Bruce McCarthy is Founder and Chief Product Person at UpUp Labs, where he and his team are at work on Reqqs - the smart roadmap tool for product people.

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Is Your Roadmap One-Size-Fits-All?

This is the fifth article in a series called The Dirty Dozen Roadmap Roadblocks. In the first entry, I stated:

"You probably serve more than one market segment. When you are talking to customers or partners in one segment, the roadmap you show should focus on how you will address their needs."

In this article, I will talk a little about why your roadmap should be tailored to specific audiences, the different flavors of roadmaps and how your “vision” should be differentiated for each market segment.

One Size Doesn't Fit All

At the annual user conference of a former employer one year, our SVP presented the roadmap for our complex product line in some detail, using a format I had helped to develop that showed horizontal “swim lanes” for each product and a timeline across the top. The leader of our team hated public speaking but the slide neatly illustrated the progress each product would make toward fulfilling our customers’ needs and gave him a structure to speak to; and the presentation was going well.

When he had spent about 45 minutes going through the roadmap, a German man in the back of the audience raised his hand and asked about our roadmap for one particular product which had not appeared in the presentation. That was a sweaty-palm moment for our SVP, and the rest of us felt for him as he tried to explain in front of hundreds of assembled customers that we did plan to continue supporting the product but that enhancements to it didn’t feature prominently in our roadmap.

The roadmap we presented spoke to many of the people in the audience, but it certainly was not a good fit for our customer from Germany.

Your Roadmap Should Sell Your Vision

Internal or external, a roadmap is a selling document and, as I’ve argued before, viewers should see their interests represented in it. It’s important, therefore, to know your audience when presenting a roadmap. Like any good sales pitch, a roadmap should speak directly to the needs of the customer.

By "customer," here I mean whoever you are presenting to. It might literally be a customer or prospect. It might also be a partner or reseller, a reporter or analyst. Often it is an internal audience such as your fellow employees, your development team, your executives, investors, or your Board.

And by “selling,” I don’t mean they are literally purchasing your roadmap. Customers are buying your product, of course, and showing them a roadmap gives them the confidence they need to buy your product based on your vision of where you intend to take it in the future. Others I’ve mentioned are not buying your product, but they are investing their time, energy, hopes for increased value, and perhaps money in your vision. In each case, the roadmap helps to convince the viewer that your plan will succeed and they will gain by investing in your product, service or company.

When a good salesperson makes a presentation, they spend time getting to know the needs, wants and expectations of their prospect, and then tailor that presentation accordingly. It is the same with roadmaps.

What Flavor Is Your Roadmap?

In my experience, there are three essential flavors of roadmaps. In this series, we have been focusing on what I call “Vision” roadmaps that lay out a high-level set of steps a product, product line, or company will take to achieve its vision of serving the needs of a particular market. Communicating who that target market is and how they will benefit is the core mission of this kind of roadmap.

The “Coordinating” roadmap is used internally or among partners to ensure everything comes together leading up to and after a release. It is more detailed than a Vision roadmap and focuses on what everyone has to do and when. It still requires buy-in from all participants to succeed, though, so make sure they see their needs and priorities reflected.

The “Technology” roadmap is similar but focuses only on deliverables for the tech team. Unlike Vision roadmaps, it often includes infrastructure build-out, rearchitecture efforts, and even specific feature deliverables that the team is committing to. Achievability is a key attribute of successful Technology roadmaps. If the engineers don't believe it's possible, they won't buy in and the roadmap won't stick. Because of its specificity, the technology roadmap should never be shown externally.

Have a Vision for Each Target Market

If you serve more than one target market, you should develop a separate vision roadmap document (or at least a slide) for each. Notice I didn’t say a separate roadmap for each product; I said a separate one for each market. Unless your products are strictly vertical with no overlap, your roadmap for a given market should include any and all products that you sell or intend to sell in that market.

If the same features of the same product would be viewed by individual markets differently, sell those benefits differently in each. Let’s say you have a new version of your tablet coming out next spring which will feature much greater graphics processing capabilities. You have two core markets that will care about this: gamers and architects. When you show your roadmap at E3, the main theme you’ll want to hit is “stunningly realistic explosions.” When you visit the annual AIA convention, though, you’ll emphasize “dramatically reduced rendering times.”

And if you’ve got a third vertical, say delivery services, for whom graphics power is unimportant, leave that theme out entirely. Focus instead on the lighter weight or the adjustable brightness for outdoor use that will come out in the follow-on model.

Targeting versions of your roadmap to specific markets is definitely more work, but it makes it much easier to sell benefits. Instead of selling the generic-sounding “increased graphics processing power,” in the above examples, the tablet maker can speak to what each market cares about.

This approach works well when you are presenting to individual markets — and, honestly, I would avoid presenting your roadmap to a large, undifferentiated audience. If we had it to do again, I would recommend to my SVP that we schedule breakout sessions for each target market so we could keep the main session very high level and go into more detail on the things each group cared about in their individual session.

Struggling With A One-Size-Fits-All Roadmap?

If your organization’s roadmap is too generic to be compelling for anyone specific, feel free to set up a time to chat with me during my free office hours. You may also be interested my popular roadmapping presentation from ProductCamp Boston, or in Reqqs, the smart roadmap tool for product people.

Use your product powers for good.

Reader Comments (3)

Bruce - I've always laughed at the idea of "the roadmap" for exactly the reasons you describe. I have found that I often have a roadmap per customer even! This is also the challenge with "roadmapping" tools, of course - every roadmap is different in terms of what's on it, and even the way you describe a new feature or capability on each roadmap is likely to be different. It will be a great day when roadmapping software steps up to this shapeshifting reality - and includes a live output to PowerPoint or Keynote so that it's no additional work to present.

November 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNils Davis

I typically have the "standard product vision" type of roadmap, and add 1-2 slides at the end to address the specific pain points/ feedback that this customer has expressed in the past.

In a presentation yesterday, I was happy to present the roadmap. But the icing on the cake was the slide at that end which told the customer that we have addressed 5 of their 6 pain points from a few months ago! The customer was glad to see this slide specific to them. The one pain point we had not addressed, was not in our roadmap either, so the customer was clear on what he could expect from us. vs. what he needs to look elsewhere for.

November 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNimish

Hi Nimish,

Sounds like a happy customer! Your way of customizing the roadmap for a given customer is very common -- and the best we can usually do give the tools (and time) we have.

Like Nils, though, I'd like to see tools that allow us to provide differing flavors or slices of roadmap for differing audiences. Not that our story is changing depending on who we talk to, but that emphasize different things in different contexts, to bring out what each audience cares about. I hope we can support this will with Reqqs.

November 9, 2013 | Registered CommenterBruce McCarthy

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