Roadmap reality check

  • 6 August 2022
  • 7 replies
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Userlevel 3
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I’m looking for some feedback around an ebook I’m writing.  I’d value your votes for a real world honest view on how organized your product plans are.  Vote here please. 🙏🏻

 



 


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Userlevel 6
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Hey @e_jenkins77


As a fan, I’ve been following you since you appeared here on Product Makers (and, of course, already voted). This is an interesting topic, for sure. Throughout my time in product management, one of the core things I’ve always tried to remind myself is “a roadmap is an indicator of strategy, not just a list of features.” While there’s not always going to be 100% true - I try to have a defined roadmap that gets recalculated as priorities change or discovery processes identified that it isn’t vital to the overall product strategy for the term of the roadmap (quarterly, annually, three/five/ten years). 

I think you’ll find that the majority of product makers are winging it or have a “set” roadmap for 3-6 months. As you know, “set” is going to be broadly defined as “locked” - and sometimes you’re not locking anything until the roadmap is at the cusp of being devoured by competing, non-prioritized features/enhancements. 😵

But would love to hear, not just from the votes, but from other Product Makers as to how they feel on this particular topic! 

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Awww thanks @david.morgan.  Someone asked in a comment, “how do you know if the roadmap is possible or not?”   My response was , that’s where a really solid engineering relationship comes into play. There has to be early collaboration to know most of the gotcha scenarios.  I always say a roadmap is directional and not a guaranteed delivery. If my team hit 75-80% of a plan 90+ days out, I’m satisfied we didn’t sandbag! 😂

So far 50% of people are “set” for 3 months.  It will be interesting to see where this survey lands.  

Userlevel 6
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Awww thanks @david.morgan.  Someone asked in a comment, “how do you know if the roadmap is possible or not?”   My response was , that’s where a really solid engineering relationship comes into play. There has to be early collaboration to know most of the gotcha scenarios.  I always say a roadmap is directional and not a guaranteed delivery. If my team hit 75-80% of a plan 90+ days out, I’m satisfied we didn’t sandbag! 😂

So far 50% of people are “set” for 3 months.  It will be interesting to see where this survey lands.  

Exactly
I’ve been criticized as a PM and Product Leader for having “too close” of a relationship with the engineering team. But there’s two components to that: my path to PM was a combination of customer support and development - and the fact that I know the more of a relationship I have with engineering, the more clear the workload becomes (and how feasible goals are, as they evolve). 

I’m a fan of the mindset that a roadmap is direction and not guaranteed. The issue is that it’s often a hard sell to stakeholders or other leaders at times. It’s part of the job, but it would be nice if it was understood that a roadmap isn’t a guarantee that “all things on it will be delivered in this time frame.” Engineering has pitfalls, there’s a lot of discussions to be had to scope out requirements past the initial discovery phase… it’s a team effort. I just err on the side of transparency and mention concerns around “estimated times” being projected (vs total output within that time).

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I answered the LinkedIn poll but I probably lied, in a way. I don’t think I’ve been doing this long enough to know for sure. 

@david.morgan Who the heck is complaining about you being close with engineering? Jealousy is never a good trait on the business side. As a former engineer, I think it’s critical to just be a good listener on all sides and make sure your trade-offs are fair to all and justified by the business objective. 

Also - deadlines are horrible and we should get rid of them. #pipedream 

Oh and I haaate the word “sandbag” - ok we got done early; sorry that we can deliver more value than you expected in the timeframe we planned? But I get it - someone’s paying for all those lines of code. 😁

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Thank you everyone who chimed into my LinkedIn poll.  I just dropped the results and some tips here@Mmcclain you’ll get the hang of it over time! 

Userlevel 6
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Who the heck is complaining about you being close with engineering? Jealousy is never a good trait on the business side. As a former engineer, I think it’s critical to just be a good listener on all sides and make sure your trade-offs are fair to all and justified by the business objective. 

I’ve been an engineer (in a former life) and still often update my skills (semi-recently jumped into Golang and Rust). I’m very much of the mind that I want to sit down, listen, and understand obstacles and challenges clearly. But because of my understanding of how development works (and how rabbit holes can definitely exist in pre-existing codebases while building new things), I’m seen as being “too soft” on engineering. 

This leads into your comment about “deadlines.” I have a firm stance that “deadlines” are a good goal, but they should not be held as definitive (except when there’s a contractual obligation with a customer/client, of course). Output is far, far, far more important than a specific date (many disagree with me on this​​​​​​) as @e_jenkins77 said: “ I always say a roadmap is directional and not a guaranteed delivery. If my team hit 75-80% of a plan 90+ days out, I’m satisfied we didn’t sandbag!” 

 

Thank you everyone who chimed into my LinkedIn poll.  I just dropped the results and some tips here.  @Mmcclain you’ll get the hang of it over time! 

 

The “three months out” doesn’t surprise me. A quarterly roadmap is far easier to define for directional and strategy perspective. Outside of that, things can change. Not to say that stuff “falls off of the roadmap” but priorities can shift outside of that timeline. It really depends on the nature of the company, the product, and where in the growth phase the product is in. You can sometimes pull a good 6-month roadmap together (and hit 75%+ delivery) if the company is more attuned to locking down development efforts to just roadmap items and sequential tech debt items. But not all can “survive” doing it in that fashion. 

Thanks for holding the poll! Very interesting results and the comments were pretty good to read too.

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But because of my understanding of how development works (and how rabbit holes can definitely exist in pre-existing codebases while building new things), I’m seen as being “too soft” on engineering. 

 

Oh yeah, I totally get this. Thank you for the clarification. Maybe we were lucky to have a former boss who was much too “hard” on the team and we both failed to deliver value AND had low morale AND high turnover because of it.

If non-technical management doesn’t get to learn that lesson you end up with a lot of misconceptions.

Alright time to take that deep breath and roll into Monday…