A first responder’s guide to roadmapping while the earth is shaking
By: Nadav Levy, Senior Product Manager
Working within a fast-past environment, as a product manager, has taught me a lot about rocky roads and prioritizing while trying to run fast and deliver quickly. In this article I will attempt to outline three critical steps that every product manager goes through, and my experience working in a high-pressure environment.
To give some context, Edgybees provides situational awareness solutions by augmenting live video streams with contextual information. Our solution is currently being used around the world by first responders, governments and industrial personnel in handling highly dynamic and life-threatening challenges.
Collect operational information
Every roadmap should start somewhere, and no matter if it’s your first day in the company or your third year, always begin by sitting down with your company’s leadership and hearing where they see the company heading – also known as company vision. I strongly encourage you to start by meeting people individually. Each one will have a unique perspective you can learn from!
Pumped with excitement, it’s now time for some groundwork. Schedule time with each team and start collecting every task, major issues, wish-lists and features you come across. At this stage you’re mainly going to see patterns, technical debt and what is currently in the pipeline.
Now that you know where you want to be and where the company is today, fill in the gaps! Create Initiatives and Epics that will drive you towards the vision and don’t be afraid to bake in plenty of research tasks. In Edgybees’ case, working with computer vision and on the front line of GIS (Graphical Information Systems) along with augmented reality, we deal with a fair share of unknowns. A good mix we found working for us is leaving around 30% of our roadmap for research tasks.
“If I only accomplish ONE thing, what would that be?”
Finding your north star when everything around you is moving is not an easy task. Start every roadmap process by asking yourself (and stakeholders) what is the single thing you want to accomplish. This question can make managing decisions much simpler. Then, one step at a time, and only after you are sure that the accumulated effort is doable, you can go on to identify and add the next challenge to the list.
As far as KPIs and OKRs, try to list four to six objectives. We found that to be the sweet spot. If you have more it means you likely lost focus. If you got less, maybe you’re not breaking down goals or milestones well enough.
Once you have your objectives, identify the low cost / high reward features. If you need help figuring out the value and cost, ask your stakeholders to score them on a scale from 1-10 and average the answers.. Then, simply arrange all the features on a cost/value matrix.
As anyone knows, working at a startup is an endless battle to keep delivering and be on track when the road never stops moving. Business opportunities shake you up like earthquakes and stakeholders knock you side to side like hurricanes – Working with first responders, I can’t help but think of natural disaster metaphors when trying to deliver our roadmap. The only way to survive is by adopting the phrase: “Be flexible or break”. Many times, you will come out with a solution that’s far from what you set out to create.
At Edgybees we found 3 elements that work well in managing storms:
- Keep the roadmap alive. Don’t just communicate your plan twice a year, but actually keep it open during every sprint planning meeting and ask: “does this story or epic have anything to do with our objectives?”. Yes? Great! But if the answer you get too often is No… it’s time to review your roadmap.
- Keep a stable core. When a new opportunity (or basically a distraction, until proven otherwise) comes in, don’t stop your sprint. Create a Task Force including only the necessary teammates with one person acting as Owner. Open a side Kanban board for the occasion and no matter how large or small the task force is compared to the sprint team, you still have a burning candle. As the project starts to calm down, you can gradually shift people back to the normal cycle without losing your rhythm.
- Plan for the unexpected. Always leave 10-20% of your sprint open for surprises. This will help close a quick loop for those on-the-fly requests. Also, leaving some room for unplanned tasks creates a great way to mitigate some of the pressure from stakeholders.
To summarize and leave you with a short cheat-sheet, here are some bullet points discussed:
- Understand the company’s vision – meet with your leadership individually.
- Define 4-6 north star objectives and prioritize accordingly.
- Be flexible so you don’t break.
- Keep your roadmap alive – review often and adjust if needed.
- Keep a stable core and run task forces for designated initiatives.
- Schedule for the unexpected and let steam out.
Hope that helps and keep safe!