Road mapping Magnolia

Published on December 21, 2015 by Antti Hietala

What is the best way to collect requirements for a product roadmap? What sources should you listen to? Which items should you work on?

In this post I explain how we created the current Magnolia roadmap. The information sources we used may also work for you. I have also included a mind mapping exercise that can be used to elicit requirements. It works really well in small teams.


Sources for requirements

Product planning should take everybody’s input into account. Cast a wide net. Talk to as many users as you can. Only then start narrowing down what you will actually implement.

In the latest round of Magnolia feature planning we collected requirements from three sources:

  1. Client survey. Every few years we do an extensive client survey. In 2015 we asked users what trends they see in the industry and what they like and don’t like in the product. 621 people answered, which is a great result, a treasure trove of educated opinions. We itemized the feedback and gave extra weight to any items that were mentioned repeatedly.
  2. Team input. We interviewed all internal Magnolia teams from product development to sales. What features would they like to see in the next major release? What is important to fix first? We used mind mapping to elicit and document the teams’ requirements, see the exercise below if you want to try.
  3. UX top 10. For more than a year we have collected major user experience pain points reported by users, customers and partners. Our goal is to fix them in an initiative titled “Magnolia is a joy to use”. We consider UX so important that a full third of items on the current roadmap are user experience improvements.

Once we had requirements from these three sources in a spreadsheet we started looking for a common theme. Many items had something to do with author experience, making authors’ lives easier.  So we chose it as a theme for the current roadmap.


Exercise: Mind mapping roadmap input

Mind mapping is a great technique for collecting requirements from teams of under 10 people. The mind mapping session is personal and immediate. The participants feel that their concerns are heard and they feel invested in the roadmap.

  1. Invite each team in your organization to a road mapping exercise.
  2. Ask the team members to name features, fixes and enhancements they would most like to see in the product. Think big, blue sky! Draw the features on a mind map on the wall.
  3. Once all items are drawn, give everyone 3 stickers. Ask them to vote the most important items.
  4. Identify trends by circling the most voted topics. These are your strongest candidates for the roadmap.
  5. Merge mind maps from all groups into a format that you can sort and categorize such as a spreadsheet.

Here’s a mind map I drew with the Magnolia marketing team. The team uses the product every day to write and manage content.  Their requirements are clearly centered around usability and author experience (AX). These topics have the most red stickers.


Each mind map is dominated by what the group does for living. You get a more accurate picture once you combine input from all groups.

For example, component-level personalization was only mentioned once in the Marketing team session. The item has no vote stickers. But this missing feature was raised again by other groups.  Several respondents in the client survey also requested it. So overall component personalization is important and is now on the Magnolia roadmap.


Short list

Next, reduce the list to a reasonable size. We vetted the items against three criteria:

  • Anything that was mentioned repeatedly got extra weight, one point per repeat. This allowed us to rank items by popularity and get rid of duplicates.
  • Next we weighed strategic importance. Some items just did not fit the product’s goals so we dropped them. For example, pre-built themes were requested a few times. A theme is a collection of resource files (CSS, JS) that gives a site its visual identity through the use of colors and typography. The issue with pre-built themes is that Magnolia caters to a difference audience than say Wordpress. Our clients are mainly mid-level enterprises for whom brand identity is very important. Can you imagine Virgin Holidays deviating from their red-and-white look and picking a Magnolia-provided theme instead? While we could ship more pre-built themes it’s unlikely that enterprise clients would use them. They require unique designs.
  • Finally, we handed the short list to the developers for a feasibility assessment. Can we do these things? Are they technically feasible? Are there any items that would require so much work that they would blow the scope? A visual workflow designer was one of those items. Defining a workflow is too convoluted today. It requires too much expertise. It should be a user-friendly drag-and-drop exercise. Boxes and arrows. We want this feature in the product but it is such a significant amount of work that it needs to wait this round.


A roadmap is never final

The current Magnolia roadmap shows what we will work on next.


We have buy-in from employees and partners. Now we need to convince the user community that these are the right items to work on. This blog post is a small part of that effort.

I don’t think a roadmap is ever final. It is a living, evolving document. Adapt. Communicate. Repeat.


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About the author Antti Hietala

Antti Hietala is a product manager at Magnolia. He is tasked with articulating Magnolia's value proposition to sales and professional services. In constant contact with users, he feeds the product roadmap with front-line input. Antti's key responsibilities include internal communication, product roadmap and feature specifications. Follow him on Twitter @antarctic74.

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