“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” —Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

In this episode, Amaury and Mitchie discuss what a roadmap is, why it’s important, and how to define one through practical exercises to prioritize, structure and budget your dream.

Pre-order a copy of Amaury’s new book, Startup Without a CTO, and get an early digital version two months before the official launch: http://startupwithoutcto.com/  

 

Show notes

  • What a roadmap is
  • Why it’s important to build a roadmap
  • How to create your own roadmap
  • What’s the first exercise you should do
  • How to evaluate how much time and money your project is going to cost you
  • How to set up a scoring system
  • How to know what you’re going to develop first
  • Tools you can use to know what features your customers want
  • How to know how many screens are needed per feature
  • Where you can download the template to help you with your roadmap
  • How to organize ideas and prioritize features
  • How the Startup Roadmap Definition course can help you
  • At what time are you ready to move on to the next version
  • Compiling all of what you’ve done and putting it in a slideshow
  • Why you shouldn’t aim too high or aim too low when setting your goals

Links 

Transcript

Read the transcript

Mitchie Ruiz: Welcome to Episode 9 of My CTO Friend the Podcast, where founders come to learn how to manage a tech startup. This is Mitchie Ruiz, and I’m Amaury Khelifi. Hi, Amaury.

Amaury Khelifi: Hi, Mitchie. And welcome, startupers, to today’s podcast. In this episode, we are going to go through the roadmap definition process, covering how to prioritize all the ideas you came up with and structure them into versions with required budgets and resources.

Mitchie: Now remember that in this first series of the podcast, we’re working our way down Amaury’s book [Startup Without a CTO]. We’re going through all the tips and real startup experiences he’s gathered throughout the years. So if you’re a founder without technical background, listen up, because you’re in the right place. Let’s just go ahead and jump in.

Amaury: Yeah, go ahead.

Mitchie: Well, today, Amaury and I decided to have a little bit of a role play, where he’s going to pretty much quiz me on what I’ve learned, working with him, because we have worked a lot in this topic of roadmap definition.

Amaury: Yeah, absolutely. We’ve been covering it, creating some online courses on it as well. And she knows it by heart. And now I feel like because it is a process that can be a bit complex, it can be better for you to understand if someone that’s just learned it rephrase it for you. And of course, I’m going to add details if it’s required. So tell me, what did you get, Mitchie? Tell me what is a roadmap?

Mitchie: What is a roadmap? Well, a roadmap is pretty much just a detailed plan of what you want to do in your app and where you want to go, and how much it’s going to cost. So it has to have this general idea of what you’re doing to achieve your goals in step-by-step basis. And it’s usually shown in a technical plan presentation, based on the vision of your project. We talked about building your business vision, that would be Episode 4, if I’m not mistaken. It’s based on that, but it’s attainable steps, executable steps.

Amaury: Absolutely. When you have this idea, you start from this idea, you brainstorm—and we covered that in a previous episode. And then you will need to position your product, you have that position, that vision. And from that vision, you put in place a plan. And this plan will tell you how much it costs, which type of resources, if you need to hire someone. Next, why is that useful? What are you going to do with this roadmap?

Mitchie: Well, like I said, it’s usually shown in a presentation. So we use the roadmap to attract investors, attract incubators; to also show to developers and possible providers, technical teams, so that they can go through with the executable steps. And also the idea with the roadmap is not to only say that you have an idea that you actually have a clue on how to make it happen, you know how to do it. You have already done the research and gone through the steps, and you have a clear plan.

Amaury: Great. So we have lots of founders that are listening this episode. Tell them how can they build their own roadmap. What’s the process behind building a roadmap?

Mitchie: So we are going to cover all of this, so let’s just go ahead and start with a few steps that you need to go through. First, we need to prioritize the features. Then you need to structure the roadmap. We go through the product development, global costs, in a general manner. We identify the required resources. And then we compile cost, planning and everything that we’ve done so far into a presentation, which would be the technical plan or the roadmap presentation. Now we are going to cover this last step in the following episode, how to present the roadmap, roadmap presentation. So, we are covering the first five today, or I’m going to try to cover the first five today, and Amaury is going to help me.

Amaury: You’ve done a very good job so far. Great. So we’ve got lots of ideas. Last time, I had a wall in front of me with lots of Post-its, which is usually what I recommend to do for the brainstorming. What’s next? What can I do with these Post-its?

