Moving Bubbles Towards the Green

by Bill Bliss on March 4, 2011

in Roadmap Integrity Process

In a previous post, I introduced the approach of mapping candidate projects into one of four quadrants:

The Roadmap Integrity Process requires every candidate project to be classified according to:

  • Business impact. The bigger the estimated business impact, the bigger the bubble.
  • Cost/effort. One of Minor, Medium, Major, Epic; the meanings are different for every company. The goal is to distribute candidate projects into a small number of meaningful, discrete “buckets.”
  • Uncertainty/risk. One of Low, Medium, and High. Uncertainty is explained in more detail here, but briefly, it means:
    • Low – we’ve done things like this before and don’t expect this to be significantly different
    • Medium – we’ve done things that are kind of similar, but there are significant differences
    • High – a large number of unknowns and open issues, including ones we haven’t thought of yet

Uncertainty is the sum of uncertainty from several perspectives: product management, development, and any others that have tripped you up in the past (product support, field sales, marketing, legal, …). This is also explained more here.

During this process, many of the most compelling projects, the ones that could have the biggest impact on your business, will fall into yellow or red quadrants. They cost a lot, there’s considerable execution risk because of the number of unknowns, or both.

So what do you do about it? Conceptually, think of it as moving the biggest bubbles towards the green.

Focusing on the highest impact projects, reduce unknowns and/or cost, moving the biggest bubbles to the green quadrant…or at worst, the upper left yellow quadrant: where it may cost more than you want, but at least you know what you are doing.

Great…but how do you do that? By using proven techniques your teams already know, including:

  • A prototype or proof of concept
  • Minimize dependencies
  • Divide the project into phases
  • Look for 80/20 approaches: 80% of the benefit, 20% of the cost

It’s not that teams don’t know how to do those things: they do. It’s just not always obvious when it’s necessary or worth the additional time and effort. Here, you’ve answered those questions up front, with a minimal investment in time and effort.

What you absolutely shouldn’t do on a project with a large number of unknowns is start defining detailed requirements, let alone start coding or commit to a delivery date. It happens all the time, of course, but one of the reasons the process works this way is to make it clear that you can’t until you reduce the uncertainty.

Even better, it’s easy to explain why you can’t, even to non-technical people, including those in senior management. For example, your CEO may not know the details of how SEO (search engine optimization) actually works, let alone what you have to do in your product’s architecture to deliver it. If he or she isn’t technical, you’re not going to have much success trying to explain it. But it’s not hard to justify why something you’ve never done before is harder and may take more time than something you’ve done 10-20 times.

The takeaway? The Roadmap Integrity Process identifies the small number of projects that could have the biggest impact on your business, and makes it obvious when caution during execution is necessary.

Tweet this: @bill_bliss New post: Moving Bubbles Towards the Green #prodmgmt

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