Thursday, February 02, 2006

Use Cases and Product Roadmaps

A few days ago, Random linked to a product roadmap for Firefox, a web browser. A product roadmap shows the expected changes to a product over time.

Product roadmaps can have different audiences, and I believe the format of the roadmap should depend on the audience a product manager is trying to target. One common format for a roadmap shows features that the company plans to add to the product. Users and analysts are accustomed to thinking about products in terms of features, so to some extent this format is helpful and natural.

However, particularly if the audience for the product roadmap is internal, it might be worthwhile to orient it around use cases rather than features. The high-level use cases for a product typically don't change much during its lifetime. Yet the constraints around these use cases do change; even if the use cases stay the same, you make the product easier to use, more secure, or more reliable.

One way to format your product roadmap, therefore, is in terms of the use cases and the enhanced constraints you will attach to them as the product matures. How much easier will it be to use your product, in measurable terms? How much more secure will your product be, in measurable terms? How much more reliable will your product be, in measurable terms? You don't even have to mention the features that will lead to these improvements.

3 comments :

bob said...

OhmyGod, don't leave home without your Safe Harbor statement when it comes to talking up roadmaps, espcially if you're selling software (vs giving it away, as Firefox so generously does).

And please, please, please, never put anything in writing for a customer without that same Safe Harbor statement and (hopefully) a rock-solid NDA.

It's not like we don't want to talk to customers and share our directions with them - just be careful about what you commit to.

Roger L. Cauvin said...

I share your call for extreme caution when making promises to customers. If we are "forced" to make commitments to customers, we should do what we can to set expectations low and overdeliver.

Scott Sehlhorst said...

Great idea about using use cases as a framework for product roadmaps. I also think this is very valuable for users who are external. Users don't want to know "What will it be able to do?" - they want to know "What will I be able to do?"

We touch on this in our post, Communicating a delivery schedule with use cases although we don't go into product roadmaps per se.