Create a better roadmap

Jan 2nd, 2017 by Lieuwe van Brug

For more than a decade I have been working in Agile teams. I’ve been leading agile teams, coaching agile teams and have been part of agile teams in the role of developer, scrum master and architect or a combination of these roles. And I like it. I firmly believe that the highly adaptable way of working suits the needs of the modern way of creating products and services.

Five years ago I discovered The Lean Startup. The Lean Startup method is all about validating your assumptions. So you validate before you start building and spend a lot of money. That made me think. In the agile projects, how does the business determines the things to work on next? How are priorities set? What assumptions are made? In other words, on which assumptions is a Backlog created?

One of the Agile frameworks is Scrum. A method based on a backlog with user stories you want to create for your customers, setting priorities based on business priorities followed by defining a sprint to create the actual result (For more information, check wikipedia for more information).

The agile scrum framework

And although I like working with the agile scrum framework, I see a big problem as I mentioned earlier. How to create a roadmap and prioritize the user stories on that backlog? The Scrum framework states a plain and simple solution to this problem: The product owner is responsible to put all wishes on the backlog and is responsible to order them based on business value. Well, to be honest, that’s easier said then done. The questions that remain:

  • How to gather all the wishes, where do they come from?
  • How to determine the priority based on business value?
  • What assumptions are made along the way?

With a simple web application, the list of wishes could be easy to oversee. But a simple web application can become complex very quickly and then the Backlog grows quickly in a accumulation of a lot of ideas and wishes. Then you need to prioritize them, based on business value. But based on what? Again, in a simple web application, ideas can be arranged on gut feeling and good entrepreneurship. But when things grow and become more complex, this can become very hard to oversee.

So this is where Lerni comes in. A process in front of the Product Backlog. Lerni will help you with the following:

  • Set focus and puts you in control in what to specify and to set your own priorities on the backlog
  • Capture ideas from everyone involved in the product, including customers
  • Validate all assumptions through feedback
  • Calculates priorities to make informed choices

Set focus by themes for all of your team members. Think of them as projects, however not the projects beforehand defined by fixed dates and a fixed set of functionality. We are working agile, remember? And you must be able to adapt to the ever changing and new reality of every day. By setting some global themes that will help you get more focussed. You can also use the themes to create a road map for the product. Although it can be changed over time. Again, agile is the magic word here.

Ideas are everywhere. Not only in the business side of your organisation. Ideas also come from the individual team members. Most important, the customers, or, future customers. Would’t it be great if you listen to your future customers and create the possibility they will become paying customers if you implement some of their good ideas? Good idea management is important to innovate your product or service.

So, now you'll have lot’s of ideas and then you can set your focus on detailing based on themes. By choosing your focus, you should be able to define a high level priority on which ideas the teams should be working on. But be aware, a lot of assumptions are made in this process. (See The Lean Startup for a lot of background information) Assumptions are made on the problem you are trying to resolve for the customer. But also on the problem of the your customer itself. Be aware that any of the solutions you'll come up with, is only your own interpretation to a problem you think your customer has. So validating the things you’re not certain of, is an important step before spending your money on functionality by putting the main validated items on top of your backlog.

After the validation process you've validated your business theme focussed ideas and you will have a lot of detailed user story’s created and put them on the backlog. Now it is time to put them into order on the backlog based on priorities. Imagine you have defined different metrics on every level, business theme, idea and user story and balance them by weight. Then you could calculate a customer value index based on the effort it takes to implement the user story. (See Weighted Shortest Job First for more information)

The above elements together create an idea management process to gather the data, focus, validate and prioritize for a better backlog. So you are always in the process of creating the next thing for you customers.

If you also have an opinion on this subject, please comment or contact me. I would like to get in touch to have a chat.

Lieuwe van Brug

Lieuwe van Brug


Agile architect, coach, scrum master and developer with a lot of years of experience in different combination roles. Passionate in making ideas a reality. Good ideas and a good open environment with the right people make the impossible, possible. Creativity, the right technology and an open team spirit are perfect to get it done in this time of innovation.