It’s incredibly tempting to create a road map when you’re driving a software product. You get to reap the glory of announcing desired features without even a downpayment of work. It takes no design, no consideration, or even discipline to respond to feature requests by making them a bullet point on a road map. It’s like buying goodwill on credit, but what you don’t pay for now, you’ll pay for later with interest.
Like functional specs earlier in the development phase, product road maps are fraught with trouble. The due diligence process is usually twice as shallow, which means that you’ll inevitably end up promoting illusions of agreement. When all we have to agree on is a slogan, like “Meetings Tab, 4th Quarter”, it becomes an empty imagination box that’ll fit wildly different expectations. Disappointment, however, is sure to ensue when only one set of expectations can actually be met.
Even worse than mismatched expectations, though, is the slippery slope of selling tomorrow over today. When you sell the software that you actually have, there’s a limited amount of wriggle room to cajole prospects. Customers has to make real decisions about whether the current state of your software is a good fit for them. Some times it’s not. That’s okay.
It’s better to turn customers away than to placate their instincts and lure them in with vague promises. It’s incredibly rare that a single feature will truly make or break your chance with a customer. If your software is a good enough fit, most people can make do without that one or two things that they’d like to see.
If your software is not really a good fit, it’s very easy for customers to convince themselves that it will be, if you greet them with an illusion of agreement over a few “deal breakers”. But when you finally do deliver, you’ll also burst that illusion and end up with disillusioned customers who thinks you suckered them into buying a cow and then gave them a goat.
And worse, while it might seem free at first to win customers by promising them gold at the end of the road map rainbow, it’s not. Accepting new entries to the product road map carries very real development debt. This debt will shrink your degrees of freedom. Your ability to pursue new great ideas as they arise will be seriously dampened when you’ve already committed to a tall stack of requests eagerly awaiting implementation.
Builders bound by the guesswork of yesterday are not going to be happy troopers. It’s demoralizing to be forced to work on something not because it’s the right thing to do at the time, but merely because the promise note is up.
But try avade and you’ll soon hope that it was merely your mob-connected bookie you were trying to dodge. Customers do not forget your promises — especially not the ones that were won over specifically because of the promises of a road map.