Why it’s time to move to an outcome-based roadmap

The pitfalls of feature-centric roadmaps

In my career, I've spent quite a bit of time drawing up and developing roadmaps. Just in the past 3 years my team and I have prepared product roadmaps in 5 different formats. It was like trying on hats – each time hoping for a better fit. It wasn't just playing around with design; Oh no! We aspired to draft a roadmap that worked hard to capture various stakeholders’ needs, clearly communicated a product vision and overarching objectives of the company.

Over the years I have noticed that most roadmaps run into the same challenge. They end up being glorified lists of features, spread on a timeline. Suddenly, these features move stakeholders from the product vision, and the perception of the roadmap gets narrow and myopic. As a result, the teams see the lists as a backlog that must be executed, even though these features may not necessarily address user needs or align with the company’s priorities.

In this blog post, I aim to share insights gained from hycom extensive experience collaborating with various organizations across different projects. Our focus has always been on moving beyond the feature-oriented roadmap and guiding the companies toward outcome-driven planning.

When a team follows the feature-driven roadmap, it's like being on autopilot: finishing one feature, then hopping onto the next, without pausing to check if it still makes sense in the light of the market dynamics. Product managers, time and again, get stuck in an endless cycle of wrong conversations, focusing solely on getting those features out the door. It's a loop that’s hard to break.

On the surface, feature-driven product roadmaps seem like a smart way to work since you always know what’s next in the pipeline. But in reality, they often lead to the “feature bloat” and loss of the product vision. And so, despite faithfully following the roadmap, the features you've launched haven't moved the needle where it matters.


We’ve seen this issue many times before.
Even the best product managers are often wrong about what features will deliver customer delight. For example, at AirBnB (known for its culture of innovation), 92% percent of A/B tests are failures. They understand that producing features is not enough. Solving problems well is what they are after.

Why your conversation should shift to outcome-driven roadmaps

So, what's the way out of this feature-focused maze? 
It’s time to pivot from features to outcomes. It’s about time to say "no" to just ticking off feature after feature and starting to address actual business needs. Think about the impact: What problem needs to be solved within the next 6 or 12 months? How will your solution transform the experience for the customers?

For example, transitioning to an outcome-based approach changes product roadmaps (of, for example, eCommerce solutions) from a feature factory to a strategic compass. This change in thinking aligns every listed item with a purpose and metrics, ensuring that the item, no matter how small, contributes towards a larger, strategic goal.

In the outcome-based approach, teams align around clear, measurable goals that keep an eye on the product vision. And ideally, these outcomes tie back to the company-level goals or OKRs. The teams should move away from short-term gains and aim for results that genuinely add value. The outcome-driven roadmaps help change the narrative from what we're going to do next, to what we plan to achieve.  
With an outcome-based roadmap, the company can prioritize its work based on the potential to drive the desired results. Hence every feature or initiative plays a meaningful role in the bigger picture.

Marty Cagan, the founder of the Silicon Valley Product Group, who promotes the “outcome-driven approach”, gives several benefits to this way of working. For example, he believes that: 

  • the teams are more motivated when they are free to solve the problem the best way they see it. 

  • the teams feel empowered to solve problems as these features must actually work (and are measured by the key results).

Metrics and outcome-driven success

In today's data-driven age, the success of a product is often measured through metrics and KPIs. The outcome-driven roadmap supports aligning metrics with strategic objectives to ensure that every effort moves the product toward its desired state. In the outcome-driven approach, product decisions are based on data because the teams constantly evaluate whether the features moved the business needle as intended. If not, they will know it sooner and can change the approach or iterate again. 
In the fast business world, smart teams listen closely to feedback and use data to guide them. This smart move means they don’t waste time or money building things that people don’t want or need. 

Focus on outcomes, not just features. Craft impactful roadmaps

To deliver a product that a customer wants (whether a B2B eCommerce or a B2C self-service solution) we must stop producing features and start solving real problems. Adopting an outcome-based strategy doesn’t really change the big picture of the product strategy. What it does is reshape how the team moves toward its targets. Instead of obsessing over what’s being made and the speed of delivery, they shift their focus to producing measurable outcomes.
This journey starts with building a rigorous business case. Before even embarking on a development journey, the teams must understand why they are delivering something. They must map out the best- and worst-case scenarios, as well as name upfront any possible risks. And, most importantly, they must re-vise the definition of done.
Sure, moving away from a feature-first mindset can be tricky and might be challenging for developers with their feet firmly on the ground. Yet, shifting towards an outcomes-oriented perspective is bound to yield significant rewards. Remember, both your stakeholders and customers are looking for results - they’re all about what they can accomplish. And isn't creating positive outcomes for everyone involved the ultimate goal? So, let's focus on what truly matters.

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