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Reflection on Product Roadmaps

 

November 13, 2014

Doug Hadden, VP Products

I’ve come to think that enterprise software product roadmaps have become dysfunctional and counter-productive. Large vendors have created the expectation that a five-year product roadmap is a credible thing. In other words, vendors who sell to many different vertical, horizontal and geographic markets have a better understanding of your market than you do. That’s the “noble lie” behind product roadmaps. In fact, vendors try to tell you what practices are best.

Here’s the reality behind enterprise software product roadmaps:

  • It boils down to a feature lottery among markets – if you don’t get your needed feature, you’ll have to customize more
  • It’s about majority rules
  • It’s all about the software manufacturer to justify hyperbolic claims about product footprints
  • It’s all about the hype – the annual conference, a profit centre for the manufacturer – to saturate the press and analysts
  • It’s often more about the “buy case” – to encourage new customers to buy – rather than the “use case”

Towards Rational Product Roadmaps

I don’t want to make the unreasonable claim that FreeBalance has fully mastered the roadmap process. We have learned some important lessons:

  • An aspirational roadmap that looks 5 years out at outcomes rather than feature sets is an ideal medium for in-depth discussions
  • Technology changes: the focus on features results in saddling customers with legacy high-cost technologies
  • Market factors also undergo change where features that were thought to be important become less so
  • Market and technology trends help identify the problems to be solved – focus on problems not solutions in search of a problem.
  • Features add to complexity and cost resulting in diminishing returns – often negative returns meaning that customers should not be forced to upgrade

Conferences and Roadmaps

We seem to be in the middle of the enterprise software silly season of conference after conference. Of hyperbole on hyperbole. Of loud brain-thumping music. Of executive drive-bys. Sell – sell -sell.

I can still remember the conversation back in 2006 when our President and CEO, Manuel Pietra, described his view of annual event. This became the FreeBalance International Steering Committee (FISC), an annual event since 2007. There has been some evolution over the past 7 years, but the essential elements remain:

  • FISC is about engagement at the senior level with government experts – so no salespeople and customers have full access to FreeBalance executives
  • FreeBalance presents the tentative roadmap showing customer commitments plus plans and customers change the plans
  • 2-year horizon on functions that is aligned with trends
  • FISC becomes a vehicle for sharing practices, problems and solutions among customers and with experts – it’s a network and there is dedicated time for this
  • Cost for customer attendance is paid out of annual maintenance, so customers are not expected to pay extra for the privilege of attending – our government customers select 2 candidates

We’ve been able to track the changes in high priority functions over time to separate trends from fads. FISC owns 20% of our Research and Development budget. My sense is that FISC members drive much more than this. We’ve often found ourselves with some forward-looking customers at FISC. We have been able to align these leading-edge needs with trends and outcomes and have delivered. We often get the problem perspective that we otherwise would not get through the traditional roadmap process.

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Doug Hadden

Doug Hadden

Executive Vice President, Innovation at FreeBalance
Doug is responsible for identifying new global markets, new technologies and trends, and new and enhanced internal processes. Doug leads a cross-functional international team that is responsible for developing product prototypes and innovative go-to-market strategies.

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