Writing by Peter Hilton

The product roadmap triangle

How to make trade-offs between roadmap qualities - 28 April 2020 #product

When you produce a product roadmap, you make trade-offs between quality goals. The roadmap makes compromises between the its audiences’ and goals’ interests. As well as understanding your roadmap’s purpose and consumers, consider your constraints.

You can choose how much detail to include in your roadmap, with more than one level. You can also choose how often you update it, and when to change your plans. Detailed, accurate, or stable. Pick two.

The product roadmap trilemma

The product roadmap triangle (or trilemma), like the project management triangle, models roadmapping constraints.

accuracy stability detail

Roadmap quality flows from the balance between these three constraints. Starting with accuracy, the deeper you drill down into the problem, the more you communicate about scope of planned work.

You can also choose how accurate to make your roadmap; the more frequently you update it, the more it will reflect what you learn over time. And you can choose how stable to make the roadmap; the less it changes, the more other stakeholders can base their plans on it.

Detailed and accurate

You can make your roadmap detailed and accurate by including several levels, and updating it continuously, to adjust to new information. A detailed roadmap allows you to drill down from high-level objectives to a larger number of small software changes that make up each release. You can limit this detail by omitting levels of detail for later time horizons: you plan which objectives to work towards, a year from now, but not yet how to achieve them.

An accurate roadmap may require daily adjustments: small reprioritisations and clarifications, based on new information from your customers and your product’s market. This kind of continuous roadmapping requires a mindset that allows you to embrace change, and incorporate all product feedback into what the roadmap models.

More practically, continuous roadmapping also requires collaboration and information management tooling, for managing all of the information. Software like ProdPad and productboard helps.

Accurate and stable

Sales and marketing, not to mention the CFO, may require different roadmap compromises, so they can make quarterly plans and forecasts for the coming year. Depending on your roadmap audience, you may want a more stable roadmap, without daily changes.

A high-level objectives roadmap can give you stability while retaining accuracy. Instead of identifying specific problems or features to work on, your roadmap will plan long-term objectives. Sacrificing detail, to focus on what doesn’t change, gets you a stable roadmap.

Stable and detailed

Roadmaps may fall into the trap of attempting detail and stability, sometimes as a result of influential stakeholders saying, ‘we need to know exactly what we’ll get’. Demand for detail may even lead to the dreaded feature roadmap.

While the stability of asking a product team to ‘commit to the next release and make sure you delivery exactly that’ may enable organisations to scale to a large number of people working to the same plan, it comes with the large opportunity cost of the commitment not to learn.

Choose your edge

Each product has a different story, and their roadmaps serve different purposes and audiences. If you keep your roadmapping goals and constraints in mind, you can freely choose your edge of the product roadmap triangle. Then you can focus on naming things.