Why you need #never in your roadmaps

This article is building on a particular way of starting a product roadmap, that is particularly effective for new product teams. The concept of a simple #now, #next, #later approach to roadmapping was introduced by Noah Weiss, back when he was SVP Product at Foursquare. If you haven’t read Noah’s article, I hope you will take a few minutes to do that first before continuing here. 

Why #never matters for product teams

One of the most important - and empowering - roles of a product manager is ‘saying no’ to ideas, features or directions of travel that subtract from what your users value, and the vision that drives the product’s proposition.
When it comes to getting everyone pointed in the right direction, especially in the early stages of product development, taking things off the table is good. but you sometimes find that they find their way back on the table (or in to the roadmap or backlog, in this case).
The idea that product strategy is about saying no isn’t new, Dan Olsen has been saying it for years, and the folk at Intercom celebrate saying no to things on a regular basis.

The priority buckets: #now, #next, #later and #never

“When your company has fewer than 20 people, written roadmaps are overkill. There are a handful of projects, everyone talks at lunch, and you don’t have the runway to plan more than a few months ahead.
{…} As we near 200 people [at Foursquare], we’ve finally found a system that feels great and is lighter weight than anything we have done before: #now, #next, #later.” — Noah Weiss, 2014.

I’ve been using Noah’s framework for a couple of years, and I’ve seen other people use versions of it. It works. I’ve added #never as a way of helping teams form a shared set of values, and align around a product vision.
These are my suggestions for what those buckets mean when you add #never in to the mix:

#now

As in, what we’re working on right now, underway or close by (suggestion: next 2–4 weeks)

#next

 

This is the next sprint or two. 1–3 months is a suggestion.

#later

We’ve not estimated this yet, or we’re not certain about its value so we’re capturing it for review another time. 3+ months away.

#never

We’re never doing this. As a team, we firmly believe that this has no value to us, our users, and is something that is contrary to what we’re trying to achieve.

Empowering Teams

Introducing this tweak to your product management approach gives you a chance to do actually cement all of those ‘no’s’ in a meaningful and visible way.
This helps teams be clear on their direction. Also, avoidable ambiguity sucks, and is draining. Adding a #never tag is a really easy way of improving that alignment, or warm fuzzy feeling, that your product team feels when they tackle the roadmap.

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