By Chad Greenslade
I have often been asked about my lessons learned in delivering Agile transformations. Below is the thirteenth in a fifteen part series examining my lessons learned while instituting Agile concepts & practices. I hope that these lessons help you on your journey to Agile nirvana.
Lesson 13: Build a Product Roadmap (containing Features, Themes, & Epics)
Immediately following the kick-off meeting, you’ll want to begin agile planning. Time spent on agile planning is intentionally limited because agilists know they will be expected to embrace change as the project unfolds. Change occurs when business priorities shift causing features (either in development or in the backlog) to have more or less value to the organization. The ability to realize value by capitalizing on expected change is one of the key benefits of agile, and the underlying reason that most organizations undertake an agile organizational transformation.
The first and most important step to building a product roadmap is to clearly define the “product”. A product is something that has business value. It may generate revenue or support a business outcome. It could be one (1) traditional stand-alone application or it could be a suite of several applications, databases, or processes. My recommendation is to define software development “products” as individual applications. I have supported “products” consisting of more than one (1) application, but doing so becomes unnecessarily complex. If your product’s applications cannot be uncoupled, then it is very important that every team member be able to develop code on all of the applications within the “product”. For example, if your product consists of three (3) applications, but only two (2) out of five (5) team members are able to develop on one (1) of the applications, the output of your team cannot be realistically calculated or planned.
Agile planning follows a logical framework with consistent vernacular. To build a Product Roadmap, you’re only interested in the top three (3) levels of planning:
- Features: A “Feature” is a broad-grouping of high level functionality. The “Feature” designation is intended to be the highest level strata for classifying a product’s functionality requirements. Feature examples for a technology product are “Payment” and “Login”. A user of the system will login and make payments for purchased goods. Features are too big for detailed planning, but they provide the structure and framework to gather additional requirements.
- Themes: A “Theme” is a designation used to decompose Features. For example, for a “Payment” feature, the type (or form) of payment accepted could be considered a “Theme”. If a product accepts multiple forms of Payment, a theme could be “Credit Card”, “Paypal”, “ACH Debit”, etc. Likewise, if a product accepts multiple forms of login authentication, a theme could be “Login with Facebook”, “Login with Email”, etc. Like with Features, Themes are still used only as a planning framework are not detailed enough for actionable tasks.
- Epics: An “Epic” is an even lower level designation intended to further decompose Themes. For example, an Epic associated with a “Credit Card” Theme could be “Visa”. Similarly, for a “Login with Email” theme, an Epic could be “Multi-Factor Authentication”. While these are lower level, further decomposed work items, they are still not detailed enough for actionable tasks.
The Product Roadmap is the pre-requisite for the Release Plan discussed in the following lesson. Once the Product Roadmap is defined, the Product Owner can begin writing User Stories and appending them to relevant Epics. Agilists understand that the development of User Stories will continue as the project unfolds, but the goal is to have the Product Owner begin drafting User Stories that he / she deems as having the most business value, immediately after the initial version of the Product Roadmap is released. These User Stories should naturally rise to the top of the discussion during backlog grooming and sprint planning sessions since they have the most business value and highest priority.