Identifying customer needs is the most important aspect of your roadmapping process. Roadmaps should be about expressing those customer needs. Therefore, most items on your roadmap will derive from a job the customer needs to accomplish or a problem the customer must solve.
The roadmapping process should use Themes and Subthemes to express customer needs.
- Themes define what is important to your customers at a particular time.
- A theme is a high-level customer need. A subtheme is just a more specific or more-granular theme.
- Themes can stand on their own or represent groups of subthemes.
- Themes help prevent teams from prematurely converging on solutions
- Themes are about outcomes, not outputs.
Theme: Address key usability issues
Subthemes: Pagination, Menu navigation and Save Status
Advantages of organizing the roadmap by themes
- Helps focus on what’s missing from competitors products instead of just reimplementing their features to catch-up.
- Helps create a better narrative for sales and marketing
- A clearly defined need makes solution development easier
- Customer needs are generally easier to read and understand than lists of features.
How to discover customer needs
User journey maps
- These describe every step a user takes in solving a problem. They should be highly detailed.
- Experience maps plot a number of user journey maps together and include dimensions like emotions.
- These maps uncover zones where you can zoom into more detail and expose problems which you can focus on. These problems become themes.
- It’s important to return to these maps even in mature products
- You can think of your product infrastructure as a special type of customer to expose its needs. Platforms and dependencies will shift over time and you will need to do work to account for these.
Use journey maps will sometimes generate so many opportunities to improve things that it can be overwhelming. A clearly defined outcome or objective though can help whittle down your themes to those which will have an immediate impact on moving you towards your objective.
Using stories to support themes
Themes can be described in the same language as stories but at a higher level.
Where stories are like:
As a [user type] I want [desire] So I can [result]
Themes are like:
Ensure [result] for [stakeholder]
- Make the mobile experience as good as the desktop for users
- Ensure access during peak times for users
Relating themes back to strategic objectives
Objectives are the high-level goals you want to achieve in the next version of the product. It’s important to ensure that every theme feeds directly into your objectives. EVERY theme must directly relate to at least one objective.
Relationships between themes and objectives can be indicated with color coding.
Every roadmap update must be done within the context of your objectives. When updating the roadmap, pause for a second to consider your product vision and objectives. Are they still accurately targeting the needs of the customers? If not, change them.
The Slack Platform Roadmap calls out its themes in an About this Roadmap section.
GOV.uk have published their objectives, the reasoning behind each one (not shown here) and a public roadmap which links back to the objectives.
Stick to customer needs when defining themes and subthemes. Avoid the temptation to talk about ideas or solutions.