Product Tales: René Descartes and the art of Building Product Roadmap

I think, therefore I am — René Descartes


Literature on product management is widespread and has varied opinions. Naturally so because each company found out success of the product by taking its own path. Yet in all of this literature one core competency is almost always listed as make or break for building career in product management — ability to build a rock solid product roadmap. Your product roadmap must be…

  1. Lucid and aligned: make instant and profound connect with your stakeholders
  2. Impact driven: specify clearly and objectively customer problems being solved
  3. Enduring and resilient: anticipate and address trends of future
  4. Unique: think of leaving your signature — look inwards.


Now that we know what a good product roadmap looks like how do we go about building one? To answer this I am going to seek help from the renowned french philosopher whom I have quoted at the beginning of this write-up. René Descartes laid out ( in his work “Method of Reasoning”) 4 simple steps that he used to “effect a severance of the true from the false”.

The problems:

Step 1:Never accept anything for true, carefully to avoid precipitancy and prejudice and to comprise nothing more in my judgement than what was presented to my mind so clearly and distinctly as to exclude all ground of doubt.

  1. Leave out your baggage and don’t take it from others either.
  2. Do your user research, experiment a lot and deeply empathise with your users to arrive at key pain points.
  3. Eliminate biases and assumptions: Keep asking your self at every problem discovery —”What assumption did I make? Which of the bias-sins did I commit?”
  4. Know your metrics so deep that they should establish the pain beyond doubt ( or at least at reasonable confidence).
  5. Make an effort to know your product inside out.

The solves:

Step 2: to divide each of the difficulties under examination into as many parts as possible and as might be necessary for its adequate solution.

  1. Breakdown the pain points: Create a mind map of each customer pain point.
  2. Keep refining your hypothesis as you dig deeper into metrics.
  3. List out as many ways as possible to solve the customer pain points- keep asking yourself “Is there any other way?” till the point you are exhausted. Then go to as many stakeholders as possible and ask them “Is there any other way?” till you reach saturation.

The priorities:

Step 3: to conduct my thoughts in such order that, by commencing with objects the simplest and easiest to know, I might ascend by little and little and as it were, step by step, to the knowledge of the more complex; assigning in thought a certain order even to those objects which in their own nature do not stand in a relation of antecedence and sequence.

  1. Identify quick wins to build momentum: Remember quick AND win both are essential.
  2. Have pegging order to every solve: Connect as many objective points as possible to prioritise and then have razor sharp focus and do ruthless pruning.
  3. Make sure the solves are leading upto something big — the one that might qualify for press release
  4. Keep running through the solves in your head even before they are actually solved — friction must always reduce.

The reviews:

Step 4: In every case to make enumerations so complete and reviews so general that I might be assured that nothing was omitted

  1. Look at the roadmap and repeatedly ask yourself these 2 questions…
  • Is it the right product?
  • Am I getting the product right?
  1. If possible take your priorities to your customers — look for proxy ways such as surveys, interviews to validate the roadmap.
  2. Believe in peer and stakeholder review: Arrange for walkthroughs of your roadmap, don’t be afraid of feedbacks however harsh they may be.
  3. Envision your metric dashboard — see if , when half way through your roadmap, it will make you smile or frown.

Finally, don’t forget to leave your signature on the roadmap. Look inwards to identify unique touches you can give to your roadmap. Finally a quote that will summarise why roadmap is so important…

Those in whom the faculty of reason is predominant and who most skillfully dispose their thoughts with a view to render them clear and intelligible, are always the best able to persuade others of the truth of what they lay down, though they should speak only in the language of Lower Brittany, and be wholly ignorant of the rules of rhetoric; and those whose minds are stored with the most agreeable fancies, and who can give expression to them with the greatest embellishment and harmony, are still the best poets, though unacquainted with the art of poetry.



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