As organizations focus more on agile development there is an ongoing discussion of product roadmaps and their purpose. Some believe that truly agile teams developing software products don’t need roadmaps. Others have dozens of product roadmaps for the same products and on a weekly basis customize their roadmap for customers and prospects. Then of course there is the rest of the world where there are hardware and service products.
Needless to say product professionals are not happy with their roadmaps. This disappointment is for good reason since most of the time roadmaps are done poorly and done in a manner that does not have a clear purpose. They are less visionary and more instructional.
Product roadmap frustration is often attributed to the mixed purpose and expectations of roadmaps. Roadmaps are used to:
- Drive more existing customer sales or new customer acquisition by sales;
- Gain funding for teams and products by executives;
- Drive cross-team communication tool by project managers;
- Drive to calm customer frustration by customer service;
- Gain startup funding by CEO’s and CFO’s;
- Drive cohesive engineering by development managers.
These are all valid uses of a product roadmap. However, maintaining dozens of product roadmaps is challenging and time consuming and results in wasted effort.
There are many different theories on product roadmaps. My belief is that it is best to keep roadmaps simple and there should be: 1) a visionary roadmap that is used to tell the high level product vision and this can be used by executives, sales, and others; and 2) a detailed roadmap that is a communicative tool to provide precise detail on items being released, timing, and launch information and this can be used by sales, customer service reps, and others to help provide that detail. These roadmaps should be updated together and reviewed at least quarterly.
Some people believe in having external and internal versions of the roadmap. I am a believer in not doing this as it again complicates things. You should be of the belief that your product roadmap is something that will be seen by competitors and this should not scare you but instead scare your competitors.
Visionary Roadmap: The visionary product roadmap should provide the following insights:
- High-level product vision and value: This is not a one-line mission statement but should concisely state the product status and vision. Think product elevator pitch here.
- Key product differentiations: This should focus on the key places where your product is differentiated from competitors either positively or negatively. While you certainly do not show how you underperform your competitor but ideally you either take it and address as future enhancement.
- Upcoming key product advancements: This item should focus on key product enhancements being implemented. The enhancements should flow together with the product vision and clearly align.
Detailed Roadmap: The detailed product roadmap should communicate the same information as the visionary roadmap above but also provide:
- Product release detail: Provide detailed information of upcoming releases and how they provide value.
- Product launch: Provide detail about upcoming product launches and information about customer rollout and support.
- Technology detail: Provide detailed information related to technology and platform.
The creation of product roadmaps not only requires careful written language and accompanying graphics but also requires honesty and provides real expectations that you and your team should believe in delivering upon. My belief is that product roadmaps should be anywhere from 2 to 3 years in length generally. Although it is not uncommon in some industries where product investment is extremely capital intensive to require 5 year or longer roadmaps.
Take this advice to heart and update your product roadmaps today and consolidate as appropriate. Understand that a great product roadmap is like a fine painting that you get the benefit of updating. Most of all use your roadmap to be visionary and communicate between your internal stakeholders and external customers.
Have an awesome week and remember to do something today to supercharge your success.
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