Strategy + OKRS Part 2: Building blocks for a solid product roadmap
In Part 1 of our analysis of why it’s crucial to connect product roadmaps to higher-level strategic concepts, we confirmed that a roadmap without a strategy is like being a cook without a recipe. Yes, you can muddle your way through and achieve some form of an edible dish, but without process and an understanding of flavors and textures you want to create, it’s really just a haphazard mishmash of ideas and unguided experimentation. Such is product management, which requires a north star at all times to help steer work across the organization towards a common goal. In this article, we’ll define core strategic elements, which, when defined, provide the foundations from which a deliberate, well-designed roadmap can be built.
Let’s start at the top:
At the top of the totem-pole is the company mission, which describes the company’s desired future position. Google’s well-known mission statement does this succinctly: “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” The mission is typically broad and ambitious enough so that it can remain constant over a number of years – it’s the north star guiding all product activities across the organization, a statement stable enough that you can work towards without risk of it rapidly transforming into something else.
Next is the company strategy, which identifies the business objectives of the company, followed by deciding where to invest in order to achieve those objectives. For example, deciding to move into an adjacent market or moving from a direct sales model to an online sales model could both form part of your company strategy. Once these core objectives and their respective budgets have been identified, it’s time for the product strategy to explore and determine by which means the company can achieve them.
The product strategy enables product teams to start piecing together the steps they’ll take to get closer to achieving the goals of the company strategy. Melissa Perri describes it as: “a system of achievable goals and visions that work together to align the team around desirable outcomes for both the business and your customers.” Or to put it another way, a product strategy is a tool expressing the high-level ambitions of the product team. It is responsive to the trends and competitive landscape in which it exists, demonstrates the flexibility needed to meet its objectives, and aligns stakeholders around its proposed recommendations.
OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) function as a popular goal setting and management methodology that uses specific metrics to track the achievement of a goal. Once the product strategy is defined, OKRs can be developed and later directly plugged into your product roadmap to align features created with specific objectives. OKRs help to align teams by getting everyone moving in the right direction, improve transparency across the org, and maintain focus on the mission at hand.
In a nutshell, OKRs look to answer these basic questions:
- Where do we need to go?
- How will we know we’re there?
Your outcome metric is your objective: a qualitative statement outlining a high-level goal your product sets to achieve. These are typically intentionally broad and speak to the team’s long-term mission. Key Results must be specific and actionable and reflect a quantitative definition of what success looks like. They are usually a numerical metric for growth, performance, or engagement, but they can also represent a milestone that is done or undone. OKRs are about creating sustainable change in performance by using agile, focused goals that engage and align people around unifying objectives. They should be set, tracked, and frequently re-evaluated (usually every quarter) to ensure they stay ambitious, creative, yet maintain perspective.
Once your product strategy is in place, it’s time to explore which options are the most sound, financially viable, and impactful – in other words – you know your destination (company strategy), you’re clear on the route options (product strategy). Now it’s time to plan the play-by-play of the drive to ensure the entire experience is time-efficient, stays within budget, and delights the passengers (read: customers) as expected. As part of this process, you prioritize prospective features based on OKRs, then map them into a unifying plan using a roadmap. Each of these elements works to give the organization a clearer sense of where it’s going and how it plans to achieve its goals.
The product roadmap provides a visual manifestation of your product strategy, spotlighting what you plan to do, why you plan to do it and the timeframes involved. Unlike your mission and strategy, which maintain a healthy amount of flex but otherwise remain fairly stationary for a period of time, your roadmap is a dynamic, elastic tool responding to the changes and fluctuations typical to any product team. A roadmap spotlights the specific problems you’re looking to solve, but it does so in a flexible way that seeks to validate assumptions, encourage conversations and align the team without getting bogged down in the tactical details.
A good product roadmap:
- Focuses on connecting the why (outcomes) to the what (outputs)
- Communicates top-level progress, keeping a birds-eye view of all moving parts
- Reflects change quickly and is plugged into your overall product process, providing context to decisions taken
- Gives stakeholders insight into the process and an opportunity to contribute to product prioritization
- Functions as a robust communication tool, designed to engage teams to collaborate and reach cross-functional consensus.
Putting it all together
Tying your roadmap to strategy and OKRs is what helps you and your team explore ideas creatively, effectively pinpoint which ideas are worthwhile pursuing and which are not, and grasp how everything lines up with the bigger picture. This discovery process can’t occur in a vacuum– it needs to be centered around common organizational goals and be propelled by a collaborative process that inspires everyone to stretch, ideate, and hone in on targets. Yes, you can lay out your strategy, OKRs, and roadmap separately, giving each a siloed existence inside individual spreadsheets and presentations, but to truly stay focused on what matters, concentrating everything in one place just makes so much more sense. A robust product roadmap that connects the dots between strategy, planning, and OKRs provides the ideal environment for product management to thrive– all while bridging the gap between product managers, cross-functional teams, and senior stakeholders.
craft.io’s strategic roadmap tool offers precisely this: a perfect link between your outcomes and outputs. You can easily add milestones, swimlanes, and track items to get an instant visual snapshot of progress, create custom links to share with individual stakeholders, and instantly see how the work planned relates to the company’s overall goals. craft.io is a tool designed to be the lynchpin of your product team, connecting everything in a live, dynamic environment that encourages collaboration and bolsters transparency.
craft.io’s strategic roadmap allows you to instantly view OKR and strategy links, as well as easily connect all strategic elements to roadmaps, and later, backlogs.
When it comes down to it, a roadmap that fails to connect a company’s strategic components to its more tactical elements risks becoming a glorified backlog. When this happens, chaos ensues: stakeholders lose the space they need to align ideas to the overall mission, irrelevant features get prioritized, and the focus on details prevents everyone from learning and adapting. Developing a roadmap that puts strategy and objectives first and keeps things simple, accessible, and clear will ultimately result in a product team that can immerse themselves in healthy discussions, maintain their focus, and accelerate smarter product decisions.
Ready to connect your strategy and OKRs directly to product roadmaps? Sign up to a free 14-day trial with craft.io and discover how a tool created exclusively for PMs can increase transparency and efficiency in your organization.