Are you sure you know what a product roadmap is?

Recently I’ve had a long conversation with a client about our product roadmap. One thing we talked about was the content of the roadmap and the way it was communicated across the business. That led me to the conclusion that there is a widespread confusion between a product roadmap and a release plan, two totally different things that are often mistaken for each other. Therefore, expectations are set and not met, because of misunderstanding the purpose of the roadmap, creating confidence and trust issues along the way.

Is it really a roadmap or something else?

For some inexplicable reason, the definition of the roadmap seems blurry and different roles within a business consider it to be a different thing. For example, marketers think about the roadmap in an entirely different way from developers or designers. Speaking about technical people, the most common misunderstanding is the rendering of the roadmap into a list of technical features, because generally technical people are heavily involved in the whole process of the product delivery. Therefore, it is quite common to build a release plan with a detailed series of low level technical tickets, without looking at the big picture.

What is a roadmap exactly?

The roadmap is a simple and clear high level overview of the vision and goals regarding the product. It is usually very graphical and it depicts all the deliverables in a timeline format. Its content gives answers questions about what needs to be done and why and what key objectives need to be established for it to be successful. Its structure includes key milestones and deliverables, detected risks and dependencies.

Ideally, this powerful tool should be reflecting all relevant teams and everyone involved should have a solid understanding of those objectives. That said, decision making becomes much easier and quicker, having a common point of reference. Expectations are driven by the roadmap details, hence there are no conflicts between different roles with different perspectives within the team.

So, is the roadmap set in stone?

Hell, no. The roadmap is an evolving part of the project, designed to change in terms of scope and timings, if need be. Unpredictable factors may affect it, inevitably setting release dates behind schedule or scoping out certain aspects of the product. In any case, the team needs to be accurately informed and refer to this valuable tool frequently, in order to keep up with the changes.

Wrapping up

Getting the right type and amount of information into the roadmap is key to a project’s success. There’s a whole lot of other powerful tools that can take care of the rest.

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