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5 Ways to Convince Your Boss Product Roadmaps Don’t Need Deadlines

June 28, 2022

7 minute read

Bosses like timeline roadmaps because bosses like deadlines. Deadlines give them a sense of control or at least a sense of security that everything will go according to plan. Indeed, timeline roadmaps are like a security blanket – they placate, reassuring leadership that everyone is working, but are not actually useful in ensuring the right work is getting done.

The key to efficient and, for lack of a better word, productive product management is actually the opposite of control – it’s trust. To release that controlling grip, give your teams autonomy, and do away with deadlines all together.

This is counterintuitive to most bosses, but it’s the business smart approach.

Here are five reasons why control and forced roadmap deadlines are bad for business.

dots discuss product roadmap deadlines

1. It’s less efficient

Product management can be unpredictable. It’s fundamentally not suited to deadlines (in my opinion), so when you apply deadlines to it, one of two things will happen:

  • The team is not going to do stuff on time, or 
  • If they are meeting deadlines, they’re actually adding so much buffer to the time estimates that the whole team is operating less effectively than it could. 

The buffer is real. Here’s a peek into a PM’s thought process when pressured by deadlines: “Well, the developers told me three days, so I’ve put a week just to be sure. I don’t want to be wrong. The last time we were late, I got told off for it.” 

If you do this as a PM, you’re kind of lying to the boss, but also you’re protecting yourself and protecting your developers. More on this later!

The roadmap ends up bloated, just so the boss can get a timeline that everyone feels safe with. And the team moves much slower.

Benefits of no deadlines

The reality is that teams who operate in a more autonomous way don’t add that buffer. They don’t have to invent extra time. They work up to a standard of quality, deliver, and move right along to the next thing on the product roadmap.

The boss doesn’t know exactly what’s going to be delivered each week, and that’s okay. What the boss does know is that they were able to point the team in the right direction. And the boss can rest assured that the team is actually working on the right stuff, in the right order.

2. Roadmap deadlines lead to poorer quality products

I forgot a third outcome above: When you apply due dates to product management, the team could be rushing through builds to meet a deadline, delivering a poorer quality product.

Quality means not just passing the upfront tests, but many other things, too. 

  • The product is usable
  • The customers like it
  • The code quality is high
  • It’s commented and documented
  • It’s something that you can support not just now, but also down the line 

One of the things that we say at ProdPad is, “Build this as if you are the person who’s going to train your junior in two years.” Imagine that you have to teach somebody why it’s built this way. 

We question if what we’re building is that good, or if we actually need another day or two. Sometimes teams simply need extra time to make sure the work meets that level of quality.

3. Less psychological safety

Forcing strict deadlines results in not only a slower team but a less honest team. It’s not just the buffer on time estimates. They’re likely scared to speak up when something (inevitably) goes wrong. This strikes at the heart of psychological safety.

Sometimes product leaders themselves don’t have much autonomy or are working under controlling bosses. Often they’re under pressure to hit certain numbers, or maybe a bonus is on the line. A lot of people at the top of their field or organization are so driven, they want everything to be perfect – and they expect a level of certainty.

If you do this as a boss, the people around you become yes-men. They coddle you with lip service and a little song and dance. You’ll end up with a slower, shyer team as a result, because they don’t trust you to understand when something goes “awry.” They fear you’ll come down on them.

As I said in the introduction, trust is the opposite of control. And trust is something that in order to be gained, must be given first. Leadership needs to trust the team so the team can prove itself and function transparently.

4. Roadmap deadlines waste money

In rigid business terms, a product leader might think about employees as an investment or resource. If you want to boil it down to that, then by asking for a timeline roadmap, you’re essentially wasting your money.

You’re getting less for those salaries because the team isn’t driven to work faster and harder by the deadlines. They’re actually delivering less (see point 1), or delivering worse (see point 2), and there are measurable reasons for it. 

The business smart way of working is to give people direction, and then give them the autonomy to find the best route forward. That is the fastest way that you’ll solve problems – and the most cost-effective way that you’ll solve problems.

Want some examples? See how the biggest, richest companies on the Forbes and SAP Indexes are performing. They’re the businesses who are operating in lean ways, not in this old school, top-down, control-based way.

Trust your people and make more money doing it.

5. Less value for customers

You might think forcing deadlines on product improvements is in the customer’s best interest. It ensures the product is improving and delivering, right? 

Actually, given the arguments above, the customer is likely getting less value over the course of the year. They’re simply getting less stuff! All because the product and development teams have added buffer to the timelines to save their own butts.

Also, when you focus on deadlines, you’re spending tons of time doing project management work, trying to figure out when you’re going to do things that you should already be building. Just think about all the time wasted doing such assessments: figuring out how long something is going to take, and then checking if that estimate is correct, and then somebody adding a buffer, because they don’t want the estimate to be wrong and to miss a deadline.

You owe it to your customer to work in a lean, fast way. 

Last word

Forcing deadlines – and the need for control – is a vicious cycle in product management, tying together and perpetuating all the issues I listed above.

Longer timelines make leaders and executives crave certainty even more. But the demand for certainty pushes people to estimate longer timelines – longer even than necessary. So everything moves slower, while there’s simultaneously an anxious push forward. In that atmosphere, there’s rarely time for review, to go back and rebuild stuff. No time is devoted to quality. Yet no one wants to be held responsible for the lack of quality, to catch the blame for what’s actually a cultural or systemic problem in the company. People don’t speak up. The customer gets a worse deal.

At the end of the day, it’s in everyone’s best interest that you trust your product team to manage the roadmap.

See deadline-free lean product roadmaps in action in our, free, fully loaded ProdPad Sandbox

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