Jason 30 Jan 2006 — An email from a reader:

At every company I work at, I keep seeing product roadmaps with qtr by qtr delivery of different features – they typically go out 1-2 years. Of course the product roadmap is out-of-date almost immediately because knowledge is constantly gained from market analysis and interaction with customers. My question is do you guys do product roadmaps? If so, do you put times schedules around them? I’d love to see your comments on this stuff…

Our answer: Product roadmaps are dangerous. They close your eyes and often put you on the wrong path.

One of the tenets of the Getting Real process is the idea that the future should drive the future. When you let a product roadmap guide you you let the past drive the future. You’re saying “6 months ago I knew what 18 months from now would look like.” You’re saying “I’m not going to pay attention to now, I’m going to pay attention to then.” You’re saying “I should be working at the Psychic Friends Network.”

Instead of the roadmap, just look out a few weeks at a time. Work on the next most important thing. What’s the point of a long list when you can’t work on everything at once anyway? Finish what’s important now and then figure out what’s important next. One step at a time.

This doesn’t mean you can’t have ideas of where you think your product should go or future features you’d like to implement. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a vision. It does mean that you need to pay attention to reality. Reality is where you’ll find the best answers. And you’re never closer to reality than right now. The further you get from now, the less you know. And the less you know, the worse your decisions will be.

The other problem with roadmaps is the expectations game. People expect you to deliver what you say you will in 4, 5, 6 months. And what if you have a better idea? What if there’s a shift in the market that you need to address? What if what you thought wasn’t what actually happened? Any change in the roadmap nullifies the roadmap. Then the map isn’t a map at all.

Try it. It’s liberating and certainly more satisfying than following a plan you know is outdated.