Mitchie: Well, just a quick reminder, we did cover the ‘Productivity hacks: Brainstorming and project planning’ on Episode 6 of the podcast. If you haven’t heard that, go ahead and hear it. You’re on this step. You have your visual idea of what’s gone through your head. And the first exercise that you’re going to do is you’re going to take 10 to 12 Post-its, and you’re going to do like a self-reflection exercise.

So you’re going to write down on each Post-it one value, one personal value, like something that represents you. It can be a noun. It can be an adjective. This is not supposed to be about the product or the company itself. It’s about you as a person. If you are building this with a co-founder, you should definitely do this exercise with them so that it makes sense. All of the roadmap is built around you and your co-founder.

Amaury: Yeah. The goal is that you have a product that really represents you. Like Steve Jobs put his own personality in Apple. So we need to be able to figure out where this product comes from and from whom.

Mitchie: Yes. So now we need to qualify the ideas. We need to make sure that they become stories. So once you have your list of values, you’re going to go back to that visual representation of your brainstorming, and you’re going to take everything you wrote down and turn it into a feature. So in order to do that, you need to make it a story. We have a format for that that you can follow. And that would be, ‘As a {User A}, I can {do something}, so that {I get a benefit}.’

So what does that mean? You can take any of the users or any of the people that are going to interact with your product, and that will be what you’re going to put in, in ‘User.’ So for example, as a user of the app, or as a buyer, or as a client, or as a provider—whoever’s going to use your app, I can, ‘an action.’ I can buy, I can sell, I can share, I can do something, so that I can, ‘get a benefit,’ so whatever benefit they want to do. I can earn more money—there’s a lot of benefits for people out there. So you get the idea, you get the format.

Amaury: Yeah. And that’s story format came from the Agile methodology. And this is a small action. We should not just say, “I’m going to sell on the platform.” It’s maybe too big. But, “I’m going to put an article and upload an article description in order to sell this.” A story should not be bigger than three days of work for a developer. And if it’s more than that, you should split that story into subtasks to create smaller tasks, and that will help you to plan your project and to evaluate how much time and cost it’s going to take.

Mitchie: Exactly. So the features that you have on the wall, you need to make them into bite-sized features, and each of those bite-sized features will become a bite-sized story. Now once you have those stories, and you’ll probably have a bunch of them, I want you to assign a value to each story. So the values that we were just talking about, the personal values that you wrote down about yourself. You can repeat values, of course. The idea, if I’m not mistaken—Amaury, you can correct me if I’m wrong—would be to place one value per story. A story shouldn’t have more than one.

Amaury: Yes, absolutely. And what I recommend to do is now to put all that stories and values line into just a spreadsheet, an Excel spreadsheet or Google spreadsheet that will help you to prioritize down the road.

Mitchie: Perfect, yes. Now once you’re done with assigning values to that feature list, you’re going to forget about that list. You’re going to set it aside, and you’re going to start prioritizing. Now you should have around 12 values. The idea would be for you to look at those values and define which six of those are the most important for you—what describes you most and what is it that you value most in life. And then after you’ve chosen the six, you choose three.

So it’s pretty much going over what you already have and what already represents you, but making sure that you have your priorities in order, that you know what you want, that you know who you are in life. This is a full-on self-reflection exercise, full psychology.

Amaury: Yeah, identifying what represents you the most and what is the most important for you. And then we will attach that to the product. So how can we attach that to the product roadmap?

Mitchie: Well, once you’ve prioritized your values, you need to set up a score system. Let’s say the three most important values that you’ve decided are the most important to you, are going to have for example, 10 points. That’s the score. It’s the highest score that you can give them. The ones that aren’t exactly the three most important, but they’re part of the six most important, you can give them six, for example. And then when you go to the rest, then out of those six, or five, or four if maybe you did less than 12, you’re going to put a value of zero or a value of three, something like that. It’s just to make sure that it represents within the product and within the features what you care personally about this feature.

Amaury: That’s very well-described, thank you. I feel like I wanted to add something, but I have nothing else to add. Good job.

Mitchie: Good. I’m a little nervous, I have to admit.

Amaury: That’s fine, you’re doing well. Basically, we have this list of features and we have a score on each feature based on what represents as. What’s next?

Mitchie: Next, we need to take into consideration what your customer wants, what people really want. So the idea of you doing a startup is pretty much helping people and providing something that people are willing to pay for. So this is a huge factor when prioritizing what you’re going to develop first, and develop second, and develop third. In this situation, you need to have a value, a perceived value or a perceived, let’s say, benefit that the customer is going to get for each feature.

