Your Roadmap Is a Promise (Do You Keep It?)
March 22, 2021

Your Roadmap Is a Promise (Do You Keep It?)

by Brian de Haaff

Must-do's vs. may-do's. An Aha! teammate recently shared the system she uses for helping her kids manage schoolwork. They make a list of must-do tasks each week. After finishing their must-do's, the kids can move on to a may-do list — bonus items for extra credit. This got me thinking about must-do and may-do tasks at work. As a product manager, you want to optimize your day for what will bring the most value to your customers and the business. Your roadmap is the tool that helps you stay committed to the must-do's.

Roadmaps are promises to yourself, your company, and your customers — keeping you accountable to the work that matters most.

Product roadmaps highlight the direction for the product and the work it will take to get there. Some roadmaps communicate high-level themes, such as key initiatives or new areas of innovation. Others focus on the timeline for delivering new features and the cross-functional work that needs to happen to bring a release to market.

No matter how beautiful or well-structured, roadmaps represent a real plan that you should be committed to achieving. It can rally the team around work that moves product goals and initiatives forward within a given time frame. After all, what is the use of a roadmap if you do not follow its course?

But I have heard plenty of product managers say this is not realistic. A roadmap is merely a forecast — likely to change. Development estimates inevitably go wrong. Feature creep happens. Deadlines slip. Adjustments beget readjustments and soon the roadmap becomes a collection of hazy predictions that you aim to reach but perpetually undershoot.

I do not want to suggest that plans cannot change. They can and must — especially when you are presented with or learn something entirely new. Often the specific details of the features you are building will change. Or you need to be flexible when engineers are pulled to troubleshoot a tricky bug. But the overall strategy that you worked so hard to define should not be a moving target.

Customers feel the impact of a flimsy roadmap — even if you do not share a public version of it.

They want to know what is coming next and are already asking your sales and support teams. They notice whether you are responsive to their requests. It is easier than ever to take their business elsewhere. Disgruntled customers, especially if they are quiet, may leave before you even know it.

So yes, your roadmap is a promise. Looking at it like this forces you to reframe how you think about product planning. This is real work that you are actively committed to. When you treat the roadmap like a promise, it changes how you deliver on it in these key ways:

You take strategy seriously

You start with a clear vision for what you want to achieve. You make thoughtful decisions about product goals and initiatives — these are real objectives that can be measured and completed. Strategic alignment prepares the team for what is ahead and lets everyone focus on the most important work.

You plan with conviction

You connect goals to initiatives, features, and detailed tasks and capture it on the roadmap to show just how impactful strategy is. You make a real effort to improve capacity planning and compare actual time against your initial estimates. When new ideas come up, you make space for them while staying committed to what you are building right now.

You honor dates

Deliverable dates and deadlines are not arbitrary. Rather than seeing dates as a constraint, you recognize that the best releases happen when the team has clear objectives, guardrails for how work gets done, and alignment across the organization. This happens when you take a targeted approach and stick to a timeline.

You create excellence

Your roadmap is a reflection of the business and the team. Customers and colleagues alike depend on you to deliver what you say you will. It is your responsibility to push the team to do its best work. Letting things slip because "it is what it is" is really not an option.

You drive joy

Most of us have been on teams with over-bloated plans that are impossible to achieve. You either race to keep up or develop an armor of apathy. Either way, it can be demoralizing. When your roadmap is a promise capable of being kept, the team stays fully engaged. They pour their energy into bringing joy to customers. And they have more fun doing their job too.

Keeping your commitments to the business, customers, and your teammates matters — it is how you create value.

And no one wants to feel like their plans are not taken seriously. But that is what happens when you and the team do not consistently deliver against them. Once you reframe your roadmap as a promise, you will be more committed. A roadmap should be a powerful tool that signals what value will be created and when.

What do you think now — is your roadmap a prediction or a promise?

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Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 roadmap software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the adventure of living a meaningful life.

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