“The issue is that anytime you put a list of ideas on a document entitled ‘roadmap,’ no matter how many disclaimers you put on it, people across the company will interpret the items as a commitment.”  — Marty Cagan


Dear all

In the few decades that I have worked with product and IT teams, both as a Product Management Executive and Consultant and Coach, one topic that keeps haunting me is roadmaps.

For most of my life, roadmaps have been mistaken for plans. I could not agree more with Marty Cagan; once you put something on a roadmap, discussions immediately focus on „when.“

This „when“ is because someone or some department ties their hopes – and possibly a commitment to their management – for a particular impact to this item. Sales bets on more revenue from implementing a feature, Ops hopes for some efficiencies from another one, and so on. For the same reason, everyone is vying for their ideas to be prioritized for implementation and a „when“ on the roadmap.

There are a few things that could be improved with such an approach.

A lack of focus: at any given time, diverging features must be built. One for Sales, one for Ops;… This slows development and dilutes the business impact.

More often than not, there is a direct line from a demand to a feature without validating its business outcome. So if the outcome is not happening, the feature needs to be revisited or replaced.

As a result, items slip regularly. Features take longer to implement or need to be fixed. Demands and ideas never stop. Priorities get reshuffled. 

Consequently, everybody is continuously dissatisfied, frustrated, and stressed out.

So, what needs to change? In my view, roadmaps need to „move up a level.“

Roadmaps should be used as visualizations for strategic plans outlining business objectives and supporting product initiatives over three horizons. „Now“ – often denoting the upcoming quarter – „Next“ and „Later.“

Agreed, certain, detailed, and plannable in the near term (Now). A basis for a qualified discussion in the mid-term (Next), more tentative priorities, and an idea-collection for the longer-term (Later) horizon.

Focused, specific, and measurable business objectives must be agreed upon for each horizon, particularly the „Now,“ as the starting point for determining product initiatives. From these initiatives, features are derived and prioritized based on a detailed understanding of needs, technical feasibility, and, ultimately, capacity.

Based on this, an implementation plan can be developed for the near-term (Now) that ties back to business objectives and strategy. The form of the plan will depend on the delivery model (Agile, project-based, …)

Distinguishing between roadmaps and plans has clear benefits: Roadmaps become a malleable basis for strategic discussions, starting with an agreement on business objectives. Implementation plans offer robust details for a limited and manageable time horizon.

Today’s reads provide some more food for thought on this.

Product Roadmaps vs. Product Plans

Saeed Khan dives into their different purposes and how to leverage them.

Click to view!

Why I Invented the Now-Next-Later Roadmap

Janna Bastow explains why the Now-Next-Later format is the better choice

Click to view!

Enjoy the hot summer weekend!