With Development Cycle Coupling, User Needs Inception, and Research Evangelization, the strategic importance of the function become more clear to the organization. You can contribute to Product & Design Strategy with clear sets of user needs, and gain leverage to shape the roadmap. Regardless your level of influence, understanding the existing roadmap is an important source of insight for getting ahead of upcoming research needs.
The most impactful questions and best approaches to the work of research come about when you are aligned on and actively shaping what the organization [or team] is trying to do. It’s not easy without a “seat at the table”—and the first table that’s worth being a part of is the one where planning happens: be on a project scale, a team scale, a vertical scale, or organization-wide.
It takes team trust in your capabilities and a strong understanding of the larger organization's aims to get there. Clearly modeled and understood user needs are the best and most useful anchor for strategic planning. And researchers, as a function, tend to have the most clarity around deep user needs. But it’s not always the case that these user needs are taken as a meaningful driver in the process of longer-cycle planning.
The groundwork for roadmap planning is a mix of clear user needs and a strategic approach that outlines which needs ought to be solved, and how. Consider the larger narrative of what the team or organization is trying to accomplish, and how it justifies that work to itself and internal stakeholders. How well is it aware of what ought to be accomplished?
You create an opportunity for your prior work to have impact by shaping a roadmap that responds to it. You also create the opportunity to frame and set the stage for successful research in the future: by managing the team’s expectations about research capacity and capability, and generating alignment on high priority questions before the work dependent on these questions are planned.
Therefore, become an active participant in the product/service roadmap planning cycle. Gain entry to the process by highlighting existing, well-modeled user needs and the state of the team’s current response to those needs—be clear about gaps, opportunities, and blindspots. Take care to attend to the entire process, and ensure a clear line follows from initial user needs to roadmap outcomes. Help team members re-articulate their work around the problems that need to be solved for rather than the specific features they want to build. Set clear expectations about research timing and involvement for any part of the process that may require your team’s support throughout the roadmapped period.
You will need some established authority to enter the process of roadmap planning, built on past successes and professional relationships. Then you will find this is an opportunity to further build credibility by being clear about known user needs, the nuance in interpreting them, and the unknowns and areas of exploration.
Take exploratory or early stage efforts and use Research-Driven Design Project to support the team needs. Identify where live product iteration will benefit from Cadenced User Studies. A full range of interesting Actionable Research Question may arise from roadmap planning that, if prioritized, can start with serious organizational momentum.