In conversation with Peter Moore, Product Manager for Roadmap at Wizeline

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What’s wrong with Excel?

Excel can sometimes be excel-lent. However, it’s important to remember that Microsoft Office tools were released for a broad group of use cases. When building products and executing projects, it is crucial that the right tools are used to create realistic and efficient plans. Before diving into the power of roadmapping, it’s worth highlighting a few of Excel’s deficiencies when it comes to product and project planning.

Manual Effort

Excel and other spreadsheet products require a good deal of manual updates to ensure the plan remains accurate and updated. Without daily attention and updates, spreadsheets soon become repositories of stale information. Additionally, with the large amount of data entered within a spreadsheet, it is inevitable that mistakes will occur. When combining spreadsheets with other applications, the risk of human error increases.

Versioning

Any time changes are necessary (which often happens, especially for Agile teams) a new version of the roadmap must be produced. Maintaining a spreadsheet-based roadmap must be produced. Maintaining a spreadsheet-based roadmap may be manageable if you’re a single product manager or product owner on a single product, but it soon becomes unwieldy for teams with multiple PMs and/or multiple products.

Sharing and clarity

Simply put, sending an Excel spreadsheet via email as an attachment doesn’t scale. You’ll quickly end up with internal stakeholders referencing different versions (see previous point) and, unless you have a VERY simple roadmap, chances are your plan will be inscrutable for the lay stakeholder. In our experience, spreadsheet-based roadmaps create more questions than they answer.

Credibility & alignment

It’s important to include important customer data that influences priorities on your roadmap (aka. Budget, resources, etc). With Excel, it’s almost impossible to establish credibility around these numbers. What’s preventing you — or anyone, for that matter — from altering the cells to support your view of how things should be prioritized? Structured, objective data can become mushy and subjective with a single click of the mouse. Spreadsheets make it incredibly difficult to establish credibility for plan at scale.

Adoption

Every office has an Excel wiz kid.  In our experience, product managers are often among those gifted at Excel — and we’ve seen many highly sophisticated Excel-based roadmaps that leverage dynamic fields, macros, and other automations that are, objectively speaking, impressive. The problem: these enhancements are typically written for the benefit of the product manager, not the stakeholders. As a result, stakeholders may engage with/adopt an Excel-based roadmap at the outset — but over time, they almost always disengage and stop referencing the document when they need information about the product. Instead, you’ll get an email asking for an update — which totally defeats the purpose of having a clear, shareable product plan of record.

Why Roadmap?

In short, roadmaps bring teams together and ensure everyone has a voice. They make sure gaps in planning are identified and serve as a guide for the team during the journey of product building. They also communicate the plan to stakeholders and decision makers in an easily digestible format.

Planning and Goals

Roadmapping encourages cross-functional participation and requires that all stakeholders examine sprints, goals, and deadlines. Rather than show completed decisions, roadmapping empowers stakeholders to include technology decisions as a crucial part of the plan.

Timeline

Roadmaps emphasize timelines and hold stakeholders accountable for deadlines. It also accommodates changes while providing transparency into the delivery of varying technologies necessary to execute the overall strategy.

Communication

Roadmaps provide an overview of how the business and technology plan will impact team members, management, and customers. Teams can also clearly explain their progress to stakeholders while engaging in productive, open conversations. The information aggregated within roadmaps provides insight for customers to use in their own planning and tells a story about where the projects and/or products are headed.

Prioritize

At every stage of the roadmapping process, the emphasis is on the most important customer needs, product developments, and/or feature investments. The team must develop the most important tasks first and efficiently allocate resources. The transparency of roadmaps enable decision makers to determine the most appropriate choices and adjustments.

Building Teams

Perhaps most importantly, roadmaps bring teams closer together by aligning on common goals. Establishing common understanding and sharing ownership empowers teams to build trust, communicate, and work efficiently. It also ensures that all voices are heard, not just the decision makers.

How do I know what’s right for me?

Wizeline’s Roadmap is free, so we encourage you to try it out. It is usable by anyone with a plan they want to execute. We’re here for you if you need help, too! Check out our website for more information or sign up for a free trial today.

Posted by caroline on Tuesday, December 12, 2017.

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