How Marketers Can Build and Use Agile Roadmaps

“Agile teams don’t plan” is still perhaps the most persistent myth in the Agile world.

The reality could hardly be more different. Planning is completely integral to Agile ways of working. The difference is in how Agile approaches planning relative to the traditional Waterfall approach. Instead of being prescriptive about where you’re going and how you get there, Agile is about being flexible with the how.

One of the keys to getting this kind of planning right is understanding how to use Agile roadmaps. So let’s dive into just what these roadmaps are, how you can create them, and most importantly, how to use them to improve your marketing.

Understanding Agile Roadmaps

Depending on the Agile framework you’re using, you may be used to breaking your marketing work into sprints or running things continuously. Either way, it can be dangerously easy to stay focused only on what’s in front of you: making editorial calendars, trying to improve metrics, etc. This can often lead to us marketers losing sight of a longer-term vision for what their work is building towards.

Agile roadmaps offer a way to be more strategic and forward-thinking with your marketing while also giving your team a sense that they’re working towards a larger goal. This is particularly important when marketing a product or service which is itself evolving. In these cases, Agile roadmaps are crucial for enabling marketing to be proactive instead of reactive as things change.

How to Create an Agile Roadmap

The first thing to understand about creating an Agile roadmap is that it should be done by the marketing owner. They should consider where the market is going, what limitations the team has to improve the product, what their value propositions are, etc.

For most marketers, an Agile roadmap begins with a content strategy designed to achieve a major goal like becoming a thought leader or improving a key metric. This goal should be something that will really drive the business and should come with personas to help ensure it aligns with your target audience.

Once you have personas and content in place, you can start thinking about initiatives, milestones, and epics.

Breaking Agile Roadmaps Down

Now let’s go through the building blocks of an Agile roadmap one by one. It starts with user stories, which allow the marketing owner to describe what needs to be created and why. For example:

“As a manager of an Agile marketing team I want to learn how to use Agile roadmaps better so we can improve how we plan.”

You just read the user story for this very article. It tells everyone working on it who it’s for and what it should help them accomplish. This is immensely useful in keeping everyone on the same page about a piece of work.

Once you have a series of user stories, you can combine them into epics. An epic is a larger project that can span many sprints and teams. For example, an epic might be a major product launch requiring marketing and product development teams to work together closely to decide on what should be included and how it can be marketed.

Several epics can then be combined into an initiative. Here, you’re taking several projects which might take one or more months each, and giving them a broader organizational goal that might span a year or more. Taking that product launch example, a company might use several product launch epics to achieve the initiative of increasing revenue by 15%.

Now we come to the Agile roadmap itself. The roadmap is a way to tie several initiatives into an even broader goal like repositioning a company within a market or expanding and establishing itself in a new product category.

What’s so important in tying all of these layers together is the why. Each user story tells you why this task is important and how it contributes to the epic. Then that epic tells you why those stories are important and contribute to an initiative, etc. You should be able to draw a line of logic from the smallest user story all the way up to an Agile roadmap, helping everyone in the organization understand how their work contributes to broader goals.

Lastly, within an Agile roadmap, milestones simply mark key moments – for example, when a product launches at the end of its corresponding initiative. This helps teams keep on top of what’s happening when using the roadmap.

Using an Agile Roadmap

Creating an Agile marketing roadmap begins with getting one or more marketing owners together and deciding what broader goals they want to achieve based on market forces, internal resources, and other potential restraints. That said, roadmaps should never be created in isolation, and must be built on input from stakeholders outside marketing.

For example, your organization may want to expand into a new product category. Thus your Agile marketing roadmap might focus on research, developing an approach, and executing a strategy (all while remaining Agile of course) to achieve that goal. 

Once a roadmap has been created, the work isn’t done! You need to ensure the work your team does contributes towards the goals in the roadmap on an ongoing basis. Otherwise, the roadmap can easily just be forgotten.

Another key point of using Agile roadmaps is that they can’t be set in stone (otherwise they wouldn’t be very Agile). Circumstances will always change in marketing and you need to be ready to adapt. If one of those product launch initiatives performs poorly, everyone involved needs to be ready to analyze the problem and make changes accordingly. 

Roadmaps shouldn’t change constantly, but they can’t be set in stone either. You need to find the right balance, get feedback from your teams, and monitor how initiatives and epics are performing.

What Does an Agile Marketing Roadmap Look Like?

An Agile roadmap visualized as three project timelines going eight months ahead.

While Agile marketing roadmaps can look different depending on the program you use to create it, in general a top-level view like this can show when the team needs to begin and complete specific initiatives. Each of them should then be broken down into cards and possibly assigned to sprints based on whether your team uses Scrum, Kanban, or a hybrid method.

However you approach it, the goal should be a clearly visualized roadmap that’s easy to follow for everyone on the team. This helps ensure it will be understood, internalized, and followed.

An Example of an Agile Roadmap in Action

Let’s start with the Agile roadmap before looking at its components to understand how they interact. In this example, the goal of the Agile roadmap is to shift the company from one reliant on selling one-off licenses to one reliant on recurring Software as a Service (SaaS) income.

Within that roadmap, there are four initiatives, each one built around a new SaaS product. The first one is to make software that helps people edit their photos in creative ways. Within that initiative, there’s an epic to create and execute an initial marketing strategy for the new product. Within that epic, there’s a user story about creating a short video to show off what the product can do.

In this example, every person working at every level of the roadmap can clearly see how their work contributes to all the goals above them. The user story contributes to the epic, which contributes to the initiative, which contributes to the roadmap. The teams are aligned around common goals and have a framework to make decisions and collaborate.

Looking for Other Ways to Improve Your Agile Marketing Performance?

There’s a lot that can go wrong when creating something as complex as an Agile roadmap. That’s why a strong foundation of Agile knowledge and experience is so critical for success. Fortunately, we’ve put together a series of courses combining self-paced elements, certifications, instructor-led courses, and social learning communities so you can get the Agile foundation you need for success. Check it all out at The Ropes.

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