Priorities flow down & Roadmaps build up

Joe Burroughs

Joe Burroughs

Many people are frustrated by uncertainty and complexity in their jobs. I use Agile principles to provide clear and simple strategies so that you can win at work!

You can’t start with a roadmap

You start with a destination, not a detailed plan of turn-by-turn directions. When it comes to Product Management you begin with a vision of the product you think will delight your customers. Then you distill that vision down to the minimum viable product [MVP] you can release to the market. From that, you break the MVP down into distinct chunks of work. Finally, you prioritize those chunks based on value taking into account:

  • Cost to build
  • Time to market
  • Development risk
  • Return on investment

These priorities flow downstream where the chunks of work are refined into Epics. Epics will have a clear description of the chunk of work needing to be completed, a priority ranking based on the factors listed above, and clear acceptance criteria describing what it will take for the Epic to meet the Definition of Done.

This process does not begin with a Roadmap. It begins with a vision. From that Product vision, a set of priorities emerge that drive everything that happens downstream.

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Roadmaps come from the bottom

Roadmaps aren’t built from the top down. Imagine taking a vacation. The map comes out only after the trip type, destination, duration, and mode of transportation have all been refined.

In an Agile delivery model, it makes no sense to plan delivery at the portfolio level. In fact, it creates a multitude of problems. Let’s examine why.

Top Down Roadmap Failures

  • Building a Roadmap at the portfolio level is Waterfall, not Agile
  • Roadmaps can’t be accurate without the refinement and capacity allocations performed at the team level
  • A high level time box reinforces anti-patterns like cutting corners and aiming for minimum value delivery
  • It inhibits innovation and reduces the opportunity to pivot toward more valuable delivery efforts
  • It sets the entire release train up for a choice between mediocrity or failure

Bottom Up Roadmap Value

  • Building a Roadmap from the team level up allows the entire train to align based on capacity and capability
  • It ensures a more realistic delivery model and allows for flexibility if priorities change
  •  A roadmap built on team delivery cadence or Sprint Planning is far more accurate than one based on wishes
  • innovation is built in when roadmaps are living guidelines driven from Sprint Planning up to leadership
  • It sets the entire release train on the path to success

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This does not mean leadership plays no part

Leadership still has a central role to play in Agile Delivery! In fact, the framework frees leadership up to focus more completely on that central role: Vision and Prioritization! 

Vision gives every part of a release train a target to aim for and prioritization provides a way to organize the work undertaken by every level all the way down to the delivery teams. These are valuable contributions to an organization’s success and more importantly, they are the things leaders must contribute for any organization to stay relevant in today’s quickly changing marketplace.


Joe Burroughs

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