Great execution of a product starts with a roadmap - a strategic overview that plots the course of product development. Traditionally product roadmaps have been a list of features to be developed over a set timeline, but with the rapid pace in which markets evolve, product teams require a more flexible, dynamic approach. Enter outcome-based roadmapping.
Unlike traditional roadmaps that focus on how fast you are building, outcome-based roadmaps focus on why you’re building. They emphasize the value a product brings to its users and how it contributes to business objectives. This holistic approach enables product teams to adapt to changes, customer feedback, and new insights, ensuring the product remains relevant and valuable over time.
But how can you effectively transition from a feature-centric to an outcome-centric roadmap? One powerful method involves integrating Teresa Torres' Opportunity Solution Tree (OST) into your roadmapping process. Let's look at how you can leverage the OST for outcome-based roadmapping and why it could be a game-changer for your product strategy.
The Shift from Feature-based to Outcome-based Roadmaps
Features are tangible objects that for the most part, give everyone a sense of comfort that something is being built. Yet, this approach often overlooks the dynamic nature of the product development process. It assumes that you know exactly what to build, ignoring valuable customer feedback and the potential for innovative problem-solving. The result? Products that fail to meet evolving customer needs and business goals.
To address this shortcoming, the product management field has seen a shift toward outcome-based roadmaps. These roadmaps focus on the value provided to customers and the business, rather than specific features. They enable product teams to pivot, adapt, and innovate in response to customer feedback and market changes.
The Opportunity Solution Tree (OST) Explained
Enter the Opportunity Solution Tree (OST), a tool that bridges the gap between strategic objectives and tactical execution in product development. The OST is a visualization of your product discovery process, guiding your team's efforts toward desired outcomes.
The OST has three main components:
Desired Outcome: The measurable objectives your product aims to achieve. This could be an increase in user engagement, revenue growth, or any other specific goal that aligns with your business strategy.
Opportunity: The areas where you can provide value to users and improve your product. These are not features, but potential areas for improvement or innovation that could help you reach your desired outcome.
Sub Opportunities: The specific experiments or ideas that could leverage the identified opportunities. These experiments are potential solutions you could implement to move closer to your desired outcome.
Each sub opportunity then breaks down into possible experiments and solutions, providing ample space for the product team to understand if the solutions they are looking to potentially implement will actually be used. If you run towards a solution without understanding the user’s end goal or value points, you risk building things nobody really wants (and creating a ton of useless tech debt you’ll spend months if not years cleaning up!)
Integrating OST into Outcome-Based Roadmapping
The OST isn't just a product discovery tool. It's the foundation for an effective outcome-based roadmap. Here's how to use OST to structure your roadmap:
Define the Desired Outcome: Start by identifying your objectives. These should be measurable and directly linked to your business strategy. For example, if your business goal is to increase user engagement, your desired outcome could be to increase daily active users by 20% in the next quarter.
Identify Opportunities: With your desired outcome defined, identify the areas that could help you reach this outcome. Opportunities are usually areas of user value or product improvement. For instance, if your desired outcome is to increase user engagement, potential opportunities could be improving the user interface or expanding your product's functionality.
Uncover Sub Opportunities: Once you have your opportunities, brainstorm potential experiments or ideas that could leverage these opportunities. For example, if one of your opportunities is to improve the user interface, a sub opportunity could be to redesign the user dashboard for better experience.
Let's look at a practical example. Suppose you're a SaaS company aiming to increase user engagement (desired outcome). You identify a key opportunity in improving your product's user interface. Some sub opportunities might be: redesigning the homepage for a more intuitive user experience, adding tooltips to guide users, or introducing customizable dashboard features. Each of these sub opportunities represents potential experiments to run, contributing to your overall outcome.
Important: Be sure to write these down from the user’s perspective and research thoroughly. If you’re looking at creating a new homepage, don’t just create one, understand why you should create a new homepage and what kind of information the user wants to and needs to know in order to make an informed decision. These are well placed as “I” statements, which you can use as a basis for your discovery. (eg, I want to understand the product’s pricing thoroughly in order to make a decision.
The Impact of Outcome-Based Roadmapping with OST
Outcome-based roadmaps anchored in Opportunity Solution Trees create alignment and focus. They link every initiative to the strategic outcome, ensuring that all efforts are aligned with the business goals. They also encourage a customer-centric approach, as they are rooted in providing value to users.
These types of roadmaps also improve internal communication. They clearly outline what is being done (sub opportunities), why it's being done (opportunities), and what success looks like (desired outcomes). This clarity can dramatically improve collaboration and decision-making across any organization.
Overcoming Challenges with OST and Outcome-Based Roadmapping
Despite its numerous benefits, the transition to outcome-based roadmapping with Opportunity Solution Trees isn't without its challenges. As with anything, understanding potential hurdles is the first step in mitigating them.
One common challenge is the initial shift in mindset from feature-centric to outcome-centric thinking. It can be difficult to break free from the habit of focusing on what to build instead of why to build it. This shift requires a deep understanding of your customers and their needs, calls for a culture of experimentation and learning, and a willingness to pivot based on insights.
Another hurdle is ambiguity. Outcome-based roadmaps, by their nature, offer more flexibility than their feature-based counterparts, but this flexibility can also lead to uncertainty. To combat this, it's crucial to clearly define and communicate your roadmap with regular updates and reviews to maintain clarity and focus. Just because we aren’t using timelines and deadlines on the roadmap doesn’t mean we don’t have a sense of what those might look like on a release level. Use both documents (roadmap and release plan) to give a full picture.
How to Create a Product Roadmap with ThoughtFlow
I was invited to check out Thoughtflow by founder Kranthi Kiran. Thoughtflow is a mind mapping tool that allows you to visualize different models and frameworks, amongst them, the Opportunity Solution Tree.
As with all OSTs, we will identify the following:
Desired outcome (objectives we are measuring)
Opportunities (initiatives that explain what we’re building)
Sub opportunities (ideas that we could use to drive different experiments)
Solutions (potential solutions we can then experiment with)
I’ve recorded a video below where you can see the flow implemented. It’s fairly simple - for each desired outcome there are a set of opportunities, which then have sub opportunities and solutions linked to it. In this case I used Uber as an example, creating the flow from outcome to opportunity all the way down to the potential solutions.
I also changed the view so I can visualize the information in a Now, Next, Later roadmap. For a nascent app, it’s great to be able to see the different views for any type of mindmap I might want to create.
Outcome-based roadmapping supported by the Opportunity Solution Tree provides a powerful framework to guide your product development efforts. It aligns your team around clear, measurable outcomes, encourages customer-centric thinking, and promotes a culture of experimentation and learning.
By embracing this approach, you can ensure that your product not only meets the needs of your customers today, but also evolves to meet their needs in the future. Remember, the ultimate goal isn't just to build a product; it's to deliver value to your customers and your business. And that's exactly what outcome-based roadmapping with OST empowers you to do.