Thursday, March 31, 2011

Product Roadmap, Technology Roadmap, or Wander in Wasteland?

Executive Summary:
Perhaps the most powerful business tool is a powerful vision and a solid plan to execute it.  Your product and technology roadmaps provide that vision and plan, if they are well constructed.  Make sure that your roadmaps describe a complete, progressive strategy.  Then make sure that your financial, resource, and expertise plans are in place to enable your successful road trip.

The Rest of the Story:
One of the most powerful ways to eliminate waste, particularly at the overall business level, is to plan.  Of course, such implies that we should also stick to the plan.  Changing plans, or lacking plans, leads to changes in direction, re-routing resources, rework, and unfinished work – all waste.  A powerful weapon to drive business growth, future, and eliminate the waste of poor planning is a product roadmap, and accompanying technology roadmap. 

Many businesses have product and technology roadmaps.  Some do not.  Something that I have observed also is that a business may have a product and technology roadmap, but each year when the leadership team revisits the map, they change it completely. 

What’s the point of having a plan if we don’t stick to it?  If we don’t stick to it, then the planning itself is the waste.  Oh, and we still suffer the waste that goes with poor planning. 

Sometimes these changes in roadmap and business plans are driven by frequent changes in leadership.  Sometimes we change the plan because when we get to the next step in the plan, we realize that we didn’t think it through very well.  Preventing the former cause is a topic for a whole other post.  Here, let’s examine some thoughts for how to prevent making plans that we either don’t believe in, or we didn’t think through.

There are numerous resources, books, Web sites, and consultants dedicated to how to plan product and technology roadmaps, and one post is not an appropriate space to address the details those resources offer.  Instead, let’s focus on a few important, but often missed points to ensure that our roadmaps are plans to which we can stick.

First, your product and technology roadmaps must be a matched set.  It can be reasonable to forego the technology roadmap if technology innovation or development is not necessary to achieve the vision set by your product roadmap.  Generally, it makes no sense to have a technology roadmap if you don’t have a roadmap of products that will use or need that technology.  Believe it or not, I did talk with one colleague who described his business’s efforts to build a technology roadmap without a product roadmap.  Don’t make the same mistake.

Second, here is a way to evaluate your roadmap and determine if it is designed to be reasonable, or if it might become infeasible.  No crystal ball is perfect, but here are some thoughts to help you decide if you have thought your plan through. 
  1. The first, nearest targets on your roadmap should address those features or needs your customers currently desire or demand. 
  2. The next step on you roadmap should be obvious next steps built upon the first.  This may be something that needs more time to develop the full capability envisioned in the first step, or some incremental change in technology.  It should address the obvious next features once you have delivered the products first on your roadmap.
  3. The third step on your roadmap should be built around technology that you perceive to be imminent and relevant to your product vision.  This allows you to plan for what is coming instead of react to it and change your plans when new technology suddenly arrives.
  4. Once you have addressed current and obvious next steps, then your map should begin to identify features that your customers haven’t even thought of yet.  This is where you can define a future that gives you that competitive edge.  Breakthrough products are often the ones that customers want when they see them, but didn’t even know were an option before hand.  This is also where the technology roadmap must lead, so here is from where you work backwards to develop your technology roadmap to have your innovations ready when you get to this part of the path.
  5. Next year, when you revisit your roadmap, if you followed the above guidelines, you shouldn’t need to scrap and re-build it.  If you need to make changes they should be small details in product specifications or tactical choices because of “imperfections in your crystal ball.”  The basic plan should still be the plan.  Of course you can start new, parallel roadmaps for other products following the same guidelines.

Perhaps when you read the above points they seem obvious.  However, I perceive that many teams building roadmaps get caught up in the details and fail to put together the strategy.

Sometimes our roadmaps get caught in the obvious next steps and never develop into the breakthrough future products.  This drives us to make emergency changes when our competitors surprise us with breakthroughs and force us to react.

Sometimes we feel pressured to jump right to the breakthrough product, which is fine, as long as the technology and resources to enable it are available.  If they aren’t we find out that our plans can’t be met, and we reverse directions and waste valuable energy and resources.

Sometimes the third step, planning for imminent technology or enablers, is skipped.  This is a huge missed opportunity.  Again, if our competitors perform this step when we don’t, they take market share from us while we either react or push forward to the breakthrough ideas.

Now, here is by far the most important part of the product and technology roadmap plan, which also frequently fails.  We absolutely must build a financial, resource development, and skill development plan around our roadmaps.  Failure to do so is the business equivalent of making a project schedule and forgetting to assign a team to do the project.  I know it sounds ridiculous but it happens, frequently.  Think about it.  Are you sure your business hasn’t made this mistake?  Is it a problem right now?

If we don’t address the financial, resource, and expertise needs of our roadmap, then we re-write it as soon as we realize that we can’t execute it.  There are few things more discouraging than trashing a wonderful plan because you forgot to be ready to carry it out.  If you projected your financial benefits along your roadmap, you can tally up the lost opportunity.  It will make you want to cry.

By all means, refer to the books, Web sites, consultants, and other resources for guidance to develop your product and technology roadmaps.  When you think you are done, pull out the list of points above and make sure that you didn’t get caught in the details and forget the strategy.  When you have your roadmap, follow through and plan your financial, resource, and expertise development to enable the roadmap. 

If your business currently has a product or technology roadmap, check your plan against the points in this post.  Address gaps in your strategy or resource plans now.

I can think of nothing more powerful for driving successful business than a powerful vision and a plan to execute it.  Make sure yours is sound and go for it.

Stay wise, friends.


  1. Upon running a business it's important to have their own strategy planning and techniques to let their company continuously moving and developing. Having this it'll ensure that they will stand long in the industry and could manage to cope up with any loss or deficiency they will have to face.

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