Start Creating Public Roadmaps

Or how to bring your customers along for the journey

Hey, Kavir here! Before we begin, an update: The Discourse completes a year this month. 🥳Thank you to each one of you for following on this journey. I tweeted about it here. It’s still Day 1 with a lot of community initiatives planned, so stay tuned! With that said, let’s talk about public roadmaps. 


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I've created a bunch of product roadmaps in my product management career. But most of them were project plans in disguise. They included specific timelines, too much detail, and intended to predict the distant future, which we know is impossible.

Now I know that’s wrong. To me, the clearest way to create a roadmap is using theNow, Next, Later framework of product roadmaps created by Janna Bastow, CEO of ProdPad.com.

The TL;DR from the framework is to set the product vision, ditch timelines in favor of time horizons, and focus on outcomes, not outputs.

A product roadmap helps you articulate that vision internally to your team.

By making that roadmap public, you can also share that vision with your current and future customers, partners, and investors — and bring them along for the journey.

It contains a comprehensible, high-level overview of the ideas, experiments, or features that you intend to ship in a given time horizon.

Now that we have an idea of a public roadmap, what value does it add? 

Benefits of Public Roadmaps

Builds trust

A public roadmap, when published and updated consistently over time, can build trust. It indicates that your team is capable of executing against a time bound plan. 

An effective way to build more trust is by supplementing the public roadmap with detailed release notes documenting the benefits of the features shipped. (a topic for another time)

Trust improves both sales and retention. As an existing customer, if I need a feature and see that it is planned for the next quarter, I have reason to believe that it will be shipped. Even if another competitor product offers the same feature now, I don’t need to incur switching costs.

This benefit also extends to acquiring new customers.  

Get feedback

Through a public roadmap, you can encourage users to provide feedback on the roadmap through votes or comments, like in Buffer’s example below. This creates a stronger representation of what users want and builds empathy within the product team. 

The feedback helps you be nimble and make changes to your roadmap accordingly.

“Your roadmap is your way to validate your plan of action, both internally and externally. Having an outcome-based public roadmap allows you to check your understanding of the problems your customers face, and make changes to your strategy if you find you're veering off-target or are missing opportunities.” — Janna Bastow

Promotes accountability

In the example from ProdPad, the items on the roadmap are tied to user and business goals by combining OKRs with feature experiments.

A roadmap is a public commitment that holds you accountable.

At the same time, a roadmap is not restrictive and cumbersome. The high-level overview vs specific details and time horizon vs exact timelines help you remain flexible. 

Builds Community

Building trust, creating conversations, and being accountable — all lead to carving out a direct relationship with your customers. This helps you build community. 

And community-led growth is a real thing. You wouldn’t want to miss your customers being your biggest advocates.

Overcoming concerns about public roadmaps

Having said all this, the skeptics might still argue: 

Competitors will copy

The common apprehension is that competitors might snoop into what you're building and copy what you plan to build. 

Creating a public roadmap doesn’t mean you reveal all your sensitive information. It can just be a high-level roadmap for the immediate future. 

I'd also argue that if competitors are looking at your roadmap and trying to copy, you are already way ahead of them. Speed is key in startups. 

Committed to a fixed roadmap

If you're pre product-market fit, you might feel the need to pivot often. In that case, a public roadmap won't serve you well.

But if you're further along the startup journey, it can provide a guiding light to what problems you need to be solving and how important they are for your customers.


I’ve decided to take my own advice when it comes to public roadmaps and create one for my own side projects showw.work, a platform to promote sharing your work online. So far we have shipped a UI/UX Designer Portfolio template. If you're interested in creating a personal portfolio or website using Notion, leave a comment on what profiles you would like us to create first. Link to the public roadmap.

Conclusion

By sharing showw.work’s public roadmap with you, I have sparked the conversation for what needs to be built in the future. Think about your startup and whether a public roadmap would make sense. It grants you credibility, keeps you accountable, and can create an engaged user base that can transform into a dedicated community. 


Tools to create Roadmaps:

More examples of public roadmaps:


Thanks to Tom White, Stacey King Gordon, Ergest Xheblati, Dani Trusca, Dan Hunt from Foster for providing feedback on early drafts of this piece.

📱 App of the week: ReadSomethingGreat.com by Louis Pereira

📘 Read of the week: In Online Ed, Content is No Longer King—Cohorts Are — Wes Kao 15 min


That's it for today, thanks for reading!

What’s your take on public roadmaps? Have you created one already or are planning to? Reply or comment below. Give feedback and vote on the next topic here.

Talk to you soon!

Kavir

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