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Is it a Map or a Compass? Product Roadmap

Product roadmaps hold great promise – they are crystal balls that predict the future, make everything right by the world. A choir of angels speaks through a product roadmap.

There’s one thing that product roadmaps don’t do – they don’t hold up. They fall apart at the slightest introduction of heat. Even product roadmaps built in “extremely realistic” circumstances are no better than an approximation of what really happens. Does that sound dismal? it doesn’t have to – the important part is to know this about roadmaps. They shift, they move, they need constant care.

It is possible to make use of roadmaps but it’s imprtant to think of them, on some level, as a compass. Imagine a topo-map having you head “generally in this direction” .

Way back in 2009 Josh Naylor wrote about the difference between “compass people” and “map people” in terms of leadership.It’s a good read. The same principles can be applied to product development. He emphasizes knowing the goals and objectives but not being particular about the exact, step by step approach to getting there. Very leadership-y huh? When managing teams this is important too. If you have your (boring/tedious) user stories and your goals and objectives – then how you get there shouldn’t be too rigid.

“But there are standards” you say. Yes, there are standards. Those are the bedrock of any team. Process too is important. But flexiblity is reality and anything that’s not flexible at all will break – especially in technology. So you’ve got to see the forest for the trees here and keep your approach focused on the user, focused on the objectives – not on the path itself.

“We’ve got deadlines, We’ve got investors, We’ve got goals!!” you roar. Hey, no one said we’re pointing the compass and not actually moving toward the goal. No one said notto even bother with roadmaps and goals … those are all good.

Think of it like this – the compass is the intent. The roadmap is a method just let the conditions of the roard, or the weather or the feedback from your users determine the next right or left turn – don’t write that in stone.

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