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):
- 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.
- Product Management produces 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:
- Defined requirements
- Committed resources
- 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.