Why Product Roadmaps Matter More Than Releasing Everything at Once

How can you maximize your potential for true business agility?

Photo by Stephen Dawson. Unsplash. Co-authored with David Wesley

There is a misconception that software is a static product. You build it, you ship it and then you call it a day—or maybe a week or a few months. But for a lot of businesses, it becomes a project that ends up ballooning out longer than the year, potentially blowing the budget before it ever gets released. With this approach there is no true customer/market validation, only speculation; even controlled focus groups often respond differently to reality.

Having a product roadmap and releasing features in iterations can be better for business, in the short and long term. This is because data, and an accurate gauge of market response, can help determine if your software development is going down the correct path.

Why Agile Is So Popular Among Startups

Agile startups are disrupting almost every industry due to their ability to ship quickly and respond to change. It’s a completely different organizational approach and runs on the mentality of getting true customer feedback as quickly as possible.

In order to achieve this goal, the software development process has to deliver at the same speed.

The issue that many businesses, especially established structures, face is that they can’t properly enforce such a high velocity of idea implementation and turnover. Driving the business at high speed can also result in haphazard software getting delivered.

A product roadmap can help solve these two major issues regardless of organizational structure. It gives the business direction without being completely prescriptive, and lets developers understand where the software is expected to go and code accordingly.

Product Roadmaps Should Be Part of Your Strategy

Your business strategies are expected to help achieve your vision. Having a fluid product roadmap is a method that keeps your software development releases focused on the targets.

When you incrementally release product features, you gain more perspective and qualitative data based on customer responses. It lets you prove your hypothesis against real reactions, rather than speculation. When your business has data, it gives you true insight into the reality of your market and how your potential competitors are performing.

A product roadmap is a series of milestone features that make up the completed vision for the software. However, unlike a completely shipped software, the undeveloped parts can be moved around, added to, or discarded based on the responses to previous features.

How Product Roadmaps Can Apply to Any Business

When you release software with a “big bang” approach, your risk of product failure increases. There’s a difference between creating software with core functionality vs. something that encompasses everything on the agenda.

When you develop a core release, business- and software-related issues tend to be smaller, fewer, and much more manageable. The “incompleteness” of the software is only conceptual. What customers actually get is a working product with consistent improvements and upgrades based on their real experiences. This can help build a positive long-term relationship with your users. On the business side, your conceptually incomplete software is delivered in parts, with each part being a stand-alone product or supplementary to a proven revenue-generating concept.

Your return on investment incrementally compounds via software robustness, ability to respond to change, the ability to acid-test for potential cash cows, and a shorter feedback loop.

Final Thoughts

A “big bang” approach is often a riskier method than an Agile release cycle. When the expected results fail to be delivered, the sunk cost of product development is limited to that particular feature release.

Having a product roadmap and releasing products and features against it pushes your organization and work methodologies closer to Agile. The product roadmap acts as a strategic supplement that can change in accordance with market demands.

When you release everything at once, it puts your business in a potentially precarious financial situation where failure is not an option. This is often caused by software that runs overtime or finds itself stuck in a roadblock.

The product roadmap gives you clarity but isn’t as binding as releasing a large piece of software with multiple parts and features to it. Releasing in cycles gives your business and the software less surface area for failure. It also lets you prove which ideas and features will positively impact your metrics.

So be sure to have a product roadmap and de-risk your business by shortening the feedback loop. You can never truly know which ideas will take off until you test them in the market.

Co-authored with Dave Wesley — Founder of SRG “No-Shore” Expert Healthcare Software.

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