Product roadmapping sucks (but…)

Product managers mostly hate roadmaps and CEOs mostly like them.

As a result of this disconnect, companies often put time and money into their product roadmapping software and thereby take it away from actually creating and delivering great products for customers.

My longtime friend Marty Cagan proposes alternatives to roadmaps for this reason.

I see typical product roadmaps as the source of so much waste in product teams.

Yet, at the same time, many of our Product Council members – heads of product at software companies – are required to have roadmaps.

So, at the request of our Chief Product Officers, we convened a private roundtable discussion among CPOs in non-competing companies that require roadmaps.

We can’t share most of the confidential discussions that happened – including the coaching members gave each other to better navigate the relationship with their respective CEOs (and how to move them out of the way). But, for what it’s worth, we can share a few high level lessons – lessons I’m hoping you already know.

If you have to have a dang roadmap then here are a few thoughts:

1. Forget the fancy roadmapping software – simpler is better

Simpler is definitely better.

One CPO started out low-tech, using Excel spreadsheets. His CEO then implemented product roadmapping software and everything got much worse. In fact, they found they only needed five percent of the software’s features – so they cancelled their subscription and went back to Excel.

Excel or Google Sheets are the way to go *if* you have to roadmap. These basic tools with no learning curve allow teams to focus more on the actual products and less on the roadmaps.

2. Customers first, tool second

No matter which tool you use, the roadmapping software should always be secondary to what really matters: delivering great products to your customers.

3. Keep it strategic with senior management (and use OKRs)

Many of our members’ senior leadership teams require roadmaps – that’s the only reason they do it.

We think this is a problem and agree with Marty that product teams – or squads – should own the products and features.

In one of the better situations at one of our member companies, senior management sets the strategy while allowing individual teams to create their own roadmaps and come up with the actual products. That’s the way to do it: senior leadership should provide the vision and business objectives and then get the heck out of the way.

OKRs, of course, are a great way to do this – and many of our companies use them.

So in brief…if you have to have a roadmap: the simpler the better; don’t forget customers and great products first; strategy from the top and then get them out of the way. And OKRs can be helpful.

Even better, skip the roadmap and go with the alternatives.

Want to join other CPOs/VPs of Product and have a place to share (confidentially) the REAL best and worst practices and get help dealing with all the hard things about hard things in running a product organization? Then use our Calendly link to set up a quick call to learn more.

About the Author

Phyl Terry

Phyl Terry, Founder and CEO of Collaborative Gain, Inc., launched the company’s flagship leadership program – The Councils – in 2002 with a fellow group of Internet pioneers from Amazon, Google, and others. Thousands of leaders from the Internet world have come together in the last 15 years to learn the art of asking for help and to support each other to build better, more customer-centric products, services, and companies.

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