Interesting post over at 37 signals about the pitfalls of putting forth a product roadmap - "Product roadmaps are dangerous". The comments are interesting. Here is my favorite so far:
Unless satisfying your clients involves doing nothing for a long time, in which case I say: get new clients. Or if satisfying yourself involves doing nothing for a long time, in which case you’re a procrastinator/sadomasochist and should probably get a different job.
I hate to take things out of context, so in fairness I have to say that the previous paragraph in the comment was about the virtues of doing something real every day (an agile-esque philosophy indeed I may add).
As a software vendor, I am selling the value of my product to help you with your business. As part of that, I can't remember a pitch where the prospect hasn't asked to see a roadmap. The client needs to know that you have ideas that will be useful to them after they have bought your product. I think they also want to know the product has a coherent direction. So to us, the roadmap is a useful selling tool in helping articulate the "grand vision".
Another less ingenuous use of the roadmap is to help overcome perceived shortcomings in the product - kind of like saying "We don't have that feature right now, but it's on the roadmap". Some vendors will use this tactic to wait until enough customer momentum drives the requirement over the line. Similarly, Joel's "Fire & Motion" idea uses the roadmap to drive competitors nuts as they try to keep up with your feature announcements.
Nowadays, I spend a lot of time dealing with the vagaries of
implementing our software in very large organizations where the
is coordinating many moving parts and constituents. I've seen the
"roadmap" used as a very effective tool to get buy in from the major
There are lots of different ways to look at roadmaps, but I think an important thing to keep in mind is that a roadmap is simply a snapshot of what you think are the most useful things the target market will need in n months time. More importantly, the roadmap is not a project plan, so it doesn't really matter if that Data Slicer & Dicer feature slips until next February if you do something that is more relevant now.