The best roadmap isn't a big effort
The roadmap has become one of the most commonly requested—yet frequently misunderstood—documents in the product manager’s arsenal. However, for many product managers, the roadmap is an annoyance that must be changed constantly.
The best roadmap is a report, not an effort.
Executives use roadmaps as a product status report. Developers use them to sequence work. Sales and marketing people use them to forecast (and sometimes pre-sell) upcoming deliverables.
Also, customers rely on your roadmap for indications of your plans—current and future. For many, their purchase is a multi-year commitment and it’s reasonable to see how your direction aligns with theirs. And I’ve always found customers quite willing to share their plans in a discussion of your roadmap.
There are many new roadmapping tools available today but the most prevalent is still Microsoft PowerPoint. Many product managers continually modify their static roadmap, often adapting it to each customer scenario.
And all roadmaps seem to be marked confidential.
Confidential roadmaps are rarely confidential
Confidentiality is a funny concept. A search for “confidential roadmap” quickly reveals hundreds of roadmaps including this nice one for Zimbra from 2016. Let’s assume “Confidential” was just part of the default template and this slide wasn’t really intended to be kept secret.
The Zimbra roadmap is pretty; it’s clearly just a few bullets over a roadmap graphic in PowerPoint—which is a fairly common technique these days. It would serve as a nice discussion tool without revealing too much detail. This is safe.
What’s disturbing is the roadmap that goes the other way—providing details of specific development plans.
(Here’s a fun search string: “Confidential roadmap site:yourcompetitor.com”)
Avoid specific dates
Many teams create a roadmap comprised of every story with planned delivery dates—dates which are often aggressive. Meaning, “this is when we hope we’ll deliver it,” without really taking into account velocity or bandwidth or other priorities.
These types of roadmaps have two problems: they overcommit your available resources and they leave little room for adjusting your plans based on new commitments.
Johnson’s Rule of Resourcing: We’ve allocated 100% of our resources to the roadmap. We’ll use the other 100% for special requests.
Dates in roadmaps are an illusion.
We’ve taken a different approach. The Under10 Playbook roadmap is a report of your actual plans, not a graphic of dreams. Our roadmap format shows items that were recently delivered, those that will be released soon, items we’ll work on next, and those planned for the future.
(This roadmap prepared by Under10 Playbook. Get yours today.)
The key for future deliverables is no dates. We honestly have no idea when we’ll work on these planned items—we heard the requests, we have them on our list, we haven’t forgotten them. But we’re not working on them yet —and until we do, we won’t have details on the effort and can’t estimate delivery.
However, future items can be prioritized. And any high priority items can be fast-tracked, moving from ‘future’ to ‘next’ to ‘soon’ very quickly. That’s why we don’t want to commit 100% of the team to communicated roadmap deliverables—we want to be able to adjust our near- and long-term plans based on changing market conditions.
The great part about a roadmap report is it always reflects your current plans so it’s never out of date. And you don’t have to scramble to prepare it—since it’s a report, it’s always ready.
The roadmap is a key deliverable in product status or vision presentations. Communicate what you know but limit the details on your stretch goals.
Rethink how you use your roadmap. Make it a report of what’s planning for delivery soon, next, and in the future.