Why create a product roadmap

Creating a roadmap for your life: a guide to take your life in the direction you want to go

Creating the roadmap 

This is roughly what a roadmap for your life looks like:

NowNextLaterDone
Career: have a fulfilling career as a hair stylist. 
Choose personal brand name
Set up social media accounts and blog

Arrange volunteer work experience at a salon. Watch YouTube videos about hair styling Ask friends to practice styling their hair

Training to get qualified Apply for hair stylist jobsAdvertise home visit hair stylistMake videos for social media Set up own salon
Relationships: surround myself with positive people.
Spend time with friendsFind an awesome boyfriend

Find more friendsSpend more time with family
Health: be able to run a marathon in 2022
Buy running gearPlan 1 mile route to run

Research training tipsJoin a running club.Plan 3 mile route to run

Sign up for a half marathon in 2021Sign up for a marathon in 2022

Eat a healthy meal every day

It has five columns, the first of which is for your goals, and then the other four (Now, Next, Later Done) hold the tasks that are going to help you in achieving your goal.

You can set up your roadmap however suits you, as postit notes on the wall, on a Trello.com board, or in a spreadsheet, as long as you can see it all at once and it’s easy to move tasks around. 

Visualising what you are going to be doing on a board like the example above is important for being able to understand the big picture of the direction you are taking your life and what you are focusing on. 

Limiting your now

We all only have a certain amount of time in our lives, so in order for this to be effective we have to limit the number of things in our Now column. How much you limit it to depends on how much time you have and how many rows you are working on. The now column is all about focus, so it should only have the few things that you are actually working on.

Ordering your next

The Next column contains the tasks that you want to do soon. They are things that you know you want to do because you’ve been able to answer ‘yes’ to the decision-making question below. We try not to set dates for things as other stuff in life gets in the way and we feel bad about not achieving it by the deadline, but if its something that has a deadline from outside (like signing up for a marathon in the example above). The important thing about the Next column is that it is ordered so that the most important thing is at the top and the least important at the bottom. When you have completed a task in your Now column and moved it to the Done column you’ve opened up space to move the task from the top of the Next column into the Now column. As not all tasks take the same amount of time and effort it sometimes might mean that you have to complete a move to Done a few small tasks before you move a big task from the Next to Now column. 

Filling up your later

The Later column is for all your ideas. Whether they are sensible or wild ideas, you add them to your Later column so you don’t forget them. You can regularly spend some time looking through the ideas here and ask yourself the decision-making question below. If you answer ‘yes’ then you can move the task into Next so it can be ordered with all the other tasks. Sometimes ideas in this column are too big and so need to be broken down into a number of smaller more achievable tasks.

Smiling at your done

The Done column contains all the tasks you’ve completed. Look at it occasionally to appreciate how much you’ve achieved towards your goal 

Deciding on your goals

How do you decide on what goals to work towards? Start with the biggest problem in your life, the thing that frustrates you the most. This goes in the top box in the left hand column. In the example above its Career. 

Then we need to get a vision of how we’ll know if we’re achieving the goal. I say ‘achieving’ and not ‘achieved’ because the thing about life goals is that they are never ‘done’ or ‘finished’. In the example the vision is ‘have a fulfilling career as a hair stylist’. This is a good vision because it is specific enough to give some direction but not too prescriptive so that it doesn’t limit how the goal can be achieved. So, ‘have a fulfilling career’ isn’t specific enough, and ‘have a fulfilling career as a hair stylist at X salon’ is too specific. 

This works even if you don’t know what career you want, the vision becomes something like ‘figure out what I want to do with my life’.

I usually start by getting people to think big about what they want to do with their life by asking things like ‘how do you want to contribute to the world around you?’ rather than just ‘what do you want to do to make some money?’. This is because fulfilling careers usually come about when the person feels they are doing something useful and worthwhile in the world.

Then pick the second most unsatisfactory thing in your life and do the same exercise. Once you have your goals (hopefully not too many) you can then think about the tasks that are going to help you with achieving your goals.

Tasks

How do you choose which tasks to add to the board? Because almost all tasks start as ideas in the Later column they don’t have to be fully formed and can be as wild as you like. When looking for ideas, for example about having a fulfilling career as a hair stylist, it’s easy to look around at what other hair stylists are doing. The wider you’re research the more ideas you’ll get. You can also look at what similar careers are doing, so if yoga teachers (similar because they are both about making people feel good about themselves) are selling training courses to help people become yoga instructors then you could apply the same idea to hair stylists and offer training for other hair stylists. Even if you don’t feel skilled enough right now, it doesn’t matter because the idea is going in the Later column.

Making decisions 

Once you have your roadmap set up, and have clear goals you can use it to help you make decisions by asking yourself the question, “Does doing this take me closer to achieving my goals?” This question applies mostly when ordering tasks, but it can also help with deciding what not to do. So, you might not have ‘Don’t eat lots of chocolate cake’ as a task on your board, but you recognise that eating too much cake is going to help in achieving your Health goal, so asking yourself the question helps you decide not to.

The hard part

For most people, getting their roadmap set up is the easy bit. The hard part is having the motivation to work on the tasks. It can help to have someone who holds you accountable and asks, what have you done today?, when are you going to do that? 

If the goals are inspiring enough, over time you’ll not only get used to having the self-discipline to work on tasks, but you’ll actually enjoy it because you’ll see that you are getting closer to your goal.

A roadmap to where

There has been quite a bit of interesting discussion on Twitter about Roadmaps; what they should include, how they should be structured, how to make them useful for agile teams.

John Cutler's tweet about roadmaps

A roadmap shows the direction and the destination. If we think about actual roadmaps, where the metaphorical roadmaps we refer to come from, they show all the possible destinations (towns, cities, etc.) and all the possible routes to get there (roads). Typically, if you wanted to get to a particular destination (achieve an outcome) you would start heading in that direction, but if an obstacle was in your way you’d change route but still be heading in the same overall direction towards the destination. Some routes are faster, some routes are more interesting.

So, a good roadmap (back to our metaphorical roadmaps now) should show the outcome that we want to achieve (destination) and provide some direction of travel as a guide to keep teams moving towards the destination. The direction of travel acts as strategic bumpers to help explain the ‘where to play’ decisions but gives the team enough room to decide on the route for themselves.

Roadmaps that explain the destination and the direction of travel become ‘who & why’ roadmaps rather ‘what & when’ roadmaps. ‘What & when’ roadmaps are misleading and often obscuring because they try to define what the team should build before they’ve started the journey and when they’ll be able to do it. ‘What & when’ roadmaps show uncertainty as a pretend certainty.

So, we should accept that ‘Roadmap’ is an incomplete phrase. We should be clear about it not meaning ‘A roadmap of what to build when’. We should be clear about ‘roadmap’ actually meaning ‘A roadmap of why we’re building and who we’re building it for’. Then roadmaps become about achieving an outcome (getting to the destination) rather than the stops along the way. Then our phrasing can become more specific; ‘A roadmap for achieving x for y’. That could be ‘…achieving product/market fit for our idea’ or ‘…achieving 30% time saving for regular subscribers’.