Product Roadmap & Technical Approach

Young agritech companies are always faced with challenging questions on attaining growth, but with limited resources. To add to this, competitors will be chasing young companies heels, trying to takeaway their market share and squeeze them out.  There are a number of strategies and tools young companies can and will use to keep themselves ahead in this environment.  

Product Roadmap definition: The purpose of a product roadmap is to communicate direction and progress to internal teams and external stakeholders. It shows the high-level initiatives and the planned steps to get there. It should not include every feature in the product backlog, or a list of specific engineering bugs. The roadmap is a product management document and should live separately.

Sprout's second block course was focused on using the disciplines of Product Roadmaps to assist with managing these variables. Generally, most people who work with young companies understand the concept of ‘Minimum Viable Product.’  The question that often comes after this, is 'What do we build next?'  

Having an internal process that brings the team together to create, review and change your product roadmap is a simple way to begin to address these challenges.  

At the block course we heard from Andrew Tokely, VP Engineering for 8i, Ben Wilde, Georgian Partners, Dion Cawood from LIC and from the Sprout team, on the types of inputs and opportunities/challenges that can be created through roadmaps.  

Some of the key components that should be factored into roadmaps are:

Customer needs: This is often an input from the sales function of the organisation, feeding back on what customers are saying about the product and what they need.

Technology trends: What technology is required to deliver a feature and is it stable enough to integrate into a product, or does it need to be held back for future generations?

Competitive activity: What is the competitive activity that is occurring and does the company need to respond to new features that are showing significant impact for customers?

Partnership opportunities:  The marketing or product management team might have identified integration with a partner's technology as being a great opportunity to open up a new segment of the market or dramatically reduce the cost of selling the product.

Finance & capacity:  Into the decision making mix needs to be the cash available, or the capacity of the team to deliver the required features.

In most cases a start-up does not have all these functions as separate teams, but instead it could be the same people wearing different hats e.g. someone might be doing both sales, marketing and product management. This doesn't matter. The focus is the discipline of sitting down as a team regularly  and discussing the topics, then making a decision on what to prioritise and the timing of delivery.

What usually comes out during the process is a series of product 'versions' or generations.  Depending on the business model of the company, these generations might be the basis for the customer's repeat purchase of the same product or in other words, the recurring revenue the company generates.  

Recurring revenue or repeat purchase is one of the holy grail's of company performance indicators.  With some business models like Software as a Service (SaaS,) the repeat purchase is activated through the customer continuing to pay their monthly subscription. In hardware businesses, the new generation of the product will be re-purchased e.g. a consumer buying the new iPhone, moving from an iPhone 4 to 5s.  

Without a product roadmap generating new versions or generations of the product, it is very difficult to convince any astute businessman that the company has any longevitiy. 

The other topic at Ashburton was ‘technical approach.’ This focused on giving companies the opportunity to talk to technically minded, independent people, about the approach they were taking with their technology elements of their business.  

For young companies, it is easy to convince themselves that they know 'everything'.  

By having credible people to speak with, it is a great opportunity for technical founders to check their approach against the current trends and developments in technology.  In software and electrical engineering, this can be incredibly important because if a technical decision is made that is based on old thinking, it can severely effect the start-ups ability to scale or be acquired by a potential partner.  

Callaghan Innovation is a great partner to have involved in Sprout, and the teams were fortunate to have Andrew Dawson, a technical lead for sensors and robotics at Callaghan Innovation, spend time with each of them, learn and give feedback on the approach they were taking. 

There are lots of videos and articles online about creating product roadmaps.  If you’re interested in this topic jump on Google and type in these suggested search terms:

  • 'how to build a product roadmap',
  • 'building a product roadmap'
  • 'designing a product roadmap'.