Roadmapping without dates// Roadmapping without dates

Screenshot of an exported product roadmap in a presentation

“Current”, “Near term”, and “Future” on your roadmap

You may have noticed that roadmaps in ProdPad don’t have any dates on them – Instead, you’ll only find the column headings “Current”, “Near term” and “Future”.

There is a very specific reason for why the columns don’t have dates which I’m going to explain, but first, some history:

Our original version of roadmap was much more like a cross between a Gantt chart and an Excel spreadsheet. Not surprising since it was based on my co-founder Janna’s Excel template. It was all whiz-bang with drag and drop placement, length of idea development, etc.

It was actually one of the first parts of ProdPad we built. And also far, far too complicated. And granular.

The granularity turned out to make it very hard to manage. Not because of complicated UX but because, suddenly, you are managing a single idea on a day to day basis, shifting them around changing their “delivery length”. It was very Gantt-like and more about project management than product management.

We paused on the roadmap to focus on other more pressing features.

When we came back to the roadmap, our thinking about the best approach to roadmaps had evolved dramatically. It was more a revolution than evolution. The first radical change was ditching specific dates on the roadmap. This came about because of the arguments put forward by Martin Eriksson in various places including the MindTheProduct Product Managers’ Skype chat as well as private conversations over the years.

As Martin pointed out, the point at which a specific date is added to a roadmap is the point at which everyone but the product manager believes the item in question will be delivered. Too often, it doesn’t matter how you caveat the date, it becomes gospel. Suddenly, you are judged on whether you meet the entirely fictitious dates. The judgement, unfairly, doesn’t take into account changing priorities, the cyclical nature of product management, or the fact that it is non-linear.

So out went the dates. But how to make a roadmap without dates?

The second radical change came when we realised that a roadmap is tool for communication. It wasn’t for managing delivery or day-to-day priorities, but for describing the direction that the product is headed in. The power of the roadmap lies in being able to communicate that direction and strategy as succinctly as possible.

The final piece of the radical change came from a version of a roadmap that Janna did for some clients. In it she had evolved the basic design into a series of columns in which as stuff moved to the top it got more and more defined and certain for being built.

Putting those three radical ideas together resulted in the three column roadmap without dates that you see today. The “Future”, “Near term” and “Current” headlines provide broad time horizons that communicate the direction. Each card is a broad area of focus rather than a single granular idea as in the old roadmap. This made strategy and priorities much clearer and easier to understand.

The new roadmap has been met by a lot of great feedback – we’ve kept it simple and non-prescriptive, yet clear enough to help you structure a long-term product direction around.

I’m not sure that we would have reached the same roadmap structure if we hadn’t made the radical departure of dropping dates. It was that, which freed us up to explore completely different structures and approaches to roadmap design.

Have you got a roadmap of your own? What format does yours take? Leave a comment below or get in touch with any feedback!