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  • Jeff Cloutier

Product Roadmaps are the Gazetteers to Success!

Business Management Truth: Product road maps are the Gazetteers for Success. Follow the road map and ask for directions!

Most organizations create some sort of product road map as part of their strategic plan. But, the importance placed on a product road map varies across the global marketplace. Some companies limit the use to internal meetings and select customer discussions. Other organizations use the road map as their planning cornerstone and leverage it value during public earnings calls. Road maps can provide that necessary bridge between today's reality and tomorrow possibilities. It's difficult to talk about long-term goals without the road map to articulate the path to realization. Still, how companies employ and leverage product road maps varies as much as the companies themselves.

Leveraging product road maps as a central operating tool improves and aligns the business overall. A sound product road map is important for almost every functional area and business management imperative:

  1. Management & HR use the road map to plan resource needs.

  2. Product Managers use the road map to lay out operational plans.

  3. Marketing uses the road map to craft launch plans around product completion estimates.

  4. Sales managers use the road map to plan customer communications.

  5. Customer services uses the road map to answer questions on solution timing.

  6. Executives release forecasts based on expected roadmap delivery.

Your battles inspired me - not the obvious material battles but those that were fought and won behind your forehead. - James Joyce

It's also critical to drive broad organizational involvement in road map creation and curation. Essential data can come from the most unexpected places. Plus, your teams are more likely to support a collaborative plan than one handed down from the rafters. A Product road maps is an organizational plan and not just a development checklist.

But one must be careful to ensure the ‘issues-of-the-day’ (customer complaints, market sound bites) doesn't divert the product portfolio focus. Product road map management must include both a bottoms-up and top down approach. Temper reactive endeavors with proactive ones. It’s important to include feedback such as customer service complaints, suggestion emails, etc. But, it’s equally important to align with strategic imperatives such as company vision, strategic plans, macro-market analysis, cross business unit synergies, etc. A product road map can't be so focused on the near-term battle that is looses the war.

Contrary to popular belief, deciding what to include on the road map is easy. It's deciding what NOT to include on the road map that's difficult. This is the toughest decision (and responsibility) of a business's leadership team. Fulfilling this responsibility is guaranteed to disappoint a few of the stakeholders, but ensures you’ll keep product road maps on a sound strategic track.

​Granted, a product road map takes time and resources to create and maintain. Sound business management and strategy doesn't come free. But, most organizations realize a noteworthy ROI through organizational alignment and improved effectiveness.

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