Roadmaps cause plenty of debates, admittedly more about their content than their existence. But I believe that by asking our selves who they are for, the rest follows naturally. And not surprisingly, the answer to “who needs roadmaps anyway?” is quite a few, if not everyone.
Roadmaps for everyone!
Your customers want to understand your vision and future direction. But they also need your near term plans to understand when they will get that new product, release or feature. This goes straight into their own schedule for upgrades and introduction of new functionality.
Sales in larger companies create account plans, sales forecasts and provide budget input. Doing so requires an understanding of what sellable items they will get their hands on next. But they also need to know about future plans that open up new markets, or that solve different customer needs that may increase your wallet share.
R&D must make sure that what they design and build today will support what is coming, and not make unnecessary shortcuts that will eliminate any reuse of what is done today.
Product Management needs to structure ideas and plans for the future. Put things in writing and it is a lot easier to discuss both what a feature actually means, and the priority of it. It also opens up for collaboration and discussion within the team. But most importantly, for product management the roadmap is a communications tool. A tool used when talking to customers, sales and R&D.The primary purpose of the roadmap is as a communications tool! #prodmgmt Click To Tweet
At 30 000 feet the roadmap can be said to serve one purpose. To indicate plans and ideas for the future. But we need to remember that our customers, sales teams and R&D have very different needs. Creating one roadmap to provide technical details needed by R&D, while also abstracting it to a level and time frame where your customers feel confidence about your future is not only hard. It is impossible.
TL; DR – keep em’ separate!
As a lot of different people need that roadmap, you need to make sure it is adapted to each audience. Create a shorter term release plan, with dates and technical details. But also create a separate longer term roadmap describing your vision. I subscribe to the idea that this does not even need dates (read more over at ProdPad about this).
Remember that planning is guessing, so what’s the point of dates 2-3 years out when they are deemed to change anyway?