A product or portfolio roadmap is a key tool in planning, looking beyond your current product deliverables to months and years ahead. But a roadmap can also be a helpful tool with sales people, prospects, and customers.
I once saw a presentation with a clever logic diagram for sharing the roadmap:
- Do you want to delay your sale? If yes, then show the roadmap.
- Do you want to delay the next release? If yes, then show the roadmap.
- Anything else? Don’t show the roadmap.
Some companies do not share roadmaps. They want you to buy what they have now. They don’t want you to defer your purchase waiting for the “next big thing.” Apple is particularly closed-mouthed about future plans so journalists, bloggers, and analysts try to guess, as shown here:
(I like the logos on the left, don’t you? And I can just see their sales people saying, “Hmmm, iPhone 5s shows in the beginning of 3Q, so that’s sometime in May, right?”)
Companies like Apple keep their internal plans internal.
But many companies, particularly startups, find sharing the roadmap is a great way to promote and validate their innovation plans. Obviously you cannot do everything at once so a roadmap shows your market that you’re thinking beyond the current development iterations.
Existing customers want to know where you’re going so they can make their own plans. Which technologies and major capabilities can they expect this year and next? How will changes in your architecture affect their own plans? The same is true for potential clients; they want to see you’re in sync with their plans.
However, be very cautious of guarantees. Plans change; commitments change; market conditions change. And resources get reallocated. So the more your colleagues and your clients think the roadmap is committed, the more frustration you cause for product management, development, sales and marketing.
A roadmap isn’t a substitute for delivery. Many times, sales teams are frustrated by the slow pace of development so they sell “futures” hoping to persuade clients to buy now instead of waiting. They sell the roadmap as a commitment, not a plan. A roadmap, just like a sales forecast, is a plan that will likely change.
Most product leaders ultimately conclude the need for two roadmaps: one for internal use, shared with executives and development teams, and the other for external use, shared with sales people, analysts, and clients. The internal roadmap has more detail and more specific dates; the external roadmap offers major themes spread across quarters or half-years.
Even more ambiguous is the “now and later” roadmap. For example, this “roadmap” reveals current projects, near-term projects, and future projects. (Nice!)
The likelihood of change increases as plans move beyond the current set of work. Agile teams can be fairly confident in what’s in the current iteration or sprint, and perhaps the next few iterations, but next year? Who knows? But for your current plans to have any meaning, you have to know where you’re going with a rough idea of how you’re going to get there.
The roadmap is a planning tool that blocks out the next 18-36 months. Give a summary in some form to your external audiences so they can see your plans. Or you’ll find your sales people and customers making stuff up (and that won’t be good!).