Effective Engineering e-Newsletter – 1/30/2003
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A Poor Product Roadmap Gets Everyone Lost
Tom Dennis – President, Effective Engineering [firstname.lastname@example.org]
A few years ago, I had to make
a trip from Boston to a company in Eufaula, AL.
Eufaula is a pretty little town in Alabama, but it’s one of those
places that “you can’t get there from here”.
I had to fly from Boston to Atlanta, and then get a connecting flight
to one of two small regional airports (Columbus, GA or Dothan, AL).
From there I had to travel by car for about an hour over a variety of
highways and back roads to reach the company in Eufaula.
I would have become hopelessly lost without a good roadmap.
The situation is very much the same for a company.
The company may have a company vision that states what the
company wants to be in the future (see eN-010203 – Poor Company Vision
Clouds Everyone’s View), and a product vision that states the
high level perspective of where the company wants to go with its products (see
eN-011603 – Poor Product Vision Blinds Engineering), but
without a product roadmap with some specific milestones and timeframes,
everyone is moving into unfamiliar and often uncharted territory without
directions of how to get there. In
order for the company to succeed, all of the people in the company, and
particularly engineering, have to know where the company is going, how and
when the company plans to get there, and what their specific role is in making
that happen. Without such a
roadmap, people will attempt to do their jobs, but they won’t be moving in
the same direction. The result is
often chaos and frustration, and a failing company.
What is a product
It can come in many different forms, and can cover different levels of
detail, but basically it is a written document (or presentation or spreadsheet
or project plan) that lays out, for a reasonable timeframe (e.g. for the next
few years), what products (and/or services) are planned to be developed and
released in what timeframes. It
also indicates key milestones along the way (e.g. key project review dates,
key sub-project deadlines) so that progress can be measured, and corrective
action can be taken when problems are encountered to keep projects and
products on track. Further, it
shows the dependencies of specific products on other products. This helps to assess how problems in one area will affect
other areas, and to determine what can be done to correct those problems.
How is a product roadmap
developed? A product roadmap is developed as a cooperative effort
between numbers of functions in the company.
At a minimum this includes marketing, product management, and
engineering, but it should generally also include manufacturing, customer
support, and finance. These folks
evaluate customer needs, company business needs, and product development and
manufacturing realities. They
then develop these often conflicting and contradictory elements into a
workable plan that delivers products customers will want, that meet company
business objectives, and that can really be developed and delivered in a
suitable timeframe. Easy, huh?
How are key milestones
and schedule dates determined? The determination of key milestones and schedule dates
generally come from hard experience, and can be the source of either glee or
grief depending on how well it is done (see eN-112102 – Late Projects
Kill Companies!). Estimates
of the many individual sub-projects must be developed. These are collected and consolidated by managers, often
through a number of levels. Some
level of contingency planning is done to reflect the unforeseen problems that
always arise. Key milestones and
target dates that are indicative of success or failure are identified.
Phase review milestones and target dates are assigned that enable
various phases of the projects to be evaluated (part of the “To conquer,
divide” philosophy). This is
greatly simplified here, but is really one of the most challenging parts of
this critical activity. I will
address this further in greater detail in future e-Newsletters.
If done right, what kind
of motivation does a product roadmap provide? A good product roadmap that everyone buys into enables
everyone, particularly engineering, to understand what is to be done when, and
also helps make clear what job each individual must perform to make it happen
(if it’s not clear to them, their manager can help make it clear). If things start to go off track (off-road), then people are
empowered to speak up and make it evident that corrective action must be
taken. With more eyes to see that
the roadmap directions are being followed, it is much more difficult to become
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