Product plans, or road maps, are typically the work of a product manager leading the development of software for external customers. Unfortunately, product road maps are often overlooked on internal development projects. Product road maps are not so much requirements documents or specifications; rather they are forward-looking documents based on market research.

If your development team builds software for internal customers on an iterative basis, a product road map can be an effective political tool to curry favor with executive management at budget time. You can also use the road map as a guide when you are called upon to justify the expected benefits of future product releases to the company’s strategy and internal business groups. The following tips can help you build a product road map to drive internal development projects.

Tip 1: Consider the product road map a plan
Product road maps focus on business and strategy documentation and not technical documentation. Some items to consider including in your product road map are:

  • A breakdown of the future product versions by version number. A good rule of thumb is to look forward through the next four to five versions or the next one or two business quarters.
  • The goals for each future product release.
  • The benefits of each product release stated in business rather than technical terms.
  • The resources required to develop the new product iteration.
  • The potential resource restrictions.
  • The technological impact and restrictions that need to be addressed internally for the project to progress.

Just gathering this knowledge informally within your development group can put you ahead of other internal development teams when corporate executives weigh internal development initiatives. Having a plan in place beyond what is recorded in your requirements documents and functional specifications enables you to paint a better picture of the benefits and return on investment that the development project will deliver through its iterative development cycle.

Tip 2: Chart a course through reorgs and corporate initiatives
Charting a product road map for a major internal software development project should forecast the application’s role in documented and known corporate technology initiatives. Although reorganizations are difficult to forecast, a product road map can illustrate where the internal application can save money or produce revenue for your company.

Tip 3: Chart a route to internal customers
When developing a large-scale internal application with an impact over multiple groups, you can be sure you’ll be hit with many requests for additional features and functionality that, if not managed, can turn your application into an “everything-but-the-kitchen-sink” project.

This influx of various formal and informal requests to add functionality to the product must be carefully managed to make best use of current development resources. It’s also important to manage as an iterative development cycle stretches into the future.

While some of this management includes requirements, functional specifications, and project plans, your road map is important because:

  • Iterative development projects need to maintain scope for a longer period of time because they cross multiple budget cycles.
  • You can share this vision with internal customers. It should be in line with the realities of the budget, resources, and other internal factors that govern your development group.
  • It offers input into the growth potential of your project, your group, and your own career.

Tip 4: Follow the road map to internal budgeting and funding
In large and small organizations alike, the competition for project funding is heating up. A product road map that presents a cohesive, business-oriented plan can help you solidify the support of executives, board members, and third-party funding sources that are interested in the value of major internal development projects.

Internal corporate politics can be an ugly master, especially when a technologically inferior project can win out because the sponsors and management of the project present a more coherent case than that of a technologically superior project.

Using the product road map
This article is not intended to deliver a formal methodology for delivering a product road map. Rather, it illustrates where having an informal or formal plan in place can differentiate your internal development project from the others already in progress. In today’s climate, it is important for project managers and development teams to remember that, even under the auspices of a large company, we must treat our work like a business. A product road map helps chart the course for iterative development projects to meet corporate requirements and position the product to better meet changes in the requirements.