When not to roadmap (hint: Lean Startup)

posted in: Product Management | 0

Recently I had an interesting debate with an old friend about product roadmaps.

Before I share that story, I should disclose that I am a strategy junkie and a compulsive planner.  I make lists in my sleep.  I have driven the product strategy and maintained the product roadmap for the last several companies I was associated with.  A roadmap exercise is the best way for the product team to get out of the weeds and see the forest, and everyone I worked with knew where I stood on that topic.

So I found it funny that I ended up waxing lyrical about a completely opposite position in this debate. My friend was arguing for the need for a roadmap in a startup in its infancy (6 months after incorporation), to lesson thrashing and reduce waste.  I instead argued that for such a young startup, a roadmap is worthless.   Instead, the company should direct its energy towards testing their ideas with customers until the company hits the killer idea.

In such a young company, thrashing is not waste.  Overinvesting is.  On this point I am 100% in alignment with the Lean Startup philosophy.

In Peter Bregman’s words, sometimes not having a plan can be the best plan of all.  Only when the killer idea is well defined, the target market has been identified and quantified, the personas have been decided on, and a product platform has been developed, does it makes sense to work on product strategy and create product roadmaps.  That’s typically at least 1-2 years after incorporation.

I often come across as a roadmap nazi because I harp incessantly about its importance as a symbol of a well thought out product strategy.   But like all debates, absolute statements are silly.   If your company is young, iterate until you are in a position to grow. If you are in a growth state business, then by all means, roadmap and plan to your heart’s content!

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