Responsive Roadmapping Paul O'Connore

Responsive Roadmapping

Guiding Change and Product Line Pivots

by Paul O’Connor

Responding to Market, Technology, and Economic Disruptions.

Large businesses face a demanding challenge. They must work efficiently and carry out change effectively. And they must do both at the same time. The big problem for management teams is that the practices they’ve installed in their companies will do one but not the other. And the problem causes significant challenges for innovation and product management.

Delivering the right products and services at the right time is crucial. Doing this well and doing it repeatedly helps form deep connections with customers. And it helps fend off competitors while driving up revenue. These outcomes are critical to a company’s well-being, especially as the pressure to change intensify. Today, nearly every company in the world is facing a tsunami of change related to markets, technologies, and our economy.

Product Line Flow and Velocity

A product line’s advancement (or not) toward greater customer satisfaction, stronger competitive positions, and larger positive cash flows is the correct orientation for all lines. And the progress or flow toward these objectives is properly called the product line’s velocity. Improving velocity is a tough job in normal times. But improving a product line’s velocity when the playing field is under great flux demands a new approach that’s responsive to change.

Coping with change while efficiently creating and delivering new products is no small task. And it’s at this junction of efficiency and change many companies face a difficult challenge. They struggle to pull off smart strategy moves and pivots in response to the change. They lose opportunities and their product line velocity decreases. Plus, without even knowing, companies often cause themselves problems that linger into the future.

The magnitude and frequency of changes companies face exacerbate the problem. Never have innovation and product management professionals confronted greater pressure to solve the “change vs. efficiency” dilemma. The answers not easy. But to overcome the challenge, companies need new tools, new thinking, and a completely new mindset. Let me explain.

Single-Product Limits

The problem starts with single-product thinking. This mindset is the basis for many practices. And it’s the foundation of innovation and product management. You’ll see Screening, Staged Development, and Agile each focus on helping just one product at a time. And the same with Jobs-To-Be-Done, V-O-C, and Design-Thinking. Each practice is based on single-product thinking.

The exception is product portfolio management (PPM.) Its job is to plan work across multiple projects. But PPM doesn’t include idea creation or other front-end work. Nor does PPM include in-market product management. Instead, PPM assumes, often incorrectly, that managers agree on a strategy. It then seeks to maximize project work plans based on “priorities” derived from that strategy.

PPM has two big shortcomings. The first shortcoming is the ill-formed and undefined nature of the strategy that purportedly supports project prioritization. Often companies need to figure out their product-related strategy based on their forced project prioritization. This is like doing market research to validate a project after its been approved for development.

And the second shortcoming is that PPM seldom oversees the biggest influences on the portfolios value; the output of Front-end work. If poor concepts enter a development process, there’s not much traditional PPM can do other than de-prioritize these projects and shift resources to other projects.This is an after-the fact action that contributes little to the long-term well-being of a business.

The Multi-Product View

Experts in each innovation practice or method will quickly point out how to use their works across sets of projects and products, from front-end to back-end. Their arguments may carry some weight, especially when delivered in a one-on-one or small group discussion.

But most companies don’t carry out these practices across project and processes. And there are two good reasons. First, few companies have structures couple to a strong mindset to drive a multi-product approach. And second, the experts didn’t design their practices to integrate with other methods. They didn’t create their practice to support a multi-product approach. The experts didn’t seek to address the constraints and opportunities companies face within full product lines.

Multi-product thinking is powerful. When companies use multi-product thinking to drive a product line, they are also creating opportunities for notable gains. But to realize these gains, managers and teams must have a deep understanding of their product line as a system. And they must use an agreed upon strategy to direct the flow of the system’s parts.

The Product Line System 

The dynamic nature of product lines makes interpreting them as systems a powerful tool. And it’s become essential as markets and technologies create an inordinate demand for product changes and product line pivots. Systems Thinking enables managers to understand how the different parts and practices affect one another and how their interplay drives the product line’s performance. Plus, the systems view allows managers to see the flow of the parts within the product line and the flow of results from the whole system. This flow relates directly to the product line’s velocity.

Smart product line systems will deliver a performance that is greater than the sum of its parts. But to do this, teams must focus on creating and boosting the parts, not just managing their interplay. It’s here where the systems approach toward product lines shines. And it’s here where product line strategy genius plays out when one part purposely boosts another part.

The key is to help managers understand their product line as a system. It’s to enable managers to see how parts within a product line can be created and altered purposely to boost one another. It’s to see how the parts playoff one another to drive significant gains from the whole system. For many, learning this is an “aha” moment in product line management.

Responsive Roadmapping Orchestrates the Whole 

A product line’s strategy and its roadmap reveal the system’s parts. Changing one part of the product line system can change the whole.

Companies must use creative, analytical, and strategic thinking to advance a product line, not just one product at a time. The job demands teams to form and carry out purposeful strategy moves. This task is demanding. And that’s why Responsive Roadmapping is so helpful. It aids managers to get the job done quickly and effectively.

Responsive Roadmapping uses templates and scrum-like work to guide teams to deliver continuously impactful results. These methods aid contributors to think, plan, and carry out work to improve a product line’s performance in a multi-product not single-product orientation. It sets up the best set of jobs and tasks for all current and future products.

The focus extends beyond a single-product view. Instead, Responsive Roadmapping uses systems thinking to create and re-craft the full set of parts. These parts include Platform-levers and Verb-Based Segments. And they include Concepts and Technologies. See more about product line system parts HERE.

