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Creating Space on Your Roadmap for Innovation and Improvements

Managing Expectations
Product
Roadmap

31 March, 2021

Aaron Cripps
Aaron Cripps

VP, Product at Forge Global

Aaron Cripps, VP of Product at Forge Global, shares how to ensure space on your roadmap for innovation and improvement by explicitly defining work type and carving out time for discovery initiatives.

Problem

The desire to build solutions is powerful--and rightly so! We are creative beings by nature, and it feels good to be generative. However, our individual goals can urge teams into action before they achieve proper alignment on the work ahead and how it fits into the broader context of our organization. Key signals of this challenge may arise in feedback like: “Design hasn’t had enough time to consider solutions”, “Engineering architecture hasn’t been researched or defined yet”, leading toward a fuzzy approach, an unclear size of work, and lack of buy-in from the team.

Actions taken

We explicitly define the “Work Type” in our plan--at a roadmap and user story level. We use three types, to support efforts beyond the build:

  • Discover: explore options and propose the approach we believe will bring about the right outcomes;
  • Build: develop and release a solution into the world;
  • Strengthen: improve previously-released experiences.

As an example, roadmap-level Discover activities carve out time for the cross-functional teams to “go wide” and explore but then synthesize the approach and recommendation that are pinned to a timeline. For example, I might tell the team that we want to visualize the roadmap broadly, sketching what the vision may look and feel like 12 months out; but also consider the first increment along that journey, with specific deliverables scoped to the next quarter--ensuring we have what is necessary to deliver a minimum experience to drive the outcome we need.

By carving out that time at the roadmap level and making it a top-level initiative, we found that by the time we intend -- in that future increment -- to go into development that we increased clarity. We may still adjust the plan as we learn, of course, but we begin with a clearer idea of the work and increased comfort in our approach.

Zooming in to the delivery team, we use the same tags on each story. This allows us to track our sprint-by-sprint investment and provides an additional data point to inspect and adapt along the way. Additionally, at the end of the quarter, I can report accurately on performance to our commitments. For example, we may project our intention to use 20 percent of our quarter’s resources in strengthening existing experiences. At the end of the quarter, we measure the actual work we did and how it aligns to projections.

Currently, we are using a rolling 4-quarter rolling roadmap cadence. About a month before the next quarter, we invest significant cross-functional time in re-ratifying our projected plan. We review what we were imagining to be the best next step, identifying what we’ve learned and how it might affect the plan and then, ratifying the approach to right-size the quarter’s commitments.

Lessons learned

Investing the time to review & ratify with our cross-functional partners (design, engineering, compliance, sales, etc.) helped feed learning into our plan, sharpen our thinking, and reduce surprises. Evaluating our products and plans through the three Work Types drives community alignment on the right next step.

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