When it comes to developing new digital products, product managers and their teams are spoiled for choice. With countless project tracking and decision-making frameworks to choose from, it’s no wonder lines sometimes get blurry. That’s just what’s happened with the fabled “OKR roadmap”. In reality, OKRs and roadmaps are two different concepts that are often conflated, meaning an “OKR roadmap” doesn’t strictly exist.
To bring some clarity to the topic, let’s start by breaking down the definition of each:
OKR, or Objectives & Key Results, is a goal-tracking framework originally pioneered during the early days of Google. It’s best used to track goals over longer time-frames, ideally quarters, and allows PMs to define the Objectives (long-term goals) along with the Key Results, which are the measurable outcomes of the efforts to reach those goals.
Roadmaps are a visual representation of a project timeline. There are many different variations, but in this context, the product roadmap is the most common. They are used to visualize and prioritize tasks and milestones as product development progresses.
Since both of these concepts deal with practical outcomes of product development, there’s certainly plenty of crossover between the two — but could one replace the other?
In truth, OKRs aren’t well-suited for a direct replacement of the product roadmap, mainly because they’re tracking different things — but that doesn’t mean the two can’t be used in parallel.
What many product teams do is use OKRs as part of the product roadmap. After all, the roadmap is, at its essence, a list of deliverables: product features, updates, and so on. In contrast, an OKR may be focused on more strategic goals such as “Encourage more users to download our app”. There’s no direct 1:1 mapping between the two, but OKRs can certainly be transposed onto a product roadmap with a little work on the PM’s part.
To use OKRs within product roadmaps, teams should isolate the set of OKRs to one phase of development — say a month at a time — then decide what they want the tasks on the roadmap to be. If this is, for example, a new mobile version of an application, a PM might use the OKR framework to pursue the Objective “Successfully launch a beta test of our mobile app”, with the Key Results being focused around the specific number of tests with successful outcomes.
This same logic can then be applied to specific areas of the application, leveraging the OKR framework to achieve the key milestones within the roadmap, despite the two technically being different systems.