Product Line System Flow

To drive superb product line results, companies must create or re-craft system parts. But they must also remove bottlenecks in the system’s flow and its velocity. It’s a product line’s total flow toward strategy-defined goals that matters most. And Responsive Roadmapping guides managers to do this work.

Responsive Roadmapping helps managers improve a product line’s flow in two ways. First, it aids teams to plan and track work. But second and most important, Responsive Roadmapping equips teams to predict system conflicts and flow disrupters.

Forces and Constraints

Every product line team must manage internal and external forces on their system. Certain forces may drive the product line forward, while other forces constrain the system and work against forward progress. An important principle in Responsive Roadmapping is to understand the forces and how they act on a product line system.  See more on common product line system forces HERE.

Plotting a force-field diagram helps teams analyze forces interacting with their product line. But the team should create the plot for both the whole system and for critical parts. The goal is to understand the direction and magnitude of each force. And the purpose is to create a recourse that reduces negative forces and boosts a positive flow; an improved product line velocity.

Spot Roadblocks Early

A key to a productive product line is to spot the parts that work counter to one another. And it’s to see conflicts as early as possible. The impact on the system can be like gears going in opposite directions. And the conflict undermines potential synergy. Such conflicts may be between parts of the same type, like Products, Market Segments, or Platform-levers. Or the conflicts may be caused by parts that cut across the different types.

When conflicts arise related to decisions, work, or knowledge, the flow will be turbulent. But the turbulence doesn’t mean the flow will stop or reverse. Most often, the system’s flow will go forward. But it does so with wasted energy and lost time. By helping teams spot system conflicts before they become problems, Responsive Roadmapping minimizes losses and redirects efforts to boost the product line.

Changing Flawed Assumptions

Product line managers know that nothing stands still. Customer needs, markets, and technologies change. Even whole companies change. It creates an endless stream of knowledge to drive new insights into opportunities and constraints. But there are less visible challenges that also take hold. It’s because every team carries out work based on assumptions. And when change mounts, assumptions eventually falter.

Assumptions provide quick translations of facts and insights. But conflicts arise when assumptions become flawed. And the results can be costly when the conflict clogs a product line system.

The recourse is to guide teams through cause-and-effect analyses. The goal is to help teams better understand the impact of the change on the product line system. Such a focus helps to improve the system’s flow and deliver better results sooner.

Openness Plus Understanding Improves Results

Responsive Roadmapping demands top managers trust all product line contributors. The trust is fundamental because it sets a belief that each contributor seeks to do their best for the system. Yet all contributors may not understand the system the same. Or, they don’t recognize the same parts or their interplay. And to gain a shared view demands openness and deep understanding.

Managers who share a common view of a product line system can better align their decisions and work. And when the common view holds steady, they also deliver greater results. But managers struggle to collaborate when they have different views. This struggle is real even when they share common goals and objectives.

Team Learning

Setting up Responsive Roadmapping is a big job. It starts with building awareness about single vs. multi-product thinking. And it calls for managers to see product lines as systems. The task is to help managers to see the forest (systems) through the trees (products) of their product line work.

Top management must feel pain related to product lines before they support Responsive Roadmapping. In growth markets, the pain radiates from the middle of an organization. This pain is where managers struggle with volumes of disjointed work. But in declining or disrupted markets, the pain cuts across an organization. And all managers see the drawbacks of using old methods. The methods can’t solve the notable problems when strategy moves and pivots are in demand.

Learning Responsive Roadmapping is best done with teams. This is because a team shares the same product line context to explore system parts and their interplay. Plus, the team can better layout a practical path to building the company’s ability and maturity.

A Call to Action

If the value of Responsive Roadmapping stirs your interest, you’re not alone. Many managers see the need for product changes and product line pivots as we deal with the market disruptions and technology advancements. But what should you do to learn more, and how do you introduce it to your colleagues, your team, and your organization? I advise you to consider several steps:

  1. Build awareness of the principles of Responsive Roadmapping…

    …and why these are crucial when forming and carrying out smart product line strategy moves and pivots. See more on Responsive Roadmapping principles HERE.

  2. Examine your company’s innovation and product management practices…

    …Are the practices based on single or multi-product thinking?   See more on Single versus Multi-Product Thinking HERE.

  3. Gain a cursory understanding of product line parts and how they work as a system…

    … See more on product line system parts HERE.

  4. Learn why innovation and product development are essential to a product line’s performance…

    … But also learn why these parts, by themselves, are not enough to cause a fluid system flow.  See More on the Velocity of the Product Line System Flow HERE

  5. Understand the pain of your current state…

    …Do you think Responsive Roadmapping will help? Do you think focusing on your product line as a system and then driving the flow is essential?

  6. Share your thoughts on Responsive Roadmapping with your colleagues, and gain their feedback…

  7. Gather your company’s questions about Responsive Roadmapping and reach out to me.

Be Responsive, Not Just Resilient

Most companies did a great job being resilient through the first few months of the Covid lockdown. But that’s long in our past. Now, companies need a deliberate plan to ride the wave of change in market behaviors, technology advancements, and economic disruptions. A key will be to boost product and product line performance, a company’s most critical contributor to its well-being. The job demands product changes and product line pivots. And doing these jobs proficiently is the exact purpose for setting up and carrying out Responsive Roadmapping.

Please share this article with others if you think your organization should learn more about Responsive Roadmapping.

I welcome your comments and feedback.

You may reach me at:    paul.oconnor @

Adept Group’s Web Contact Here

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