What do you understand by the term ‘product roadmap’? There are lots of definitions, some narrow and some broad, some internally focused and some market- or customer-focused. And how detailed should a product roadmap be? Should it pin your detailed colours to the mast, or should it be high level, allowing you room for manoeuvre?

I think that over time B2B customers have become somewhat desensitised towards product roadmaps. This is especially true in the software industry where the sheer complexity and number of moving parts, combined with the influences of individual customers, conspire to make roadmap projections aspirational at best and at worst downright misleading and fictional.

The pressures on the business in a dynamic landscape are changing all the time, and I’ve seen businesses where products or product enhancements have arrived 2 or 3 years after they were advertised to come on stream.

But back to product roadmap definitions. The one I use when asked this question defines a product roadmap as a plan of product or platform developments, delivered through a release mechanism – which could be a few or several times a year – through properly managed projects and programmes. After all, you’ve got to be sure that all the parts of the business can fulfil their element of the whole product solution. In other words, the roadmap should really be about when new releases are delivery ready, not sales ready. By all means seed the market, and build the demand to allow for the natural lag of a sales cycle, but publish your roadmap based around genuine availability.

Customers love to see detailed roadmaps, but only if you actually can commit to the associated timings, otherwise the trust quickly evaporates. Just like in sales, you’re only as good as your last quarter. Software development never seems to build in any buffer for the inevitable bumps in the road – probably because the front of the business is pushing for the earliest possible delivery date – and when those bumps occur, it’s very hard to get back on track. That’s why I fall back on the principle of under-promise and over-deliver to customers, and pushing back to the business. The customer comes first, so I’m in favour of high level roadmap pronouncements that strike the right balance between demonstrating progress and allowing wiggle room, so you can be on time, on brief, and maybe even on budget.

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