So for example, you have one to 10 for the score, and one would be, “It would be nice to have this feature,” like nice in difference, and then score 10, which is super useful. This is the basis of all your operations. This has to be in your app. And if I’m not mistaken, Amaury, you actually have some tools for customer surveys that our listeners can use.

Amaury: Yeah, absolutely. Basically when you get started, you don’t have that information. So you just use tools like we covered in the episode ‘Know your customer,’ Episode 5, if I’m right. There are tools like the empathy map. The empathy map enables you to describe a customer, what he thinks. So you just establish hypothesis. And then from this hypothesis, you just confirm them and ask them through survey, through social media, through maybe one-on-one interactions, to confirm that what you are about to build will be useful for them or not. That’s the way you can evaluate that. On a bigger scale, what you can do is to use tools like UserVoice or Get Satisfaction.

The principle of these tools is not only to have just a pop-up or a small bar on the left of your website to enable people to provide you feedback, but it’s also to enable you as a brand to let people share their feedback and their suggestions in terms of new features. And put a vote system so that you will have your own users vote on what will be the features the most useful for them, and therefore would like to see in the future versions.

Mitchie: Exactly. Now once you have all of this data, you just need to do the same exercise to prioritize. You need to set up a score system. You can start by giving the highest score to the most important one, and work your way down. Or you can just give 10 points to the three most important ones, whatever you want to do, and add it into that same Excel spreadsheet that you’re working with, and that should already take care of the customer satisfaction or customer, let’s say, benefit of the equation. That’s Exercise 2.

Amaury: Yeah, absolutely. But so far, we covered the value, what we want to put. We covered what the customer wants to put in the product. But there is something missing. What’s missing in that prioritization exercise?

Mitchie: Early-stage startup founders usually lack funds. That’s like the most important thing. You have the time that it takes to develop an application, the costs and the complexity. Because if you’re starting out, you may not be able to hire a super developer. And if you have very complex features, they might have a really hard time, and you might end up wasting a lot of money getting to those features. So the third exercise is to do the same prioritization, but with the complexity, delay and costs.

The idea would be to identify first for each feature, how many screens will they need. So if, for example, you have a feature that will only need one screen, you can assign let’s say $1,000 or euros per screen. This may change if you take less of one resource or more of another. But just like a general estimate, you can just use $1,000 for a screen. And the idea would be if you have another feature that takes more screens, this will actually give it less of a score. So it’s not going to rank as high because it’s too complicated or too time-consuming, or too costly. They’re all pretty much the same thing.

Amaury: Absolutely. And the screen is not only the only ruler that you have good. Because of course we can roughly identify the cost of a feature through the screen, but they have some complex algorithm behind it you need to integrate AI [artificial intelligence] or if you need to connect some IoT devices. So you can just estimate what will be the complexity of each screen, and then we can put a score to it, and you can guess, this is a score from one to 10.

Mitchie: Exactly. You just put it on that spreadsheet, and let it do its work. The idea would be that at the end, each of these three categories, your personal value score, your customer perceived benefit score, and the complexity and costs score, they’re all going to be there in the total amount of points that you’re going to get. You can add them up.

If for some reason there’s one of these areas that you appreciate a little bit more, you can even put a coefficient there and multiply it by two. If, let’s say, your personal values are super important to you, one, one, one, it’s a good ratio. It works.

Amaury: That’s basically what I have in the template. And by the way, you can access the template of this compilation directly through the link we’re going to put in the show notes.

Mitchie: That’s right.

Amaury: We basically now have a score on each feature. How can we prioritize that in a version?

Mitchie: Well, all of your features are in a list. Each feature has its own final score. You can go ahead and set up a score range—not just like a system to score your features, but a range in which you classify when things are less important for your customers, for your personal values and for costs. You’re going to put that in the third stage. When things are most important, you’re going to put it in the first stage, and the things that lie in the middle are going to go, of course, in the second stage.

The score range that Amaury suggests is if you have less than 15 points, that should be Stage 3. If it’s between 15 and 23 points, that should be Stage 2. And if it’s more than 23 points, that should be Stage 1. Of course, this is based in a score system that is one, one, one. We’re not multiplying any of the factors. If you do use a different coefficient, if an area is more important to you, you need to take that into consideration, change the score range accordingly.

Amaury: Yeah. So now what’s important to understand is that it’s just a way, quite a suggestive way to organize your idea and prioritize it through your value. But that’s not going to work for everything. You might know the Business Model Canvas. The Business Model Canvas says that you need to have a balanced ecosystem between every person that is around your business. It could be partners, it could be buyers, sellers, you as a company as well. So basically, we can summarize this ecosystem in desires, contribution and received value.

