When used correctly, product roadmaps build alignment between product managers and key audiences like senior executives, sales, clients, key business partners, and developers. Having a clear understanding of future release priorities helps these stakeholders plan appropriately.
Gartner often sees technology and service provider (TSP) product roadmaps that don’t communicate the right information to the intended audience whether that be clients, sales, executives, or even Gartner analysts. When used incorrectly, product roadmaps can:
- Lose customers disappointed by the lack of high demand features or products
- Delay sales cycles as account execs or customers wait for upcoming releases and new products (that may not launch on time…or ever)
- Confuse senior executives and marketers with overly technical jargon
- Reveal your product strategy to your competitors who can plan their roadmaps and messaging to counter you
- Increase development workload since high-level product strategy doesn’t communicate resource requirements
To minimize the likelihood of these issues, my former product management team would develop three separate roadmaps.
One roadmap designed for senior executives would be a single page communicating major enhancements and new products separated into windows of short-term, near-term, and long-term. When the portfolio was stable, a long-term window could be 2-3 years out. During company acquisitions or portfolio revamps, the long-term window could be as little as 9 months.
The second roadmap developed for sales, clients, and key business partners would provide more detail with a focus on new products and enhancements reaching the market within the next 6 months. Longer term changes were either deliberately omitted (in case they were deprioritized) or discussed without definite release dates. These roadmaps were useful for keeping clients and sales excited about the portfolio while offering those audiences an opportunity to provide feedback about the changes.
The third roadmap created for developers would communicate the big enhancements or launches along with resource requirements, recommended architecture, milestones, release dates, and more. Ten years ago those roadmaps would have included minor enhancements aligned to quarterly releases. With the movement to Agile and Scrum, incremental enhancements happen so frequently that it made less sense for product to own the detailed planning for minor changes.
For some TSP product managers, roadmaps are treated as a chore since development priorities constantly change. Thankfully, Gartner Research is placing greater focus on helping product managers be more effective in their role. Upcoming research will explore the creation, maintenance, and communication of product roadmaps.
What’s been your experience with product roadmaps? Have you encountered success stores or embarrassing encounters as a result of poor roadmap communication? Are there effective tools or processes that made the development, updates, and communication of roadmaps easier for you? Let us know what you’ve learned and where you could use more help in this process.
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