Four Kitchens

How a long-term roadmap enhances your agile development project

5 Min. ReadDigital strategy

Securing technical improvements for your organization’s website is next to impossible without the proper planning. If you’re a higher ed institution, you can instinctively fall back on traditional processes to ensure projects launch on schedule.

Unfortunately, a linear, waterfall workflow introduces significant problems for universities. Initial progress takes ages, and larger projects are often exorbitantly expensive with little payoff before launch. Adopting a process that incorporates the flexible pace of Agile methodology resolves these issues. But its emphasis on deploying rapid improvements means it’s difficult to create a roadmap to the end date you need.

Or is it?

By taking a broader view of a project roadmap, your internal stakeholders remain aligned while keeping your organization’s long-term priorities in clear focus. Agile doesn’t just accommodate roadmaps; it keeps your project moving at a higher level.

How Agile development supports a project roadmap

Modern development processes and long-term project roadmaps are not incompatible. Agile simply wouldn’t have grown into a widely adopted methodology if it didn’t allow projects to be planned between departments. How could work progress without the ability to predict when deliverables are available for the next stage of development?

Despite Agile’s emphasis on deadlines for the near future, its ultimate goal is predictability.

Creating a traditional, waterfall-based project roadmap typically involves multiple planning meetings with stakeholder groups before work even begins. Agile sets your project in motion that much faster by building on a minimum viable product (MVP). Subsequent iterative improvements allow your team to validate its work early, which ensures your project is headed in the right direction.

Plus, incorporating a roadmap into an Agile development process adds vital guideposts to a project. Agile typically leaves the long-term view of a project as something of a mystery. By incorporating a roadmap, your developers can focus on first creating the most valuable features. If the top priorities aren’t clearly defined, an Agile team can keep improving one segment of the project regardless of its value.

Keeping your stakeholders in sync with a roadmap while allowing your developers to operate within an Agile workflow is challenging. But with proper planning, you can have your cake of faster development and eat it on a long-term schedule, too.

A roadmap should answer different audience questions

A single project roadmap can’t be effective for every audience if the data is presented in only one way. The roadmap for your executive stakeholders, your internal end users, and your build team should reflect different details that are meaningful to those groups — even if the roadmap presents the same information.

An effective roadmap creates a way to view a single project from the perspectives of its stakeholders. For example, university administrators aren’t interested in viewing a granular list of the project’s deliverables. They just want a higher-level view of the project — one that demonstrates its value to the institution.

When it comes to your internal end users, they’re most interested in when they can use the new features in development. Your user roadmap should focus on milestones specific to their roles rather than irrelevant details, such as a change management plan for your CRM.

Your build team’s roadmap should focus on the features they’re working on and the product backlog, which, in an Agile workflow, is a prioritized list of new features planned for later development. If details like these were the focus at a higher level in your organization, they could dilute the important takeaways from other aspects of your project.

What you need to create a project roadmap for every audience

You can use a roadmap to reflect the timing of your project in whatever way best suits the needs of your stakeholders. More than a schedule of how your project will progress, a roadmap should be a living document that communicates the responsibilities and priorities of each team.

Each of your stakeholders should be able to look at a roadmap and clearly find the information that’s pertinent to their role. Typically, you can structure a roadmap in three ways:

  1. A no-dates roadmap can sidestep rigid deadlines entirely and break down its progress in sequence. A roadmap without dates is true to Agile principles, but its use is best suited for new projects with fewer teams depending on deadlines. Your institution needs a model that provides a clearer look at the future.
  2. A hybrid roadmap breaks down your project in terms of months, quarters, or years while also providing flexibility for development teams. Your development team can categorize features as current, near-term, and future, which allows their nearest priorities to remain more indefinite as needed.
  3. A large-scale, timeline-based roadmap allows your institution to create a framework for your project that encompasses all your stakeholders. In complex organizations, one department’s work may depend on the completion of a new or more effective website feature. The long-term, coordinated planning made possible through a timeline roadmap is vital to institutions like universities.

Benefits of building a timeline-based project roadmap

A roadmap is the byproduct of many long conversations with your internal teams that outlines their priorities and goals for a project. Building a roadmap is an important exercise in consensus-building with your internal teams. Finding common ground for a project through a roadmap can be crucial at complex organizations like higher ed institutions.

A comprehensive roadmap requires diplomacy, and you need to make sure every stakeholder in a project is heard. Bringing everyone together provides a way for you and your web development partner to make sure everyone is focused on the top priorities for the work at hand.

Coming to a consensus takes time, but it’s a finite process for any project. In the end, bringing the project’s roadmap into focus allows each stakeholder to feel represented — to see and understand how their concerns are reflected in the project. Ultimately, affirming that connection to a project is critical to its success.

Backlog grooming allows Agile teams to support a project roadmap

When you partner with a digital agency, you need to trust their work will remain aligned with your organization’s needs. Backlog refinement examines development priorities and ensures the next features created for your project remain aligned with your release milestones. The process keeps your development roadmap current with the latest details about your project.

At Four Kitchens, we rely on backlog refinement to plan immediate priorities in a way that makes sense with your project’s goals. We work within a fixed scope and budget, and we can’t deliver your project without a major feature. By looking at upcoming work and where it fits within the next rapid iteration, we can better prioritize what your project needs now to arrive on time and as expected in the future.

Managing a project for a complex organization can feel like facing a deluge of voices, expectations, and requirements that resemble a raging waterfall in their own right. But you don’t have to navigate those rough waters alone. We’ve been in the trenches to plan timely, efficient web products for complex organizations.

Let’s talk about when your institution needs its next project. Then we’ll build a roadmap to get you there.