Like if you have buyers, they are going to have some desires. Basically you’re going to provide them what they desire the most. They are going to contribute, either by paying or by just subscribing, or giving their time, and they will receive value in exchange. And you need to be sure that on each version that you will take out of this Excel spreadsheet, you have a balanced version, which means that you might need to move one feature to the Version 1 to the Version 2, and another one to the Version 2 to the Version 1, in order to be sure that everyone gets something on each version and that you have a balanced ecosystem that can be a real business model.

Mitchie: Exactly. A good way to do this is once you have the features on the spreadsheet that you might want to do in each version is to put it on Post-its. Post-its are awesome. They have sticky parts at the back, and you can move them around. So just go ahead and separate, just like a canvas in your desk for example. You have all of the people that are involved with your product, your company, yourself, your clients, your providers, sellers, buyers—whatever you have depends on your company, you’re going to have them on one side. And then on top, you’re going to have the different versions. So you’re going to pretty much create a grid. And you need to make sure that on each one you have, someone’s getting a desire satisfied, someone’s providing a contribution and someone’s receiving a value.

All of those agents in that company need to be receiving something in that transaction, in that product. They need to be taking something out of it and they need to be providing something, and they need to have their desires met. They all need to do that. So make sure that if you have that in Post-its, you can put your features on the Post-its, and play around with what you want to do. Once you find a way that everything’s balanced, you can put that up on your spreadsheet and get it all set up for the next stage.

Amaury: Absolutely. Always having the visualization of your roadmap will help you. And if you are like me, you have lots of Post-its, you can even pick some colors. One color for buyers, others for sellers, others for you as a companion partners. And that will be very easy for you to see on each column the Version 0, 1 and 2, if you have Post-its for everyone and everyone gets the benefits on this ecosystem.

Mitchie: They all need to be equally colorful.

Amaury: Yes, absolutely on each version. So now you have the version of your product, the roadmap based on a version, what should you do next?

Mitchie: Well, next is the nitty-gritty—next is costs and planning. You need to make sure, once you have all these things rearranged, you need to once more evaluate the cost of each stage. So this is going to be a little bit more specific than what we did last time. Just a $1,000 for a screen is a very general estimate. So right now, what we’re going to do is do a little bit of research and get the fees of what you would need for front-end developer or a back-end developer, or a UX designer—whatever you need to have, an IT architect. They have their own fees per day or per hour, and you need to pretty much identify what kind of resources you’re going to need, how much do they usually cost, and how much time you’re going to use those resources for.

If you are identifying more of one need, more of another, if it’s going to be too expensive to hire within your country, for example, and you might need to outsource, this is a time to identify all of those needs. Who do you need to hire, if you need to outsource, how much it’s going to cost, how much time you’re going to invest in it—all of that is going to be a little bit overwhelming. But once you’ve done the previous steps, it should be pretty straightforward.

Amaury: Yeah, absolutely. And that’s, by the way, why I also put the [Startup] Roadmap Definition course on the My CTO Friend website, because you have all those spreadsheets that will help you to define all that costs, and you just need to put the number of days for each profile. And at the end, you have all the compiled costs per version, per type of profile. And you can decide if all these types of profile, you should better hire someone or maybe get a freelancer because it’s just five or 10 days, for example.

That will help you in your decision-making to build the right team, depending on your roadmap, what you want to build, your own investment. Because, of course, you will see that maybe what you’ve put on the roadmap does not fit your budget, so you will have to tweak it for a bit and switch, and decide maybe to postpone some features, or maybe find a workaround to not invest right away on the huge product—we’re going to cover that later in a future episode.

And yeah, you will have in one place this global overview of how much is the cost of planning and everything that an investor would want to know about your project, and that will structure the financial aspect of your project.

Mitchie: Exactly. That’s right. And once you have each stage with the features that you need to do, once you’ve identified that, “This is going to be a little bit too costly, let me just move these features to the other stage,” and you’ve done all of that tweaking, you need to identify what moves you from one version to the other. Like, at what time are you ready to move on to the next stage?

And to do that, you have KPIs [key performance indicators], which I didn’t know what they were, but I learned there are key performance indicators. And what that means is just simply set a goal for each version. So for example, on your first version, you would like to have by the end of it, a thousand users and three paying customers. It’s pretty simple. You’re not setting your bar too high. But it’s a building stone. It’s a place to start, and that’s the goal you want to get to. And once you’re there, you know you’re ready and it’s time to move on to the next version.

