What’s a team to do when a new web/digital project is about to start, but the right direction isn’t fully known yet? Cue up Willie Nelson!

Digital products are complex beasts.

The more factors that need to be considered, from content to features to flows, the harder it is to reasonably predict what the correct solutions will be in advance, and therefore the appropriate time and energy that will be needed to build them.

Naturally, clients and agencies try to accurately predict what will be required before getting started, and sometimes, this is possible. A content-driven site with a fairly defined set of features can be much easier to accurately assess in the estimating stage than a site that requires authenticated states, multiple content areas, user profiles, transactions, or other complex features.

But what’s a team to do if the exact solution isn’t known yet?

Enter: Roadmapping!

Roadmapping is a distinct, optional, and high-leverage phase in a project, best applied when there are a number of moving parts to consider that require “diving in” before the full solution (and therefore scope) can be discerned.

The ideal way to kick-start a Roadmapping exercise is to enter with two key things in mind:

  1. Detail all the hoped-for features, content areas, and technical aspects, along with any confirmed information about users, audiences, and business goals.
  2. Keep in the back of your mind any assumptions about what the end result could be — but be open to that changing over the course of things

The best starting point is to take the wishlist and work backward from there. The goal is to identify any gaps where more answers are needed, map out a precise project plan, and ensure that the estimated budget and timeline is as correct as possible, not to mention ensuring that the right type — and the right amount — of work has been accounted for.

For example, “SEO guidance” can range from a simple set of keywords as food for thought, all the way up to a soup-to-nuts set of activities and outputs that informs the technical structure of the site, shapes page copy, and myriad other outcomes. Knowing how “much” SEO (or any other creative and technical services) you need is an invaluable outcome of Roadmapping, with direct impact on timelines and price.

A Roadmapping exercise will be successful if it meets both of the following objectives:

  1. From an agency/client perspective, to fully align on the objectives, audience needs, and proposed features of the site.
  2. From a project management perspective, to ensure that the project and estimate isn’t over-scoped or under-scoped, and that the correct roles have been identified to fulfill the aligned needs of the site

The output should be an aligned project brief, budget, and timeline. Additional benefits of working through the process together includes fostering joint ownership of the proposed solution, providing a chance for the teams to “date” a little bit before diving into the full project, and to ultimately spend a much smaller amount of time and money to ensure that the first few steps are the right ones, before the larger investment is made.

Whether the rest of the project follows a Waterfall or Agile method (more on that in a future edition of the newsletter), Roadmapping’s true strength is in providing a high-leverage “micro step” that brings all parties together to challenge assumptions and come up with the right thing, before committing to the approach, solution, team, and services that’s best suited to the needs, goals, and constraints of the project.

Not bad for a couple of week’s work at most.

ACTIONABLE STEPS

  1. Clients: Remove the burden from your shoulders by trying to figure everything out before you go to your agency
  2. Everyone: For projects where there are some bigger unknowns, set aside $5-10/15k for a Roadmapping stage to involve key parties from Day One