What is NOT a road map?

Road maps are an important part to strategy. It doesn’t matter if you are trying to figure the future of your company, your product, your team or your life – a road map is important to helping your keep track of your goals and the initatives and activities needed to achieve them.

The book Product Leadership: How Top Product Managers Launch Awesome Products and Build Successful Teams By Richard Banfield, Martin Eriksson, Nate Walkingshaw, outlines what is not a road map:

  • It is not a release plan—leave out specific dates and timelines.
  • It is not a list of features and/or components, nor should it include job stories, user stories, or “jobs to be done”; these are too granular for a road-map.
  • It is not a commitment. It is a living guide that reacts to new information
  • It is not one monolithic document. Given that we argue for small, autonomous, cross-functional teams focused on specific areas of the product there should be a road map per team.
  • A successful road map is not a Gantt chart.   Waterfall connections (dependencies) won’t work for this level of planning.

So why is it that so many guides and software packages (either desktop or online) make you create road maps that have timelines and/or look like gantt charts?

There had to be a better, simpler way – and there is.

This is why I created Munro Maps.

Road Map = Vision + Action Plan

In 1987, Dr Mary Lippitt, founder and president of Enterprise Management, Ltd., copyrighted (however did not publish) “The Managing Complex Change” model. Mary’s model includes a list of elements:  Vision, Skills, Incentive, Resources, Action Plan (VSIRA), she reasons that without one of these elements then you are more likely to not succeed with the change. (Note: I’m not sure about the copyright bits here, and others have been sued before so I won’t publish the model – but it’s fairly easy to search for.)

A road map is simply an action plan with a vision.  A well-thought-out road map can help with your change management endeavours. The key to a good road map is the vision or goal (https://docs.munromaps.com.au/strategy/the-mechanics/smart-goal).

Mary’s model shows that if you have skills, incentives, resources and an action plan but you don’t have a vision or goal you will create confusion as you won’t have that guiding force to refer back to while doing the work.

If you have the vision, skills, incentive and resources, but no action plan you will end up with false starts or work being done in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The combination of skills (i.e. communication, technical skills, knowledge), incentives (rewards, recognition, celebrations) and resourcing (money, time, equipment, etc.) can be represented as “Good Team Practices”.

A road map only isn’t going to successfully change your team’s practices – but it might make the lack of one or all of these elements more clear. For example, if an initiative on the road map clearly requires skills that the team does not have, or a team size larger than the current, or that will diverge from the teams personal KPIs and incentives, then the likelihood of success will diminish greatly.

The combination of a well-thought-out road map and good team practices will greatly increase the chances of success.

As a product manager, the change that you are trying to accomplish can be represented as a “Successful Product Development” – whatever that means for your product. This isn’t suggesting that the product will be a commercial success – that is up to you and your team to get right – instead, that the combination of a well-thought-out road map and good team practices will greatly increase the chances of successfully developing the product the road map’s vision is illustrating.

Decision Making

A large part of any road map creation is making decisions. Decisions about what the goal is, what are the sub-goals, what initiatives you intend to work on to achieve the goal, etc. etc.

I recently came across “The three secrets of wise decision making” by Barry Anderson. It says that there are 3 things that a wise decision maker needs courage, creativity, and balance of complexity.

The three secrets of wise decision making are courage, creativity, and balance in the management of complexity. The courage to be rational faces up to complexity in order to get the problem solved; creativity adds to complexity in order to achieve a more complete understanding of the problem; and balanced judgment evaluates complexity in an even-handed manner in order to reduce it to a choice of the single best alternative.

The three secrets of wise decision making. Anderson, Barry F. Portland, Ore.: Single Reef Press.

Anderson goes on to talk about some warning signs that you are lacking one of the secrets to good decision making, three that stood out are “emotionally based”, “no new ideas” and “overly complicated”.

Warning Sign 1: Emotionally based

It takes courage to take your emotions out of the decision-making process. It is easy to fight for something because it is your “pet project”, or “your idea”, or you just really love doing “that thing”. But a strong leader is able to make decisions without emotion and use a rational process will lead to the best outcome. Rational decision making begins with facts, data, and a value-premises from which leads to a logical conclusion.

By connecting your decisions and ideas to each other in order to fulfil a goal is one way that Munro Maps can help you reduce the emotion.

Rationality is a matter of direction in thought. Creativity is a matter of richness of thought. Which brings us to Warning Sign no.2.

Warning Sign 2: No new ideas

If you are not generating any new ideas, or worse coming up with the same ideas over and over again, then you need to increase your creativity. Sounds pretty simple, but in reality, we’ve all been in this place – the place of ‘no new ideas’.

There are many ways to be more creative – brainstorming, brain-writing, mind-maps, Lotus Blossom technique, the list goes on and on. The thing to remember is that all these techniques are based on a few common principles: change the place, change the process, change the lens you are looking through, change the people, and take a break.

Munro Maps encourages group thinking (not groupthink) by collaborating with a simple process using simple tools.

Warning Sign 3: Overly complicated

If your ideas are becoming more and more complicated then there is a need to simplify. One of the key activities within Agility is the idea of breaking problems down. Munro Maps helps with this by encouraging you to look up and down the ‘mountain’ to see where your initiative fits – the smaller the initiatives the better the outcomes you will get.

Finally, Anderson says that “we would all be better decision makers if we wrote our ideas down and diagrammed the relations between them.” Munro Maps is just one way that you can start to write down and diagram your decisions.

A final thought from me is to remember two of the Toyota Way principles:

  • Base your management decisions on long term philosophy, even at the expense of short term financial goals.
  • Make decisions slowly by consensus, thoroughly considering all options and then implement rapidly.

One Goal

If you’ve played a ball-based-team-sport, like football, netball, etc. other than snooker or Quidditch*, then you’re probably familiar with the concept of getting the ball into a goal. A goal; One goal; The goal. It’s so much easier for a team to focus on scoring if the team is aiming for a single goa (of course, there is also the goal that they need to defend, but in order to win, you must score more goals than the opposition).

Road maps should be the same. If you have a single over-arching goal then it is much easier to ensure that each initiative aligns to that goal.

You can have sub-goals, but, these too, need to align with that single over-arching goal.

Does your road map have a single goal?

For more information check out the Munro Maps documentation on SMART goals – https://docs.munromaps.com.au/strategy/the-mechanics/smart-goal.

*Quidditch: Why would you spend any time focusing Bludgers or Quaffle? The quicker that your team can get the Golden Snitch to earn your 150 points and end the game the better (of course you have to do this before the other team scores more than 150 points or you’ll end up like Viktor Krum). I’m no Potter expert but this seems logical to me.