As CTO of thestartupfactory.tech I act as a conduit for investors to better understand tech. Part of my role is to turn roadmaps and strategies into something tangible for tech entrepreneurs who think of tech as incredibly complex and the roadmap and tech vision is a big part of that.
As we discussed last week, the MVP is the initial milestone when building a tech product, but it’s just the first chapter. Once you have developed the initial ideation of a startup and a potential MVP is out there, what comes next?
I always like to use the phrase: think big, and act small. You will want to start with an MVP, create something small and tangible to deliver, but you also need those big thoughts and blue-sky thinking to be properly represented as a core part of the product.
It’s this bigger picture thinking that allows us to answer important questions. Once the MVP is out in the market, how do we keep customers coming back for more? And how do we get investors excited about what’s coming next?
This is where the roadmap and tech vision come into place. They make sure that we always have the bigger vision in mind so we can focus on what we need to do today, to achieve what we want for tomorrow.
This article will aim to share with you the features of a roadmap and a tech vision. It will highlight the key things you need to consider when setting out your vision, ensuring you are prepared for what comes next.
So how do we approach creating a roadmap?
Get it out of your head, and into Google Docs
One of the difficult things about building a roadmap is that founders tend to keep the vision in their heads, and nowhere else. They think, “yes, this is where I’m going,” but it’s essential to realise that these ideas have to be written down, turned into something tangible so they can be managed, and shared. After all, it’s not going to be one person’s responsibility only.
You don’t have to be using any complex sharing tools like either. All it takes is a simple, humble spreadsheet or Google Docs to get started. Just make sure that it’s not all in your head. (James got pretty excited about spreadsheets in episode four of our podcast, which you can check out here!). Once you have the first version of the product roadmap ready, then you can think about tools that will allow you to clearly communicate and share this vision with your team and shareholders – this is where some shinier tools like Roadmunk or JIRA will be handy.
I like to think of it as a window, accessible by everyone and complete with all the products’ future developments, allowing us to see what’s coming up next for customers, stakeholders, and, most importantly, for your internal team to stay on track.
It’s a living document
Think of a roadmap not as something set in stone, but instead as a living document that keeps evolving. The world’s recent events show us it’s impossible to predict what will happen in the future, so don’t try to create detailed plans too far ahead. In 2016 we had Brexit, Trump elected, and Leicester winning the league in the same year! Who would have thought it possible?
So having a flexible roadmap to deal with change is vital. I would always recommend the further out in the future your roadmap gets, the less detailed you should be with the vision.
Align the roadmap with effective ownership
It’s important for a growing company, or even a very young one, to appoint a person who can continuously think about the product and engage the team on new developments.
Let’s call them the product manager. They can also align any sales or marketing you are planning with the roadmap too. I’ve seen it before, where a roadmap would have some innovative features but there were no plans to add these in the marketing strategy. This can lower the impact of that particular feature so always make sure you align the roadmap with your marketing to take advantage of innovative, unique features that appear.
But a roadmap is just one piece of the puzzle. It gives you a clear picture of where you are going, but we need to look at the tech vision to decide how to get there.
Be a realistic visionary
A tech vision can have conflicting priorities, but the trick is picking the right techs, architecture, and mobile strategy that work well now, but with potential to scale.
For instance, you should be using proven tech to build your MVP, but you also need to find space for the younger, bleeding-edge techs that might be important later down the line. That’s one of the key cornerstones of running a startup, being realistic, but at the same time, a visionary. It’s a bit of an oxymoron!
It’s like building a championship-winning football team dynasty. You’ve got to have a mix of current and young, up and coming talent for the future – like Phil Foden at Manchester City.
Plan for recruitment
This works for recruitment, too. Hiring a team, should you need to, will be much easier if you are working with the popular technologies in your industry. However, it’s also worth including some bleeding-edge tech for the future as it may attract people interested in working on that particular piece. It can be a risk if the tech doesn’t take off, but it’s one you should take. Just be measured about it.
The roadmap should plan for recruitment too. It should help you identify the skills needed for your next roles and when you need them. For example, if you’re planning a big new addition to the product that requires AI and data analytics, you’ll need to think about hiring a data scientist in time – and that should be a milestone reflected on the product roadmap.
These days, recruitment is an evil word, but the last thing you want is to have an innovative and exciting roadmap, not including the need for a first or second hire in six months. That could prove very costly, and cost is always going to come into play at some point.
Mobile development – choose what’s appropriate
The average startup isn’t cash rich, so using platforms and technologies that are appropriate is really important. A great example of this is looking at mobile development.
These days, every man and his dog seem to have an idea for an app and heads straight for the app stores for development. But there are much more cost-effective ways to provide the mobile experience without going full-blown, native mobile apps. Things like mobile-friendly, and progressive web applications look and behave like an app, but just aren’t downloadable through the app stores.
These two options are much more efficient to build, and quite often, we would advise founders to start here. We can get to market quicker, cheaper, and once we find out what the usage is, we can use the customer information to influence the roadmap. That’s the goal of the tech vision at the early stage. It’s to help accelerate your growth and move into that build, measure, learn, and reiterate cycle.
So remember that the MVP is just the start. Roadmaps and the tech vision should map the long term goal for your product and all aspects of your company. But it’s not something you can do once and forget about; it’s a living document. Use it as a communication tool for your team, so everyone is on the same page with the bigger vision and are prepared when the need for change arrives, It always will.
I hope you have found this useful, if you have any questions or would like to hear more about roadmapping check out episode four of our podcast, “From the Factory Floor” where myself and James go into more detail. Alternatively, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
More next week!