One of the many artifacts a Product Owner is asked to produce is a roadmap for their product. While the strategy tells the high level execution plan and the vision depicts what the product will eventually look like, the roadmap basically tells how the product will get there and approximately when. Pretty straightforward right? Well…not quite. Putting the wrong information in a product roadmap can cause a lot of turmoil for you and your customers. It’s important to provide the right information in your roadmap to generate excitement not anger. Roadmaps are just that, a map of the road the product will take to evolve, grow and mature. Too much detail in a roadmap can cause a lot of havoc as it did in one of my previous jobs.
A Product Owner in my former company developed a roadmap for his product that was very specific and highly detailed. It gave information specifying the exact capabilities a feature would possess and the exact date these new capabilities would be released. He communicated this information not only internally but externally too. Of course, as with any project, things happened where the team could only produce a small set of the promised capabilities. Other capabilities had to wait for a later release….much later release. And because we weren’t practicing agile, the capabilities delivered weren’t necessarily the most valuable ones. When we failed to deliver those valuable features on time to our customers, they became highly upset and started to lose faith in our product and company. The major mistake made here was providing too much detail in the roadmap. And of course not practicing agility to deliver value didn’t help either but that’s a topic for another discussion.
What could have helped here was using a roadmap with just enough detail to get our customers excited about our product rather than fueling their anger. To avoid the “you didn’t deliver these things on this date” problem, use approximations rather than specific dates. State you expect a feature to be released between Q3 and Q4 or even during a season such as summer or winter the following year. Don’t specify exact capabilities that will be delivered. Get your end users more excited about what new value they will receive rather than when they will receive it. Be careful though. You don’t want to wait too long to deliver or they will lose interest. If you’re skeptical about avoiding specific dates, here’s an example for you.
In the spring of 2017, it was announced the release of the video game Red Dead Redemption 2 would be delayed until the spring of 2018. I was really looking forward to its 2017 fall release. Notice the game’s original release was specified for a time of year, fall. No specific dates were provided and the new release date is in the spring. Again no specific dates. Even though there is a delay in releasing the game, I’m so excited about the game itself, I really don’t mind waiting til next year. Despite the fact that it would have really been an awesome birthday present this year! Even so, I don’t know exactly when in the spring of 2018 it will be released. I just know early in 2018 I get to pretend to be a gunslinger in a whole new western adventure. Wouldn’t you rather have this feeling of excitement in your customers than creating a roadmap that makes them angry with you and likely to purchase something else instead?
Finally, review your roadmap regularly based on the product and market maturities as shown below. Constant review of your roadmap will ensure you and your teams are working on the right things and quickly communicating changes.
Diagram courtesy of Roman Pichler
I can say when we incorporated the approximation roadmap approach and reviewed our roadmap frequently according to the product and market maturity levels, we improved our relationship with our customers and our internal staff. We were able to fulfill our goals of delivering features and came closer to hitting our revenue targets. No matter which type of roadmap you choose to use, use one and be vague on purpose about release dates. Your roadmap helps you reach your destination by minimizing frustration, detours and wasted time or effort you’d experience without one. Done right, it keeps your customers happy with anticipation of your upcoming product release.