Amaury: Absolutely. That’s why I said the KPI, we often forget that that’s what is the most important. Because we just want to build a business. We set our goals; we just need to reach those goals. If we miss our goals, that means we did something wrong. And so that’s a very good indicator of our own performance as founders, as a team, as a company. And that’s everything. That’s what we’ll see and what they’ll look at as an investor or an accelerator. They will want you to succeed as well as, I guess, you want to succeed as a startup founder.

Wow. I have to say that you did a great job. Thank you, Mitchie, for all that description. I feel like it really helps people to get that from someone else other than me. I’m used to telling that, and I’m very happy to see that you were able to learn from it as well. Next?

Mitchie: Thank you. Next? Well, next pretty much compiling all of what you’ve done and putting it in a slideshow, making sure that you can show it to people. And that’s exactly what we’re going to cover next. How to make a template and how to make sure that you have your product positioning right, and you’re it all properly, and how to share it with possible providers, investors and accelerators. It’s all going to be there, and we are going to provide a free template for that. So looking forward to that.

Quick thing that I wanted to say for the KPIs—and this is something that we didn’t prepare beforehand, but I read it in one of your retrospective articles, if I’m not mistaken—was that when you’re setting up your goals, you shouldn’t aim too high and you shouldn’t aim too low. You need to make sure that you are challenging yourself, of course, that you are going towards where you want to go. You don’t want to be too mediocre with the goal setting process.

But if you’re recognizing that each week or each month, or however you’re separating your planning process, you are not getting to even 30% or 40% of the goals that you set, you need to rearrange. You need to re-tweak your goals and make sure that they are, in fact, achievable. I’m not sure what the percentage that you said was. I think it was like 60% or something like that?

Amaury: I feel like it’s all about personal perspective. For my own goals, I set kind of challenging goals, and I make sure they are between 60% to 80%, which means that I would be able to reach the 100% or even over, but yeah, that’s for my personal goal. For a startup, I would prefer you to share with investors what would be the 60%, what the KPIs are at 60%, and set some KPIs higher for you to be sure to at least reach the goals that you shared with people.

Mitchie: Exactly. To overachieve.

Amaury: Yes. The commitment to achieve is not always the same for personal perspective. And when people see you, it might be good to be sure that you are not going to be judged because you did not reach 100% of your results.

Mitchie: Exactly. So get a little bit more challenging goals when it’s about you as a startup founder, but don’t reach too high on your startup goals because it is going to be a little bit hectic, and you do want to make sure that you are being punctual in your deadlines and you are having a good image with your customers and your providers. That’s clear, clear enough. Good.

Amaury: Yeah. Thank you very much, Mitchie. I think this one was great. And let us know if you like this role play, the fact that Mitchie described to you the process. Is there anything else we forgot to mention, Mitchie?

Mitchie: Well, we’re still role-playing. I don’t think so. I think we’ve covered most of it. We are going to cover roadmap presentation next. So all about the template like I mentioned. If you do want to learn more about this startup tech management that we’re discussing right now, we have, like Amaury mentioned, a Roadmap Definition course with spreadsheets and templates and all of that in myctofriend.co, along with a bunch of blog posts and articles and videos that have a lot of useful advice.

Amaury: Thank you. And today’s episode is Episode 9. So if you want to check out the links, it’s on myctofriend.co/9. And if you want to get all the episodes, you just need to put slash podcast at the end of myctofriend.co/podcast. And by the way, remember, we are writing my book right now, with the help of Mitchie, and you can pre-order your copy on startupwithoutacto.com. And if you do so, you will get the digital version two months before the official launch. So yeah, startupwithoutacto.com.

Thank you, Mitchie. Thank you, and I look forward to next time. And again, very good job for this role play. Tell us if you appreciate it, and we will keep going next time for the roadmap presentation, which is a huge topic as well because you need to convince people, investors, accelerators, as well as clients. Thanks, Mitchie.

Mitchie: Exactly. Thank you very much for listening. Thank you, Amaury, for the opportunity for the role play. And you can give us your feedback in myctofriend.co/podcast. Make sure that you leave a review on iTunes and wherever you’re listening to this podcast. Make sure you share with your startuper friends if you find this useful. And until next time. 

Amaury: Take care. Bye.

Mitchie: Bye.

Amaury: Thank you, Mitchie.