Features and Futures
A traditional Software Product Road-map for a Product that was sold as a Perpetual Licence was something between a vision and a commitment to innovation. It helped your sales team sell the future. A common name we used a lot in software teams that I was part of was a “Features and Futures deck”. It was the document that sales and marketing teams can use to share with Clients and Prospects what we do today, and what we plan tomorrow. This was enough in the days of Perpetual Software Licenses. SaaS Business have a higher bar to hit though.
Your Service Promise
The Technology Road-map for a SaaS company is far less optional. Now that you ask your clients to commit to paying you into the future, you need to commit to them what you will deliver them into that same future. While this does not mean that your product delivery ability has to be guaranteed, it puts a new level of expectation on your Product Road-map It has to be more than a Vision. It has to be a plan. It cannot be driven by whatever customers ask you to build, or what you think is the next cool thing to do; it needs to be grounded I in what you believe your customers are going to pay you for. It actually has to match your customer’s expectations as they have decided to pay you in the future by being a subscription customer.
Here are a few examples of great SaaS product road-maps that do justice to the Service commitments that you have to provide your Subscription customers:
The Prodpad Road-map stays away from detailed timelines. This allows them to not commit to specific dates, which could be detrimental if they miss those dates and upset customers. The “Now/Next/Later” setup allows for a clear communication of the goals and their ordered priority without any risky commitment.
The Gov.UK Road-map uses a timeline split in months with color coded progress bars. Since the UK government is a public entity it does not have to worry about some of the drawbacks road-maps can have for private companies. They can afford to be as transparent as possible without competitors potentially stealing their ideas for example. The color-coding helps filter items by subject and the bars filling up shows progress by individual goal.
Subnautica has a detailed road-map that looks like it could be the developer’s own internal road-map. “Videogames as a service” has been a new trend in the electronic entertainment world these last few years. Videogames are now designed and marketed as ongoing services meant to receive support and updates post release to encourage buyers to continue playing and thus spending more time and more money on the same game. On the other hand, road-maps can help smaller independent developers engage with their community and build trust and anticipation. Usually, the public road-map is more high-level and less detailed than the one published to the public to avoid risks associated with road-maps for private companies. Subnautica on the other hand even shows what individual developers are thinking and communicating at a micro level.
You will find a lot of talk debating whether a road-map is right for you and your business. While it is undeniable that road-maps have their pros and cons, a well executed road-map can manage to reap the benefits of the pros without succumbing to any of the risks. Not all road-maps are created equal. The choice of layout and display, the choice of detail level, etc. must be tailored to your business and its position in the market, its maturity stage, its goals, and a lot of other factors we discussed in our other posts.