Product Roadmaps Are Anti-Agile

I was listening recently to the “Global Product Management Talk” live podcast (which I recommend, by the way). The speaker talked about creating roadmaps for product lines. It’s an interesting topic for me, as I’m juggling between products everyday.

As the the interview sped along, I asked on Twitter: How are roadmaps related to agile?

The answer I got was a bit bland, I thought. It seemed along the agile lines of collaboration with marketing and sales, and indeed everybody. It wasn’t what I intended, and I explained what I was really asking: Roadmaps are big planning efforts. Agile is about adapting to change. How can they live together?

Roadmaps resist change

Ever since donning my product manager cap, I’ve created roadmaps, mainly because I was asked for them. Some people, including me, regarded them as a snapshot of our current plans. Things change, plans change and therefore “roadmaps” change. That is the agile view, isn’t it?

However, some people show roadmaps much more reverence. What if you’re not that agile in spirit, but rather spend your time skipping under waterfalls? Roadmaps incur not just the planning time, but also commit resources towards that plan.  Then the plan can move forward, it makes perfect waterfall sense.

The problem is that by early commitment, we close down options that can help us change when troubles or opportunities arise. Roadmaps are the epitome of early commitment. They resist change.

I haven’t managed to get my point across through twitting. I hope things are clearer now.

However, my story doesn’t end here.

Collaborating on the roadmap is  a whole team job, which is a great agile value. But there was a nuance I caught in the talk and the tweets: “[roadmapping] requires alignment w/Agile developers included in the roadmapping process” .

Agile is how developers manage their work

Once the roadmap is in place, the developers can develop the products anyway they want. Agile if they choose too. They can and should have continuous integration, automatic tests, the whole lot.

Because they are the agile team.

Note that “they” are not “us” product managers, project managers, decision makers. We decide, they work.

Command-and-control goes hand in hand with waterfall. We can try wrapping the process in all kinds of collaboration efforts, better communication, joint vision and alignment. But when you hear the “us” and “them” you understand there’s no real agility there.

The development team doing stand-ups does not make you agile. Doing a retrospective does not make you agile. Even delivering in a constant pace (gasp!) does not make you agile.

Agility is NOT a developer thing. It’s a business thing. If you discover your roadmap is ruined because a competitor is getting traction in your area, and you cannot compete, it may not be your developers are not agile enough. It‘s probably you overcommitted resources, and now cannot turn the ship around.

At that point, it doesn’t matter who was wrong, “us” or “them”. It’s all of “you” at the bottom of the ocean.

So what about those roadmaps?

Roadmaps are tools. They visualize one way to go. But just one way.

Keep your eyes open, since you might need to capitalize on another option soon, unexpectedly.

When that happens, you’ll be thankful for being part of an agile team.
 

Reference: Product Roadmaps Are Anti-Agile from our JCG partner Gil Zilberfeld at the Geek Out of Water blog.

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