Roadmap versus Release Plan

Most people are familiar with the concept of the roadmap. The roadmap contains forward looking statements about your product direction, with new products and features listed usually on a per quarter basis. Roadmaps aren’t commitments, but once Salespeople see them, the dates become burned into their memories and they start to ask for status updates. Using a release plan helps reduce the pressure on your roadmap and drives a solid line between those products and features which are committed and those that are projected.

If you are using a stage-gate method to get your products and services to market, your process might look something like this (at a high level):

  1. Product Management researches the Market for the Problem.
    • Product Management identifies a bunch of problems, shows their priority based on customer pain and willingness to pay, and describes to the Executive team.
  2. The Executive and Product Management teams cross-reference the prioritized problems with the Company’s direction and product mix, and outputs a list of MRDs to write.
    • Product Management produces the MRDs.
  3. The Executive Team reads and approves the MRDs.
    • Product Management makes the product come to life.

That’s a simple, 3-stage gate approach. Bigger companies may have (many) more stages. Small companies may only have 1 stage, and it may just be a conversation. Somewhere during that process, PM creates a roadmap. Usually, the roadmap is created because there are a ton of great problems to solve but not enough resources to solve them all now. Since the Market is constantly changing, the problems that you aim to solve will change as well. A changing roadmap leads to confusion, especially if the changes are to roadmap items that are less than a quarter out.

A release plan solves for this problem. After your final approval stage gate, where the Executive team commits company resources to a product, place the product on a Release Plan. The release plan differs from the roadmap, because it signifies that the product has:

  1. Defined requirements
  2. Committed resources
  3. A plan to complete

Then, when someone asks what is coming in the next quarter, you can show them a release plan with a high level of confidence. If someone wants the “vision” discussion, you have the roadmap to guide you. Finally, you can make projects slide easily from the roadmap to the release plan, and give your stakeholders confidence when you are able to consistently hit dates.

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7 Comments

  • Reply Rob Grady » Blog Archive » Roadmap versus Release Plan November 13, 2006 at 9:13 pm

    […] Roadmap versus Release Plan […]

  • Reply Product Beautiful » Blog Archive » Development: Leave Us the F Alone! April 25, 2008 at 1:14 pm

    […] can avoid the problem in the first place with proper planning. Once you approve a product onto your Release Plan, form a Core Team and pull the lead developer onto it. He/She will grumble about the meeting but […]

  • Reply Yogesh Kumar June 5, 2008 at 8:51 am

    Hi,
    This article perfectly covers the message I want to comminicate to my PMs and management. Great article.

    Thanks,
    Yogesh.

  • Reply You Don't Really Own Your Roadmap | Product Beautiful: Building Product Management by Paul Young June 24, 2008 at 4:09 pm

    […] of changes to The Plan. I’ve written in the past about the importance of separating your Roadmap from your Release Plan. This simple change, and the cultural impact at the Executive level down to the developer level […]

  • Reply Roadmap versus Release Plan | Rob Grady July 20, 2008 at 7:09 pm

    […] Roadmap versus Release Plan […]

  • Reply A Case for Better Roadmaps | Product Beautiful: Building Product Management by Paul Young May 18, 2010 at 11:00 pm

    […] to ask for it as a shortcut to understanding your commitment to a product.  A good roadmap is a useful product management tool: it informs the business, guides our tactics, and prevents us from getting distracted.  […]

  • Reply Morten Emery » Blog Archive » A Case for Better Roadmaps May 19, 2010 at 6:10 am

    […] to ask for it as a shortcut to understanding your commitment to a product.  A good roadmap is a useful product management tool: it informs the business, guides our tactics, and prevents us from getting distracted.  […]

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