When it comes to product roadmap planning, setting the right path is always hard. What is the right path anyway? You’re supposed to set a long-term development plan for your company or a product, with very limited information about what the future holds. This is what I call high-risk low-data decisions.

The most important thing in this situation is to avoid and overcome analysis paralysis. I’ve been there more often than I would like to remember, so I wanted to share one of the techniques I’ve used.

Visualize your roadmap and end goal

Since roadmap is a long-term plan, it can hold a lot of features in its list. This makes it hard to compare one to another and decide which is more important and which brings more value. This is why I like to make it visual. It’s easier to understand if I can see it.

How does it work?

During the roadmap planning sessions, I always ask myself these questions:

1. How much time is going to be spent on building this feature?

I have to know the price, at least in some fictional currency. I have to know the effort required for developing this feature. This will give me a perspective of how big or how small the feature is.

2. How much value will it bring? How will it make our product better?

Since I’m investing time and money in development, I have to estimate the returns. Will it make me better than my competition, or will it bring me competitive parity?

3. What is the estimated market share for this feature?

Do I have an existing customer for this specific feature? If not, do I see somebody using it? It is important to visualize how are you empowering your users and how your feature adds value to their business. Make your users awesome.

4. How will the market share change over time?

If there is an existing market, will it still be there in a month or a year? Will it grow or is it just a hype? I have to try to predict the future, since I’m building a product for the time yet to come.

Too many roadmap items, too many questions

Make it visual

You probably recognized the pairs in the questions above:

  1. Effort vs. Value,
  2. Market Share vs. Market Growth.

Put your roadmap items in a table, and assign each item with a rank for effortvaluemarket share and market growth. Ranks can be on a scale from 0 to 100, and you can choose yours depending on the resolution you want to get. But important thing is that the ranks are relative to each roadmap item because the goal here is to compare them and decide which are more important and which ones bring more value.

Now that you’ve assigned the ranks, try plotting the scatter in two two-dimensional charts. Things will start making sense once you see your diagram…

Effort vs. Value

Value vs. Effort

When you look at the chart, you can immediately spot four distinct areas:

High Value — Low Effort

These features/products are the ones that everybody likes building. You don’t have to bust your ass, and the users are delighted with it. You should definitely focus on these because the return of investment is very high. Grab the low hanging fruit, and save your energy for the following…

High Value — High Effort

This is the area that gets you excited and you look forward to making these things happen. This quadrant will be filled with the things you believe in, the things that define your product or service. Sure, they require a lot of attention, work and energy, but boy oh boy, do they shine when finished. This should be your main focus, even if you have to take some risks.

Low Value — Low Effort

These are less attractive features. Nevertheless, you shouldn’t throw them away, since their value is usually slightly bigger than the effort required. Features within this quadrant will most likely give you competitive parity. It’s unlikely that anyone will be mesmerized when they see them, but it’s likely that absence of these features will be noticed (things that we’re used to having in all other products). You can pimp up the value for these features by assigning them to junior members of your team. They will feel in charge, learn something new and feel accomplished and independent.

Low Value — High Effort

Keep away from these. These will suck out your energy and you will fail to recharge since their value is so small compared to the others. This is the investment you wouldn’t want to make. Maybe at some point, it seemed like a pretty cool idea, but there is a reason why you’ve ranked it so low. It’s either intuition or data, but trust your guts and postpone these ‘nice-to-haves’.

Market Share vs. Market Growth

Market Share vs. Market Growth

This chart is supposed to be a reality check. Are you actually building something that people want, or it’s just your pet project because you like it.

High Share — High Growth

Features in this area are on point. They are targeting your existing customers and accounts. This means that people like what you’re about to build. Also, there is a potential for customer base growth, since you can see more and more people get into it. This is the area with the highest perspective since you are building things that your existing clients love, with the possibility to expand on clients similar to the ones you have.

High Share — Low Growth

These features are cool too. Low growth doesn’t necessarily need to be a bad thing. This might mean that you are targeting well-established group of people, with the specific needs and preferences. Since the share is high, you know that the need for this exists, and you won’t be wasting your time.

Low Share — High Growth

This is your gold mine. Or a coal mine. One never knows. Since the growth is high, you might just hit the jackpot with these features. The outcome is blurry, but the opportunity is definitely there. If they are also low effort — high value items, you should start building these immediately.

Low Share — Low Growth

These are your pet projects. Admit it. Nobody seems to be interested in these, but yet you’ve put them in your roadmap. Pet projects can sometimes grow into something big, but if your backlog is already full, focus on things with brighter future.

Ok man, now what?

Now, take a look at the two charts you just created. If you can identify items which are within high value — low effort and high share — high growth regions, pin these items on the top of your roadmap. Start building them first and invest in them. On the other hand, if there are items within low value — high effort and low share — low growth region, just discard those items. Or keep them at the very bottom of your list if you got emotionally attached to your pets.

I hope you’ll find this helpful. As I said, I like to plot these charts so that I can visually detect what is hot and what is not. You can also use these charts to show your plan to the investors, shareholders, team members, anyone interested in your roadmap.

If you’re still in doubt about what needs to be built, just make the decision. Use this technique or just go with your intuition. Just make the decision and the hard work you put in will make it the right one.