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Product Roadmapping: Introduction
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Product Roadmapping: Introduction

Posted by Ravi Nistala on 13 Dec 2011 12:07 pm

Map out your future – but do it in pencil. The road ahead is as long as you make it. Make it worth the trip.

Jon Bon Jovi (American Musician, Actor and Rock singer, b.1962)

Product Roadmapping for the long term is one such exercise in judgement and foresight which has lasting repercussions throughout the organization.  It has to have elements of flexibility built into it, yet it has to be robust enough for the organization to commit its resources and align its people to march to the plan.

Figure 1: Components of a Strategic Roadmap

Objectives

It is often a very subjective process where usually the leadership and support functions such as sales, engineering, customer care and sometimes the customers make demands of the product. These demands are then put on a calendar to build a product roadmap. Is there a better process for building product roadmap? How do you ensure a roadmap making exercise will deliver the right course of action for the company?  We examine these questions here over a series of articles.  But first, what separate an okay roadmap from a great roadmap? Here is my list.

  1. Offers Clarity – Every function understands what to expect, and what is expected of them
  2. Sets Goals – Intermediate goals summing up into larger goals provide ways for the organization ways to measure its progress
  3. Ensures Differentiation – The goals and resulting actions must clearly indicate a roadmap to differentiation.
  4. Time-frame – For the roadmap to be meaningful, it must chart out a time-line long enough to allow product strategy to take root and result in at least one product reaching maturation

The strategic product roadmap cannot simply be seen as a succession of products on a calendar.  In order to achieve the above objectives, it needs to be layered along several dimensions.  Customers and Technology on the strategic dimension, while Features and the Products play on the near term.

Components of a Strategic Roadmap

Please see Figure 1.  Each of these components has separate ownership in large corporations.  But each must be viewed in the overall context by the team or individual responsible for building the roadmap.

  • Customer Roadmap

As the product evolves, which segments will be targeted? What new geographies, demographics, or use-cases will it serve?  These are important questions that will determine the demands on technology and product evolution.

  • Technology Roadmap

Much of the technological direction comes from the labs, but the marketing needs to play an equally important role in this evolution.  A deep understanding of the customer helps prioritize problems to be solved with advances in technology.

  • Feature Roadmap

Entering the realm of the tactical, feature roadmap sets direction for the near term, focusing engineering activities.  This provides the capabilities from which products can be spun.

  • Product Roadmap

Finally the set of products that will be evolved based on the above three roadmaps.  These products address specific combinations of demographics, geographies, and use-cases.

The Google Android ecosystem presents this structure with great clarity.  While Google can be seen as owning the roadmaps for technology, customers and features to a large extent, the device manufacturers are responsible for the product roadmap.

Summary

A good roadmap therefore is not a schedule of product releases. It is not even the combined schedules for the technology, features and products. Instead, it starts with the customers. Clarity on who the customers will be, and what they will need from the product forms the basis for a strong roadmap. It must contain the logic of how all the different activities come together as a unified company vision.

Many techniques and practices have evolved over time in this discipline. We will review some of these in a follow-up article.