A product road-map is a schedule of action items that a product owner believes will help improve market share and/or profitability of his product. This list of action items is compiled by processing inputs from various sources including but not limiting to sales, marketing research group, etc (read Collecting requirements and building radar). Action items include product release in newer geographies, features targeting vertical specific requirements, technology (platform, OS, frameworks etc) upgrades, improvised user experience etc along with time lines. Ideally it is talking about priorities with respect to the product life cycle.
There are two main challenges pertaining to a product road-map. First is the quality of the product road-map and second is the message that it sends out to the rest of the organization.
Road-map quality is determined by potential market coverage and profitability of the product on successful execution of road-map.The quality of the road-map largely depends on the wisdom, knowledge and prudence of the product owner. His experience and intentions plays vital role in shaping the product road-map. What should be valued, what should be left tentative and what can be avoided are decisions that a product owner takes, and it is such decisions that finally decides the overall quality of the product road-map.
The second challenge of messaging is far more tougher and complicated. Road-map published by product owners are designed keeping in mind current market dynamics and perceived future by collective wisdom of the organization. It is important for an organization to understand that the activities planned on the product road-map are desired steps towards the product maturity based on known and envisaged market dynamics today. These activities are likely to change if market dynamics or organization health changes. For example, a change in regulatory compliance norms may impact planned activities of adding new feature. OR a lower cash flow may severely impact aggressive release plan due to non-availability of required resource. Also, change in customer requirements or newer solutions launched by a competitor will influence product road-map. Considering all these and other variables, it is wise for a product owner to periodically revisit the road-map and re-work on what is valued, what is tentative and what can be avoided. Such corrective actions should be promptly communicated to stake holders along with necessary reasoning.
Changes in road-map usually do not go well with Internal and external stake holders. Be it sales, marketing or a customer, changes are usually tough to explain unless product owners set the right expectations. Few examples of unrest sales or customer “What happened to my Microsoft Vista Support? you promised me that it will be available in last October and look we are already in February and I am still not getting it.” Now the situation is tough but product owner is not willing to give resource for Microsoft Vista OS since it has not been hugely popular. Investment on this platform support is not going to earn enough returns and it is wise to put those resources elsewhere. Situations like these are tough to handle and hence it is important that a product owner prefix word “proposed” to road-map. Make their organization understand that road-maps are proposed road-map and always subject to changes based on market dynamics.
Road-maps should be looked to for direction rather than precision. In the 21st century, it is difficult to predict market dynamics 12 months down the line, however the course of your journey can always be determined along with key milestones called directions. A wise product manager should always take care of this simple stuff as it is easy to get lost in fulfilling non-relevant commitments made months back like a small kids gets lost in maze.
While product manager owns the product road-map, it should be considered as documented proof of commitment of the entire organization. Commitment to move forward on envisaged direction with wisdom to course correct as required. This is an important message that product owners must carry to all stake-holders (internal and external).