Product roadmap explains how to move from A to B. A is where you are, but B is where your product vision sleeps. This is the root of the difference between a project plan and a product roadmap.
The goal of this post: In this post, I am going to explain what a product roadmap is not and why the project plan is confused with a product roadmap.
Table of contents
The project plan doesn't focus on delivering value to customers and organizations. Roadmap brings value to the first row. Product managers might ship a lot but not making any progress. The project plan, most of the time, cares about maximizing output, meeting timeline, and combine resources in the best way. Does being on schedule make any difference if a poor or no value is shipped? You ship a new feature, and there is no change in your business KPI. Project plan "feels" ok with this, but your customer doesn't. I recommend defining the value you want to bring first and attach it to the product vision. It will be your North Star, and the project plan will automatically follow it.
A project plan likes to be fixed and cemented. A roadmap should embrace constant learning, and this is why it stays open. The traditional plan tries to predict the future, describe it, understand it, and cement it. It would be better to consider the value first, understand why a customer requests the specific feature, what problems are driving your clientele? Product roadmap stays open, it means, it tries to understand the value the company intends to deliver. How you deliver the value as the product manager, is less important. By committing too early to a single feature that should solve the problem, you are making a risky decision - you constrain your options and extinguish your company's drive, enthusiasm, and creativity. A project plan never "think" about the best possible value proposition which the customer expects. A plan is about deliverables; a roadmap is about value.
A project plan is a guard, while a product roadmap is a source of excitement. Just hitting the target dates and building the planned feature is no guarantee of getting growth and traction. Project plan wants to guard the delivery process. What does the roadmap want? It wants to excite your customers. If we think about the product roadmap as the prototype of the vision you want to build, allowing customers to see it, understand it and feedback it, product managers start building a bond. Yeah, now you are scary! Don't be. Bond is worth it. If you share the roadmap with your customers, invite them to be a part of the excitement you carry, it will pay off with excellent feedback and engagement. Roadmap wants to be a "reality-check-point," project plan intends to deliver as promised.
Roadmap doesn't expect up-front estimation, prediction, and design. This is a tricky part. To deliver a product, the product manager needs a plan (time, scope, and quality). Some teams need to clearly define the product specification and deliver the scope in the specific timeframe. A roadmap is vision and strategy document (graph, text, table it doesn't matter as long as it is short, condensed, and can be quickly understandable). A roadmap is a strategic craft; a project plan is a tactical craft. If you have a project plan and no roadmap, you will be driven by timeline and scope, not by value.
Roadmap creates and synchronizes priorities. A project plan converts them into action. Now, the product manager knows where she is going and why (she has the roadmap). A product manager has some organizational support. It's great. Now is a great time to study the company you work for. What does it mean? Well. The great roadmap consists of priorities that are essential for customers and the organization. The roadmap synchronizes them with the whole company (HR, Marketing, Operations, Customer Support, Technology). When you get this part correctly, a product roadmap is a powerful vehicle for aligning the team. But you will not get there by jumping straight into the project plan.
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