Roadmapping Without Dates: Build Yourself A Better Strategic Plan

January 24, 2013

ProdPad Labs

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.”

We have a very good reason for that.

It’s roadmapping for the way product managers work

Product leaders like Martin Eriksson have been arguing against dates on roadmaps for years.

As Martin has pointed out, product managers can’t do more than make an educated guess around when a project might be completed. After all, there are so many variables that you can’t factor into a long-term roadmap: team capacity, market changes, quarterly budgets and so on.

So why bother communicating dates and deadlines on your product roadmap at all? So we made a pretty radical change: we ditched dates altogether. 

The original version of our roadmap was like a cross between a Gantt chart and an Excel spreadsheet.

It was one of the first parts of ProdPad we built, until we realized that if we could design a much better roadmap if we ditched the dates. It would would give product managers a level of flexibility to focus on the bigger picture: product strategy and vision.

A product roadmap to show off your strategic plans

After we worked through a version for some clients, we added the only structure you’ll find on our roadmap: three columns called Current, Near-Term and Future.

Public version of a ProdPad roadmap

An original view of ProdPad’s roadmap.

This brought us a lot closer to what product managers actually need: a tool to communicate their long-term product plans and strategy.

We threw out deadlines and replaced them with broader time horizons that help you show off the ranking order of your priorities.

Each card represents a theme (or “problem to be solved”) rather than a single granular idea, and cards get more and more defined as they move to from the right to left. This made strategy and priorities much clearer and easier to understand.

We’ve gotten a lot of great feedback on this – we’ve purposely left it simple and non-prescriptive, yet clear enough to help you structure a long-term product direction around.

ProdPad Roadmap

It turns out that so much more is possible when you keep dates off your roadmap. It frees you up to think about the bigger picture. What kind of product do you want to build? Who should we build for? How steps should we take to meet those goals?

Watch: The guide to product roadmapping

My co-founder Janna Bastow gave an excellent talk on our approach to roadmapping at ProductTank. I highly recommend it!


Simon Cast

Simon Cast is a product expert and Co-founder of ProdPad - building great product management software, and of Mind the Product, a global community of product managers. He has 14 years experience in building products, ranging from satellite control software to online social capital tools, and also spent time in the Australian Army. In 2010, he co-founded ProductCamp London with Janna, and he now organizes ProductTank events and the Mind the Product Conference.

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