Roadmap Story Part 1: What is a product roadmap and why you need it


What is a product roadmap?

To me a roadmap is a visualisation of a growth plan, and the purpose of it is to provide a clear direction, enough context, so we can communicate and align better. Creating, updating and maintaining roadmap, while managing product build and release are part of product manager's role. And many seasoned product managers would know exactly how they would like the roadmap to represent that view. What's been falling through the cracks are clear communication to make sure everyone is aligned, including the executives and the development team.

And why do you need a roadmap?

One of the big milestones in the my initial 3 months with Localz is about building a roadmap. I have been involved in executing roadmap in the past, or making a light touch roadmap when pitching my hackathon ideas. But going through this with almost from the start to where it is today, I look at roadmap very differently than before.

In the past I have seen a list of features (may or may not form a coherent story) sit on a series of timelines that is called roadmap. This time, we spent serious time and energy to create a roadmap that would align with our Iconomy fulfilment vision for Localz.

When I just joined Localz I didn't own a product line, and was asked to help putting together a pack of our roadmap with information provided by the other 2 product managers. (below is the old draft as part of a pack representing the roadmap view)

Quickly I have found that having an artifact doesn't mean we are aligned. We had product managers thought putting product roadmap in 1 slide is irrelevant to manage the product line, which may also take away the focus of that product; we have executives thought the features on the roadmap are not accurate. We have people thought release plan is same as roadmap and expect the same granularity of features across the roadmap. And personally I think it was really hard to maintain product roadmap in a slide where you don't have the space to provide a single view with enough supporting details. Pretty much no one can fully agree on what should be on when.

When I look at the problems we had experienced with then roadmap, it actually highlighted a few contributing factors of the situation: the abundance of market opportunities could quite easily sway our priorities; the lack of constant check of new opportunities against our vision, which could generate a lot of work that aren't necessarily helping us achieve our vision quicker.

Ironically, having a good roadmap that is aligned with our vision can solve the above mentioned problems and beyond.

So what is a good roadmap?