There are many people in the product development community who would prefer that the concept of a product roadmap fade away. Others see product roadmaps as an inevitable consequence of a company’s increasing market success. So let’s start by taking a closer look at product roadmaps.
Product Roadmap Defined
Product roadmaps are a visual representation of a series of planned product development activities which depict future product releases on either a calendar or rolling-year basis. Given the long duration product roadmaps often span across several future development cycles. The planned work efforts, commonly called releases or epics, typically reflect high-level deliverables.
How Are Product Roadmaps Used?
Roadmaps can be used many ways but most organizations utilize product roadmaps in order to ensure internal alignment between the product manager and/or product owner, internal stakeholders and team members. Product roadmaps are also used to ensure appropriate resource planning and performance measurement. Externally product roadmaps can be used to manage customer and key external stakeholder expectations.
Is There Only One Type of Product Roadmap?
As a result of these many possible uses organizations often create two product roadmap variants; internal and external. Internal roadmaps address the needs of key constituents inside the organization while external roadmaps tend to be less aggressive and are intended to effectively manage the communication process with the sales organization, partners, suppliers and the customer-base.
Additionally, company’s frequently create technology roadmaps which illustrate specific technology platforms that might be impacted by planned market-facing or internal activities. These types of roadmaps help all parties involved gain insight into resource allocation requirements and are often used to align the market-facing product teams with technology teams to ensure appropriate synchronization in both team’s activities.
What Does A Good Product Roadmap Do?
A robust product roadmap does several things well:
- Outlines a clear plan – with well-understood resource requirements – which have been agreed to with the executive team
- Serves as a visual guide to the planned releases in order to improve communication and coordination with internal stakeholders and the market
- Ensures appropriate alignment with an existing product strategy
- Sets an expectation that changes to the plan “might” occur as a product roadmap is inherently future-facing and therefore subject to this risk
Why Do Customers Value Product Roadmaps?
Customers value roadmaps because they want to make sure that a company is continually investing in their products. Roadmaps serve as a tangible way for customers to understand the level of investment in your product’s development. As such, they view roadmaps as concrete and immutable commitments.
Failure to effectively execute undermines the trust that customers (individually and collectively) have in you and your company. This is a common mistake that may organizations make – not effectively managing customer expectations and being too overly aggressive in telling customers what they want to hear and not backing these perceived commitments up with successful execution.
Back To Where We Started
So this brings us back to where we started. Do we really need product roadmaps? Arguments can be made on both sides. However, ultimately it all boils down to customers. While organizations may want to eliminate roadmaps – customers will continue to insist upon them as they remain the best way clients have to understand what your company is investing in, the level of your financial commitment to your product’s evolution, and how effective your organization is at addressing customer needs.
Roadmaps are not a perfect solution and product development organizations are often their own worst enemies by putting in place product roadmaps that are poorly resourced and not effectively calibrated to what the organization can truly accomplish. This sets the stage for customer disappointment.
As long as customers continue to clamor for them market-facing product roadmaps will continue to be produced. Can you blame them?
Advancing the Profession of Product Management™