You Don’t Really Own Your Roadmap

Here's your sign!Sales people hate looking stupid. Unfortunately, we often put them in positions where they look very stupid by changing plans and roadmaps, which is our own fault. How do you keep the trust of your team when your business, roadmap, and customers are shifting in the sands around you?

There are lots of reasons that plans change, some good and some bad: the Market shifts, the competition makes a play, or the company dosen’t hit its goals and has to layoff developers, which pinch your resources. All of these create a refactor in your roadmap.

There are several tactics you can use to lessen the impact 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 of thinking that “a product/feature on the Release Plan is locked in and cannot be changed” is huge. Remember that Release Plan’s mean that the product or feature’s release is imminent and committed – your Release Plan should never cover >6 months.

Also, realize that you don’t really own your roadmap. The best you can do with the roadmap is plot a general direction for a product or service, but when it comes down to it, the Market and the Business own the roadmap. The Roadmap is not yours; you are the steward of the Roadmap. I see products and companies fail all the time because they set their roadmap and expected the Market to bend to them; it doesn’t work that way.

One-off deals can also derail the roadmap. In a smaller company where there is immediate revenue pressure, the allure of a special deal that “just needs this one feature” is huge. Are you ready to turn down a million dollars in revenue? Most Executive teams are not. Be able to illustrate how any proposed feature or product changes to your roadmap delay or eliminate your entrance into new markets or buying personas. That changes the special deal conversation from emotion-based to data-based.

New Development VP’s also have a tendency to take roadmaps off course. The reason: they love changing technology architectures. I carry a cross on this one since I’ve been burned before, from a CTO who changed the team from Java to .NET…which meant retraining some developers, dumping other developers, and hiring new developers. We lost 12-18 months just spinning – it was stupid!

When you see the VP of Development pushing for a change in development platform or underlying technology, drill closely into the details of why. Most Dev VP’s aren’t dumb enough to say “it’s because it’s a fad” or “because I want to get quoted in CTO magazine!,” and they will come up with legitimate sounding reasons why the old platform sucks and we really, really need this new one. You need to provide the voice of reason – with today’s technology, you can build an adapter to and from almost any technology without having to rip up your entire platform. If it’s that strategic to change your platform, the company should be able to justify the expense of building a parallel platform next to the existing one without disrupting current development.

One type of project that can be completely immune to external forces taking them off roadmap is the open source project. Since developers in this model often develop for themselves and not for the Market, oftentimes they don’t care what their users are asking for. Other open source projects are more flexible to the wants of their Market and do adjust their plans.

What other reasons pop up for taking you off roadmap, and how do you combat them?

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4 Comments

  • Reply Tzvika June 25, 2008 at 4:39 am

    Sometimes the roadmap has to change because of an external thirdparty change (i.e. when Microsoft puts Vista on the market, immediately you need to put “Vista support” in there).

    But the worst is the refactoring/rewriting kind you refer to in your paragraph about the VP R&D. It’s infuriating when people want to make their resume look better at the expense of the product.

  • Reply Weekly Reader: 25July08 The Productologist July 25, 2008 at 4:47 am

    […] You Dont Really Own Your Roadmap [Product Beautiful] […]

  • Reply David August 1, 2008 at 10:34 pm

    Why do you let your sales reps sell a future release? They should sell the current release. When they start to sell the future relase, they stop selling the current one. Without the cash flow, the release of that future release my never happen. I’ve seen this behavior kill companies.

  • Reply Paul August 1, 2008 at 11:08 pm

    Good point – but it is hard to control, especially in a small company if the ETeam, especially if the Sales VP and/or CEO aren’t very committed to not selling futures.

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