Creating a Product Roadmap: Is It Worth It?

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Inspired" by Marty Cagan. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What is a product roadmap? Is creating a product roadmap worth your time?

Product roadmaps are commonly used because they help employees prioritize tasks and allow bosses to build a completion schedule. However, in many cases, product roadmaps end up being a waste of time and resources.

Here’s why you might want to think twice before creating a product roadmap.

The Roadmap Approach

Most companies develop products by starting with an idea and creating a product roadmap: a series of orders handed down by executives that, if completed properly, should result in a desired output. Roadmaps are lists of priorities. Generally, either upper management or the product manager issues a new roadmap every three months or so.

Roadmaps include big picture requests and due dates, but not where engineers need to fix bugs or address smaller technical questions. There are a few reasons why managers think that roadmaps are a good management technique:

  • They keep employees focused on what managers see as the most important tasks to the overall success of the company first.
  • They help managers liaise with stakeholders and colleagues, because they can plan, based on their roadmaps, when they think various tasks will be completed. 
  • Roadmaps help managers feel like they’re generally more in control of their employees. 

Roadmaps are popular for two reasons:

  1. They make sure that employees are properly prioritizing their tasks.
  2. They allow bosses to build a schedule around when they believe tasks will be finished.

Are Roadmaps Useful?

However, roadmaps generally lead to waste. Here’s why:

  • At least half of product ideas are bound to fail. This is true for myriad reasons—for example, customers don’t respond positively, there’s an unforeseen technical issue, or customers like a product but it’s too complex to use regularly. 
  • Additionally, products are almost never complete after one try. There are always bugs to fix or unforseen questions that focus groups must address. 

Both of these issues throw off the timing of the roadmap. If, as previously stated, managers are relying on a roadmap to know when products will be finished, it’s more than 50% likely that the team won’t meet their expectations. 

Additionally, roadmaps can lead to morale problems. If engineers—or, in some cases, product managers—feel as if they’re only getting orders, and they’re unable to complete them on time by no fault of their own, they blame their bosses for giving them unreasonable requests. 

Creating a Product Roadmap: Is It Worth It?

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Here's what you'll find in our full Inspired summary :

  • A two-step plan for creating and sustaining successful technology products
  • Why product managers are so important in product development
  • How to avoid some of the biggest pitfalls that most tech companies fall into

Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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