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Some Industry Practice and Thoughts on Roadmaps

Recently, I signed up for doing an internal talk about roadmaps, and what they are generally all about. I figured this post would be a good start to get myself into crystallizing the message up front.

Keeping in mind, roadmaps are but one component in an extremely complex domain involving many sciences, so this is one of those scratching-the-surface-posts.

Who's saying what out there

Before we start inventing our own wheels, it's nice to review what is the state of roadmaps out there. Perhaps there is some "industry best practice" ;)

So I'll begin by collecting information from the first, best sources I know about.

I happen to follow a couple of product management authorities on Twitter: Melissa Perri and John Cutler. Then recently, our internal head of product recently pointed out Roman Pichler. Finally, there's the venerable Marty Cagan who I reckoned has written a thing or two about roadmaps, and that was indeed the case.

Note that each of these have published lots of more writing and even books on the surrounding subjects of product management, but here I've just gone through what I could quickly find online, going roughly from older to more recent:

Marty Cagan

... has written a lot of seminal work on the topic, and these are the ones I quickly found have to do with roadmaps in particular:

In Product Roadmaps (Jan 2009), he lays down some foundations and terminology that just makes sense, like what a product roadmap is, the product strategy that needs to be behind it, and so on. He points out the danger of getting lost in feature requests, wishing we'll focus more on simpler, higher level plans of delivering user value. Sounds wise!

In The Alternative to Roadmaps (Sep 2015) and the correlating FAQ, he repeats the issues of traditional feature focus, and goes deeper into the underlying causes that bring teams in that direction. He suggests The Product Vision combined with Business Objectives (recommending OKRs in particular), while concrete tasks go to the Product Backlog.

Roman Pichler

Being a trainer, he offers sound basics and easy-to-understand frameworks as preparation for his strategy and roadmap course (see the Prerequisites and Prep Work section), and he has a collection of blog posts online on the subject, and books.

He repeats Cagan's plea to focus on outcomes (using the words goals and benefits), and shares some very neat templates. Fit the roadmap in between the strategy and backlog, and keep it simple. I really do like Pichler's structured and simple way of explaining the material, plus the tips for getting buy-in.

Melissa Perri

... wrote Rethinking the Product Roadmap (May, 2014), also suggesting we replace the traditional, over-filled, over-detailed roadmaps. She thoroughly illustrates the current issues, and suggests the Problem Roadmap to remedy. I understand problem here as being the inverse or negated form of outcome/objectives/goals/benefits mentioned earlier. She also suggests a quarterly cycle to explore/validate the problem at hand.

In Effective Product Roadmaps (Feb, 2017), Perri refines the approach and gives some very solid examples of what a better roadmap could be. Adding context (vision, challenge, target condition) on top, she picks up the term theme (which Cagan also mentioned has caused some confusion in product management history), and applies it to individual areas that have hypothesis/outcomes. Each theme can also be in a particular stage: Discovery or Delivery. Finally, she imagines this roadmap being part of a cross-team Portfolio Roadmap.

She recently published a very interesting sounding book called Escaping the Build Trap.

John Cutler

... is a prolific writer on the subject, often tracing the discussion back to systems thinking and organizational, cultural aspects.

A Map from Goals, Around Assumptions, Through Tasks, Towards Results (Sep, 2016) introduces a structured expression of Because/By/While/Without, suggesting that solutions are recursively problems (with finer solutions). It reminds me a bit of User Stories, forcing us to think about The Why.

He advises how to Stop Setting Up Product Roadmaps To Fail (Apr, 2016).

He repeats the sentiment that the others have made before him: Keep Features Off Your Roadmap (Feb, 2017)

And a big collection of thought-provoking 40 Roadmap Item Questions (Mar, 2018)

The need for a "solid roadmap that everyone understands" is a race to the bottom on some level (twitter thread from Dec, 2018).


So, that's about what I have time for reading up on in advance of my talk, so I'll end the post there. Let me know if I definitely missed some important sources on what roadmaps are all about!

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