Roadmap vs. Backlog: The What, Why, and How


We actually plucked this topic straight from one of our internal Slack channels, in the interest of writing about the things our team is talking about and doing with our customers. 
 
Operational roadmaps, like product roadmaps, are statements of intent that help align your revenue team by acting as a tangible version of your north star. Yes, the north star is revenue, but that’s too vague. What tactical work needs to be done in order to meet your revenue goals? Why, and how much, will that work help impact revenue?
 
Basically, a roadmap is what happens when you really analyze what friction your customers are feeling, and then do something about it
 
At Go Nimbly, roadmapping is a core part of the strategy work we do with our customers, and it’s become commonplace in our lexicon. However, we also recognize that it’s something that’s unfamiliar to many people who either haven’t made the transition to revenue operations, or just never fully broke down exactly what a roadmap should look like and how to create one. 
 

So, What Are the Differences Between a Roadmap and a Backlog? 

A Roadmap is a Statement of Intent
While a backlog is basically a dumping ground for “someday” items, an operational roadmap is a statement of intent—a plan. By creating a roadmap and sharing it across your organization, you’re giving your teams common goals to work towards and creating empathy and alignment. 
 
A Roadmap is Alive
While you can always add and remove items from your backlog (you do you!), we stop short of calling it ‘alive’. Yes, it can change, but the difference is in the strategy. As your company grows and changes happen, items on your roadmap move like chess pieces to accommodate that. You should be having frequent (at least every quarter) meetings in order to ensure that the existing strategy is still what’s best for your business. 
 
A Roadmap is Strategic and Prioritized 
This is probably the most important difference between an operational roadmap and a backlog. A functional roadmap is strategic, made up of items that will make revenue impact for your business by improving some part of the customer journey. 
 
On top of that, it’s also prioritized by the degree of impact each workstream is expected to have. This prioritization is done by analyzing your company’s existing pipeline using the 3VC framework. 
 
A Roadmap is Driving You Towards Something
Your operational backlog is a pile of things you maybe, someday will do. Your roadmap, on the other hand, is leading you towards an actual destination. Whatever your vision is for your organization’s next inflection point, your roadmap is the plan for getting there. When shared across your organization, it allows everyone to understand the ultimate goal, as well as the steps they need to take to get there. 
 

How Do You Create an Operational Roadmap for Your Business?

  1. Analyze your pipeline with the 3VC framework 
Taking snapshots of your pipeline every so often is a solid way to keep your finger on the pulse of your customers’ experience, allowing you to determine which projects will be most impactful to them. 
  1. Identify the gaps in your customer journey
Based on the analysis of your pipeline, you’ll be able to see where you’re falling short by benchmarking yourself against industry averages . From there, you should interpret what that means from a customer experience perspective. For example, if you’re seeing a low percentage of free trial conversions, the issue might lie in your adoption process. 
  1. Establish solutions to close those gaps 
Using the example above, a possible solution to friction around adoption of your product would be to make impactful changes to your onboarding. Adding tool tips, how-to videos, or even gamifying the process, could all be helpful in this situation. 
  1. Determine the impact predicted for each project/workstream
This is where the roadmap-building begins! Determine which workstreams or projects will be most impactful to your customers and, therefore, to your pipeline. Sometimes it can be tempting to do a bunch of low impact projects, just to check off boxes; however, this approach will also mean less noticeable revenue impact. Classify each workstream as ‘High Impact’, ‘Medium Impact’, or ‘Low Impact’.
  1. Determine the effort required for each project/workstream
By figuring out the level of effort each solution will require (factor in time and resources), you will be able to better set your teams up for success, as opposed to stacking a bunch of high-effort projects up front, only to realize down the line that your plan wasn’t realistic. Classify each workstream as either ‘Small’, ‘Medium’, or ‘Large’ or ‘XL’. 
  1.  Assign a timeline to each project/workstream 
This is where you really put the “map” in “roadmap”. Obviously, changes happen and pivots are often necessary, so there’s no need to bog your plan down with specific dates. Instead, create bucket categories that give your teams a general idea of when each item will be tackled; for example, ‘ASAP’, ‘NEXT’, ‘SOON’  and ‘SOMEDAY’. 
 
7. Categorize your workstreams by theme
 
As you'll see in the example image below, we've created thematic buckets for the workstreams to be sorted into. Doing this by theme instead of department reinforces the need for a holistic approach and eliminates the tunnel vision that is likely to occur if you classify work by department. Things like customer experience, team growth, and data stewardship are goals the entire organization can rally around. 
 

8. Meet often to update your roadmap

Once you’ve built your roadmap, it’s not a set-it-and-forget-it thing. You should meet with your RevOps team (or whoever currently owns the roadmap) at least once a quarter to gauge your progress and adjust the plan as needed. 
 
 
We’ve seen a lot of companies resist the idea of roadmapping because they saw it as a possible hinderance to agility; however, this doesn't have to be the case. By making roadmapping a part of your company's shared lexicon and strategy, your teams will be able to support one another's work with intentionality and common purpose. 
 
When it comes down to it, an effective roadmap is just a tangible illustration of a shared vision—not a hard-and-fast instruction manual. Build your roadmap to work for you, to grow and change with you, and it will enable your teams to make nimble, data-based decisions that positively impact both your customers and your revenue. 
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