How do you get an edTech product over the finish line on time—and on budget? Why, develop an incredible product development timeline, of course!
No matter what tool you use to plan or create, your product timeline has everything your team needs to stay on track. This includes:
- Major project milestones
- Links to deliverables
- Roles and responsibilities
- Due dates for feedback, design, content, and more
Because they’re the best tool for keeping your team focused and on task, it’s important to spend the time to make timelines right. Whether you’re an experienced product owner or leading a team for the first time, here’s what you should know about developing an edTech product timeline your entire team can count on.
4 Things Every Strong edTech Product Timeline Should Do
Project timelines are an easily overlooked element of edTech product design, but they contain a real blueprint for success. (Plus, it’s disastrous when you don’t have them!)
Here are the four things your product timeline should do:
1. Reflect Real Milestones and Dates
Begin by brainstorming the needs and priorities of both your users and your team. This will help you align on deliverables, feedback sessions, and overall constraints or parameters for your schedule. Even a tentative launch date gives you something to work backwards from to begin your road map.
Here are a few considerations to keep in mind as you begin building out your calendar:
- Product launch dates
- School calendars and buying cycles
- Internal initiatives, from annual reports to conferences
- The needs and priorities of your minimum viable product (MVP)
- Whether you’ve already conducted user experience research (UXR)
From recruiting for user interviews to working around vacation schedules, a thousand different variables can affect your milestone dates.
Not sure whether you have the right deliverables on the timeline? Set a meeting to hash it all out with your product owner and make sure everyone on your team is aligned with the final results.
Is it still unclear how long it will take a specific team to turn around their part of the project? Get an estimate and refine the timeline from there. The fewer assumptions you make about milestones and timing the better.
2. Consider Availability & Resources
As with most design projects, the biggest factors impacting your timeline will be money and people. For example, you’ll have to build in time for your edTech product stakeholders to review and approve work. It should be clear from the outset who provides feedback and how much time they need for review.
Similarly, other schedules or constraints around workflow can eat into your timeline. Share your team’s out of office dates with the project manager as soon as possible, so the timeline reflects availability.
And don’t forget to consider the impact of other decisions, including contracting out work and methodology. For example, is your designer working with a new illustration resource? Is your developer exploring a new workflow? Pad your timeline to account for new people and new methods.
3. Use the Budget as a Guide
Once your team has a strong understanding of how the budget affects features and other priorities, it’s easier to make strategic decisions about your learning tool.
Typically, a larger product budget means you’ll have more time to iterate and design. A smaller budget means your entire team will need to move quickly. Does your timeline accurately reflect the budget?
4. Give Everyone Access
Product timelines shouldn’t be a mystery. If you’ve just finished the first draft of your timeline, schedule a walk-through to discuss it with your entire team.
Be sure to share the document across internal and external teams, refer to it regularly, and format it in a way that’s easy for many different people to understand. You may even want to try out different versions of the same timeline in different formats to see what works best for you and your team. (More about choosing a format below!)
Keep your timeline handy throughout the product development process, too. This way, you can re-share it in emails or include bullet point reminders about milestones as needed.
After all, the timeline ultimately tracks current process and progress. It indicates where the project is in real time—and which dates or milestones have changed to accommodate new user research findings, design challenges, or shifting priorities.
Example edTech Product Timelines
edTech product timelines take many different shapes and forms. From spreadsheets to fully designed Miro boards, the most important quality of a timeline is that it works for your team—and your project.
Miro is design software that supports meetings, product work, and more. In terms of product timelines, it’s easy to map out each deliverable on Miro. If you’re working on a product that involves many milestones, or you need a way to collaboratively develop a timeline, this is a great option. Because it’s incredibly visual, it’s easier to align your team on each step of discovery or concepting work.
Asana supports agile design frameworks exceptionally well. Agile product design uses the requirements for your MVP as a starting point and works backwards, identifying all the milestones it takes to reach the finish line.
This planning software also provides different views of your timeline, from a list of milestones to a kanban view. Kanban timelines, which reflect tasks that are either upcoming, in-process, blocked, or done, might work especially well for teams that are comfortable with ticketing systems like Jira.
Last but not least, Asana also allows you to add dependencies to tasks, which is helpful for both internal and external stakeholders. When dependencies cause a slow-down, Asana automatically updates your product development timeline across stages. So helpful!
There’s nothing wrong with a good, old-fashioned spreadsheet. If your edTech product timeline is straight-forward, this is a great tool to use to help your stakeholders know when design or content is ready for review. Spreadsheets are also incredibly useful if deadlines are moving hour-by-hour, especially as the engineering team becomes involved.
Whether you use a custom spreadsheet or fancy planning software, your timeline is the place to house a list of your deliverables, including links to your edTech product designs. Designed well, your product development timeline is the one-stop shop for everything related to your project.
What to Do When Your edTech Product Timeline Changes
Panic! Just kidding. Knowing that your edTech product development timeline will shift is like knowing the sun will rise in the east. It’s inevitable. And, if your team is used to working in an agile framework, they already know that milestones will likely change.
From a product planning standpoint, it’s crucial to allow for revisions to the timeline from the very beginning. Pad, pad, pad those milestones with extra time. As your project manager tracks turnaround times and deliverables, it’s also important to realign with your team as changes occur. Whether you schedule a Slack message or send a follow-up email, make sure everyone is on the same page.
Even as you make room for changes, remember that your timeline is a kind of contract with your external teams. It tracks feedback rounds, dependencies, and deliverables—all of which affect scope and budget. The more deliverables that move within your timeline, the further back you may have to push your potential launch date. And the more of your project budget you eat up with changes!
As the project continues, review and re-evaluate your timeline at least every two weeks. Is everyone on your team meeting their deliverable due dates? How about those feedback and review sessions? You might be excited and anxious to see your edTech product hit the shelves, but it’s more important to be realistic about time and resources. That’s what a product timeline is for!
Whatever shape your timeline takes, it’s a vital project planning tool. Not only will it help you keep your edTech product on track, it’s also a quick and easy way to communicate with your team about needs, deadlines, and next steps. Happy planning!
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