One of the most requested items from product teams are Product Roadmaps. Everyone from CEOs, Marketing and even customers want to know when a feature or functionality is going to be released. They make executives feel like they understand when things are going to be delivered, Sales likes them because they can use them as leverage in deals, and they strive to give predictability to customers.
But one thing you can count on - they always change. Most of the time product owners “guess” or SWAG at what can be delivered. Too often I’ve seen Product Managers create slides or fancy Gantt charts mapping out release dates and dependencies. Product Roadmaps are like goals. Everyone hopes to achieve them, maybe even exceed them, but in the end we typically end up adjusting them for one reason or another and delaying the release.
Because Roadmaps change frequently it’s difficult for teams to structure their work based on a single direction especially one that’s continually moving or changing. Its like trying to hit a moving target that you know is going to move once you set aim. But more importantly, it makes creating a consistent and seamless user experience very challenging.
So, how can designers create a consistent and compelling user experiences with such volatility? Well, there’s a solution — Experience Roadmaps (ExR). ExRs are a way for teams to plan their work in concert with Product Roadmap. ExRs help teams stay focused, create stability and help drive a consistent user experience. They also ensures user problems are being solved and limits the amount of UI churn.
There are three key elements to creating a solid ExR. The North Star, The Lighthouse and The Flashlight.
One can generally understand their meaning (using light as a metaphor), but let me explain. North stars were used by sailors for centuries to help them navigate across vast oceans and for long distances. Stars are far away and yet are a constant, predictable source of truth for direction. In the UxR, the North Star represents the overall vision for your product or your long term direction.
Keeping with the light metaphor, Lighthouses were used as navigational aids and to warn boats of dangerous areas. They are much closer than stars, but still provide guidance. Thus Lighthouses should be used for near term efforts like epics, features or releases. You can have many Lighthouses for one North star.
Finally the Flashlight. Flashlights are held by individuals, provide light on relatively small areas and are typically short range. Flashlights represent user stories, bugs and other tactical or short term items. Flashlights typically comprise most of your sprint’s workload.
Caveat — obviously every idea or concept should be validated or based on user research, market research and/or A/B testing. ExRs should include research and testing time.
When creating a ExR designers should consider the end result of their ideal user experience. Because user experiences aren’t linear and can often times involve many decisions or dependencies, ExRs should reflect user flows needed to complete end-to-end scenarios. Don’t think of them as releases or feature based but more what a user needs to do to complete a task or set of tasks.
At my work we use the concept of “Hills” for our long term or Big ideas. Although I like this concept, I feel Hills can confuse the the Designer on their single vision and can lead to focusing solely on a single Hill while ignoring the other Hills that comprise the total vision or outcome.
When defining your North Star consider the following:
- Create a single mission your Product does or is
- Who are the people you’re solving problems for?
- What are the “key” end to end workflows?
- Why are these scenarios important?
- What does your product not do?
For defining end to end user flows I highly suggest using the Jobs to Be Done method as defined by Anthony W. Ulwick.
When defining your lighthouse consider the following:
- Break down the flows into sizable chunks as defined in Lean UX written by Jeff Gothelf and Josh Seiden
- Think of single workflows
- How would these roll up into a single North Star
- Are there any technical limitations?
- Are there any known timelines or deadlines?
When defining your flashlight consider the following:
- What tasks need to be done to complete them? Research, testing, validation, etc..
- What dependencies do you have?
- Who would work on these?
- What persona’s are being address?
- What one problem are you solving?
- How do these lead into the Lighthouse?
With these items defined, the team now has a clear vision of where they’re going regardless of how they get there. Your team will thank you, your end product with be better and you’ll have a better sense of direction.
A really good place to define these three concepts is in a “Product Summit”. Product Summits include everyone who is responsible for delivery, marketing and selling of the product. In a workshop setting and using design thinking principles, the team works to define the North Star, Lighthouse and even some flashlights (Marketing and Sales should have users stories too!) documents. Preferably these “alignment” sessions happen quarterly or even semi-annually.
Product Summits are also a good way to get everyone on the same page with direction. Remember “A unified vision is better than a single great one” and while this responsibility typically falls with the Product Owner it’s the Designer’s responsibility to create it for the user!