Boiling the ocean

One of the most common problems I see with the entrepreneurs I mentor is grossly over ambitious product plans. The common term for this is “boiling the ocean” – your reach exceeds your grasp. Another phrase for this is “overrunning your headlights.”

One solution to this problem is the product roadmap. Product roadmaps can start with the ultimate vision of your product – that Swiss Army knife that becomes a worldwide best seller for decades. But you need to start working backwards, one step at a time.

Corkscrews are pretty tough to design and manufacture  compared to a straight blade, so perhaps the corkscrew is the penultimate feature.  You can then hop back to the start of the project, perhaps the handle, or the straight knife blade. Then move to the next milestone, the serrated blade. The process is up to you. It’s the final result that counts.

Mapping out a product roadmap has both internal and external advantages. First, it can capture the creativity of your development and marketing teams, because your aren’t fighting them about scope creep – let them put those blue sky ideas on the draft roadmap, but way out there by product ship, not for next week.

The roadmap is a work in progress; the more engaged you get with the market, the more likely it is to change, based on what you learn about customers and what they start asking you for. There are various tools, such as Gantt charts, you can use.The tool doesn’t matter. What matters are two things: getting  buy-in from the team and continually maintaining it.

If you don’t know where you are going, all roads will take you there. Don’t put that roadmap in a virtual drawer somewhere – you need it as guidance. There are no GPSs for product development.

The external value of a roadmap is for investors and partners. Investors generally are interested in two things: growth and predictability. A roadmap can show vs. tell both variables. Partners need to plan just like you, sharing your roadmap with them can help them be better partners to you.

Author: Mentorphile

Mentor, coach, and advisor to entrepreneurs, small businesses, and non-profit organizations. General manager with significant experience in both for-profit and non-profit organizations. Focus on media and information. On founding team of four venture-backed companies. Currently Chairman of Popsleuth, Inc., maker of the Endorfyn app for keeping fans updated on new stuff from their favorite artists.

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