Let’s talk Product Roadmapping! No, not the boring ins and outs of how it works or what it is, but rather the debate around whether it’s even useful or not, and why maybe it’s time to break up and move on.
The widely used method - designed as a visual timeline for a project plan - is so built into a ‘universal’ work process in the business world, that its existence isn’t often questioned. Like all ingrained norms and patterns, it sometimes takes awhile to ask the very simple question: what is the point of this? It’s no wonder most idea management software still includes it as a feature.
Admittedly, we also had roadmap features while building Pondr, but ultimately ditched it in the end because we aren’t convinced they work. Who do roadmaps serve? Are they really beneficial for discovery or is it all smoke and mirrors to make a boss, customer or stakeholder happy? It’s time to demystify the process; here are our top 5 reasons to make roadmapping a thing of the past:
Using a timeline as a template to predict the course of a product’s development is as absurd as asking a travel photographer to provide a detailed description of each photograph they plan to take on their road trip. How could they possibly predict what they will come into contact with? What exciting encounters would they miss out on if their lens was only focused on capturing a predetermined image?
Unless you have done the exact project before, and travelled the same path, it’s bold to assume you can forecast the course of anything in the future. There will always be circumstances beyond your control. This does not mean you are clueless about your process, but rather in tune with the rhythms of uncertainty.
When you pretend to know what you’ll be doing months from now, you are setting yourself up for false expectations and difficult conversations. A roadmap is a commitment; it is essentially a set of promises you are making, and when you inevitably need to change course or switch gears, you’re left with stress and guilt. Creating guaranteed dates for when tasks will be completed is short term thinking, based on good intentions rather than reality. This is not a case of failing your to-do list, but remaining flexible and open.
Life is fluid, and we know that change is the only true constant in life. Our cumulative experience found roadmaps were also in flux, with new ideas and problems always cropping up. Building rigid frameworks around the creative process doesn’t leave any room for efficient tactics such as responding to fast-paced change in the market, taking advantage of unforeseen opportunities that arise or asking the right questions when they need to be asked.
A question you might be asking is, "aren’t dates and deadlines an absolute necessity for carrying out a project?" Each process requires a specific method; a product roadmap is not a project plan, just like a product-led company is not an agency. Understanding this difference, and the purpose of your company, is vital. Your release plan should deal with delivery coordination, and should not be clumped together with the discovery process. Removing the roadmap doesn’t necessarily mean you have to throw out all important dates or milestones, it just means you don’t have to assign each detail a deadline. We suggest giving yourself options and choices; instead of a timeline, think 6 week development increments and then assess where you are.
Times are changing, and it’s important not to get left behind with archaic ways of doing things, such as treating employees like they are high school students who need to be monitored. Part of this old boss/employee mentality is the idea that you have to see every detail of a plan to trust it will happen, or thinking that a deadline encourages more efficient results. The reality is much the opposite, and time constraints only foster tech-debt, poor decisions and exhaustion. The real value lies in the bigger picture, in discovery over delivery, and smart management teams and investors know this.