Sprint Planning vs Roadmap Planning: The Trees and the Forest 

When working on an established product that needs ongoing enhancements and new features, product managers face two key levels of planning: the high-level roadmap and the nitty-gritty sprint plans.  

The roadmap gives you a bird’s-eye view of the forest. Sprint plans let you inspect the trees. They are two vastly different views of the project. 

It’s crucial to keep an eye on both the strategic forest and the tactical trees to keep the team from getting lost in the woods. 

Let’s take a look at roadmap planning and sprint planning and how you can use them effectively to deliver great software. 

The Product Roadmap: Painting the Forest 

The product roadmap serves as your high-altitude view of where the product is headed over the next few quarters or the year. It outlines the major themes, epics, and possibly some broad features you aim to deliver. Think of this as the forest—the big picture vista of the product’s evolution. 

At this level, you’re working off of research into customer needs, market trends, and strategic priorities. The roadmap translates your product strategy into an implementation plan. Details are limited, the dates can be fuzzy, and things will change, but the roadmap communicates your general direction. 

A well-defined roadmap is a communication tool. It helps keep stakeholders (e.g., developers, designers, executives) informed about the product direction and upcoming milestones. A shared roadmap fosters collaboration and ensures everyone works towards the same goals. 

The roadmap should paint a coherent, measurable story of your product’s direction without getting too mired in the details. Resist the temptation to let it become an overloaded feature list. Have the courage to say no to extraneous work that doesn’t align with your goals. 

Sprint Planning: Inspecting the Trees 

While the roadmap provides the overarching forest view, sprint planning is where you dive into meticulously grooming the particular trees—the user stories, acceptance criteria, and technical tasks to be tackled in each sprint cycle. 

The sprint planning session is a collaborative meeting held to define what work the team will accomplish during that timeframe. The entire Scrum team participates, including the product owner, developers, and Scrum master. 

The product owner presents prioritized items from the product backlog. The team discusses each item, estimating the effort required to complete them. Based on these estimates, the team collaboratively selects a set of items they believe can be realistically delivered within the sprint timeframe. The team also plans how they will work on the chosen items, breaking them down into smaller tasks. 

Sprint planning is a key Agile ceremony where the team reviews designs, dissects requirements, estimates complexity, identifies risks and dependencies, and negotiates a commitment for the next sprint. The output should be a crystal-clear understanding of exactly what will be built. 

Once the sprint begins, uncertainty cannot be tolerated. Sprint commitments must be nailed down, with precise requirements and scope contained within predefined timelines. It’s all about execution and delivery. 

Zooming Between Proximity and Perspective 

An Agile roadmap is a living, dynamic artifact evolved through tight feedback loops with customers and the realities of delivery. As you build the trees in each sprint, you may need to reshape portions of the broader forest vision. 

The roadmap gives you a long-range perspective on the forest, while sprint planning offers an up-close, high-definition lens on individual trees. A skilled product manager must adeptly transition between these two vastly different planes of clarity and abstraction. 

Items loaded into the next couple of sprints demand exacting clarity. However, things farther out on the roadmap can remain fuzzier outlines that come into sharper focus over time. 

Just remember that the roadmap forest is not static. As you learn from building the trees in each sprint, get feedback from users, and adapt to change, the shape of that forest is bound to evolve. And that’s okay! An Agile product roadmap should be a living, dynamic artifact rather than an inflexible set of iron-clad demands. 

At the end of the day, the client calls the shots on which trees get planted and when. Your role is to scan the forest, identify the right clusters of trees that will add value, and work with your team to bring those terrains to life, sprint by sprint, optimizing for delivering impactful working software based on the customer’s shifting vision. 

Andy Hickey

Andy is a Client Success Manager at Taazaa. He has more than 12 years of consulting experience and enjoys helping our clients to make their product ideas a reality.