In preparing to present the new Product Roadmap to the Board of Directors, I decided to employ a popular investment framework to organize our product decisions.
If your company has a Board of Directors or similar advisory group that helps guide the organization, chances are they will be curious about where the product is headed; however, more than the other stakeholders, this group is likely to view your ongoing product decisions as a series of investments. And, like any investment, yours are expected to deliver positive returns down the road.
As the head honcho for the Product team, you are responsible for crafting a rendering of the product roadmap that gives them the appropriate level of detail. There a number of ways you can organize your product investments to maximize both short term and long term opportunities but communicating that plan to “The Board” can be a challenge.
What drove this decision
In refreshing our roadmap, the Product team had established high-level themes to guide decision making but these tend to be more appropriate for filtering and prioritizing work and less useful for calling out specific product initiatives.
I knew our Board members would not have the patience or the necessary product-level knowledge to absorb a thorough presentation of our detailed product roadmap, filled with epics and stories. Plus it can be difficult to get a good sense of the overall product direction when sitting that close.
For this particular audience, I needed to use broad strokes. Specifically, I wanted to explain exactly where the investments were being made and how we expect them to pay off in the next 6, 12, and 24 months.
I first ran into the 3 Horizons model in a wonderful presentation entitled 10 Roadmap Tools created by Radiant Minds (now part of Atlassian, makers of Jira). They recommended using this tool to communicate a high-level product roadmap as a set of investments that extended the current business but that also created viable options for the future.
The decision: Use the 3 Horizons Model to present the Product Roadmap to the Board of Directors and show how we would balance short and long term investment opportunities.
I recommend exploring the Radiant Minds presentation and perhaps even reviewing the original source material for additional insights. I found this model to be convenient for speaking to our Board members - so that rather than try to impress them with impressive-sounding technical jargon, we were able to spend time talking through how we would leverage the technology to drive real, positive outcomes for the business.
The 3 Horizons model can help you organize your thoughts so that you continue to capitalize on the current customer opportunities while carving out appropriate cycles for favorable market conditions in the future.
Plan of attack
It would be impossible and also inappropriate to provide the full details of my company’s product roadmap here so I have obfuscated much of what follows. I have included a few examples that should help to illustrate the thought process I used in adopting the 3 Horizons model for our Roadmap presentation.
The first horizon in the model shows how 70% of your investment should go into existing technology that you currently use and in an existing market that you currently serve. This best positions you to defend your current business and capitalize on your company's existing resources.
For our company, we used Horizon 1 to outline the scheduled work in the roadmap that would build on the technology components already present in our core platform. For example, we planned to develop a new mobile application for our customers based on feedback we had been gathering for the past few months. I explained to the Board that, because we had built front-end and back-end software like this several times before (and were quite good at it), the business risk for this new application was fairly low.
In the second horizon, you describe how 20% of your product investment will utilize existing technology currently not in use in your company to address an existing market that you do not currently serve. Adopting proven technology lowers the risk for your company as you look to serve customers in the new market.
Internally, our teams had been researching an alternative to our outdated reporting infrastructure and, in the months ahead, we were planning on dedicating resources to the effort of overhauling our reporting engine. The new technology would allow us to better aggregate the information our platform collects and build helpful data-driven dashboards. As I explained to the Board, the Horizon 2 product investments would allow us to deliver an analytics offering to new and existing customers, opening up additional revenue opportunities outside of the markets we serve today.
The final horizon in the model is used to highlight the remaining 10% of your investment, which is where you target new technology with the intention of entering a new market. It is admittedly harder to aim for that third Horizon - which explains the proportional size of this set of investments.
Our team has set its sights on eventually moving away from relational databases entirely and the decisions we made in this iteration of the roadmap reflect that. We are looking to the next generation of database technologies to help our software platform scale that in turn could open up much larger customer opportunities. Over the next 12-24 months, we intend to incorporate new technology into the platform to better position the company to go up market and pursue larger customer opportunities.
You will find that there are different audiences for your Product Roadmap and each audience may have different expectations - and different level of interest. Our Board responded positively to the overall roadmap presentation and was especially engaged in the investment-oriented nature of the product decisions based on the 3 Horizons model.