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Releases, Roadmaps and Visions

By Saeed Khan

Roadmaps are always a popular topic when discussing products. I can’t tell you how many times people ask whether something is “on the product roadmap”. One of the most consistently popular articles on this blog is this one that I wrote back in 2008 – Agile/Scrum and Product Roadmaps.

Recently I noticed some thoughts on the Web and decided another post on the topic was in order.

The first was the Twitter #prodmgmttalk on the topic of roadmaps. Here are a few tweets from that discussion:

Note @bfgmartin’s tweet about the roadmap (potentially) changing every week. That’s pretty granular IMHO and is really more of a backlog or at best a release level view of the product.

Coincidentally, Fred Wilson had a post on his blog a few days earlier called Long Roadmaps. In it he wrote the following:

I interviewed Dennis Crowley yesterday at the NYU Entrepreneurs Festival….Dennis said that all the way back to Dodgeball, the predecessor company to Foursquare, he and Alex had a roadmap for the product that was years ahead of what they could actually build. When Dennis and Naveen decided to start building Foursquare, Dennis pulled out that roadmap and updated it to reflect the power of modern smartphones. And that roadmap goes way out, well beyond what Foursquare is today or what it will be in a year from now.

Just to be clear, Fred is saying that Dennis Crowley had a “roadmap” for a product so forward looking that the technology for it didn’t exist. i.e. it couldn’t be built at the time it was “envisioned”.  This is not a “roadmap”, but more of a vision of the future.

So the question is what exactly is a “roadmap”, because it seems to have quite a broad definition in terms of timeframe and granularity.

If we think of Releases, Roadmaps and Visions as plans, they can be described and differentiated as follows:

[table id=3 /]

This breakdown makes sense to me. It’s what I’ve used pretty consistently for many years. For example, back in 2008, in my Agile/Scrum Roadmap post, I defined a product roadmap as follows:

A roadmap is a planned future, laid out in broad strokes — i.e. planned or proposed product releases, listing high level functionality or release themes, laid out in rough timeframes — usually the target calendar or fiscal quarter — for a period usually extending for 2 or 3 significant feature releases into the future.

For startups or companies in fast moving and growing markets, those 2-3 releases might only cover the next 12 months of time. For other more mature companies in less dynamic markets, those releases might cover several years.

So what do you think? Are these three things clearly defined now? Is it still possible to confuse a roadmap with a release, or a roadmap with a vision? Let me know.


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