Skip to main content

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.

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.

Popular posts from this blog

Why Spreadsheets Suck for Prioritizing

The Goal As a company executive, you want confidence that your product team (which includes all the people, from all departments, responsible for product success) has a sound basis for deciding which items are on the product roadmap. You also want confidence the team is prioritizing the items in a smart way. What Should We Prioritize? The items the team prioritizes could be features, user stories, epics, market problems, themes, or experiments. Melissa Perri  makes an excellent case for a " problem roadmap ", and, in general, I recommend focusing on the latter types of items. However, the topic of what types of items you should prioritize - and in what situations - is interesting and important but beyond the scope of this blog entry. A Sad but Familiar Story If there is significant controversy about priorities, then almost inevitably, a product manager or other member of the team decides to put together The Spreadsheet. I've done it. Some of the mos

Henry Ford's "Faster Horse" Quote

You may have heard the ( apocryphal ) Henry Ford quote: If I'd asked customers what they wanted, they would have said "a faster horse". Over at the On Product Management blog , Saeed gives his take on this infamous quote. He "hates" it, and gives some compelling reasons. Saeed is spot on in his explanations. Personally, I think the quote is great, but it's a matter of interpretation. The valid point of the quote is not that it's a bad idea to facilitate a conversation with your market to better understand it. The valid points are: You must ask the right questions to get valuable answers. You must interpret the answers thoughtfully - often outside their direct meaning - to glean reliable information. Asking questions is not always the best way to "listen" to your market. (E.g., sometimes pure observational studies are more reliable.) Nonetheless, I find the quote is helpful to combat "armchair product management" in the

Stop Validating and Start Falsifying

The product management and startup worlds are buzzing about the importance of "validation". In this entry, I'll explain how this idea originated and why it's leading organizations astray. Why Validate? In lean startup circles, you constantly hear about "validated learning" and "validating" product ideas: The assumption is that you have a great product idea and seek validation from customers before expending vast resources to build and bring it to market. Indeed, it makes sense to transcend conventional approaches to making product decisions . Intuition, sales anecdotes, feature requests from customers, backward industry thinking, and spreadsheets don't form the basis for sound product decisions. Incorporating lean startup concepts , and a more scientific approach to learning markets, is undoubtedly a sounder approach. Moreover, in larger organizations, sometimes further in the product life-cycle, everyone seems to have an opinio