product manager presenting this roadmap to maintain the upcoming quarter the focus of the discussion. If your stakeholders want to discuss deliveries later in the roadmap, the only discussion that is important is if that delivery should happen in the upcoming quarter and if so, what should be postponed.
  • discoveries: the same way you present your deliveries in a timeline, you can present the required discoveries you need to do prior to the deliveries. Again, the result of discovery should not be presented only after one or more month. The discovery team (product manager, product designer and someone from engineering) will be making discoveries and sharing them with stakeholders on a weekly or even daily basis, but a better full picture of the discovery may need more time to be put together. This element is optional.
  • constraints: if you have any relevant constraint, it is important to be placed here. In this example, the government was rolling out a new invoice layout that should be used since April 2018. For this reason, our invoicing system should be prepared to issue invoices in this new format by then. This element is also optional.

You can add other elements if it makes sense for you, your team and your stakeholders. At Gympass we are building an integration layer that is enabling us to easily integrate our systems with gym booking and ERP systems as well as with payroll systems. As we build the building blocks of this integration layers, we are getting ready to offer specific types of professional services (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/more-special-requests-joaquim-torres-joca-/). For this reason, we created in our 12-month rolling roadmap an element call Professional Services readiness, to show stakeholders when we will be able to do certain types of integrations with our professional services team.

Note that with the 12-month rolling roadmap, when you get questions like “what about feature X?” or “when will we put more energy on objective Y?” or “how do you intend to reach objective Z?” or “why don’t you do W to get to your objective faster?” it is easier to answer because you have a big picture of what’s coming next.  

We named it “rolling roadmap” for a reason. It has to be reviewed regularly. If nothing changes, it should be reviewed at least quarterly, to guarantee it is aligned with the product vision and strategy. If there are changes in the external environment (new regulation, new competitors, etc) or in the internal environment (people leaving the team, change in company strategy, etc.) and these changes need to dealt immediately, the 12-month rolling roadmap is the perfect tool to help everyone understand the impact of the changes in the objectives and deliveries of the team.

Digital Product Management Books

Do you work with digital products? Do you want to know more about how to manage a digital product to increase its chances of success, solve its user’s problems and achieve the company objectives? Check out my Digital Product Management bundle with my 3 books where I share what I learned during my almost 30 years of experience in creating and managing digital products:

  • Startup Guide: How startups and established companies can create profitable digital products
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  • Leading Product Development: The art and science of managing product teams

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