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Gil Zilberfeld has been in software since childhood, writing BASIC programs on his trusty Sinclair ZX81. With more than twenty years of developing commercial software, he has vast experience in software methodology and practices. Gil is an agile consultant, applying agile principles over the last decade. From automated testing to exploratory testing, design practices to team collaboration, scrum to kanban, and lean startup methods – he’s done it all. He is still learning from his successes and failures. Gil speaks frequently in international conferences about unit testing, TDD, agile practices and communication. He is the author of "Everyday Unit Testing", blogs at http://www.gilzilberfeld.com and in his spare time he shoots zombies, for fun. Gil is a DZone MVB and is not an employee of DZone and has posted 73 posts at DZone. You can read more from them at their website. View Full User Profile

Product Roadmaps Are Anti-Agile

02.26.2014
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I was listening recently to the “Global Product Management Talk” live podcast (which I recommend, by the way). The speaker talked about creating roadmaps for product lines. It’s an interesting topic for me, as I’m juggling between products everyday.

As the the interview sped along, I asked on Twitter: How are roadmaps related to agile?

The answer I got was a bit bland, I thought. It seemed along the agile lines of collaboration with marketing and sales, and indeed everybody. It wasn’t what I intended, and I explained what I was really asking: Roadmaps are big planning efforts. Agile is about adapting to change. How can they live together?

Roadmaps resist change

Ever since donning my product manager cap, I’ve created roadmaps, mainly because I was asked for them. Some people, including me, regarded them as a snapshot of our current plans. Things change, plans change and therefore “roadmaps” change. That is the agile view, isn’t it?

However, some people show roadmaps much more reverence. What if you’re not that agile in spirit, but rather spend your time skipping under waterfalls? Roadmaps incur not just the planning time, but also commit resources towards that plan.  Then the plan can move forward, it makes perfect waterfall sense.

The problem is that by early commitment, we close down options that can help us change when troubles or opportunities arise. Roadmaps are the epitome of early commitment. They resist change

I haven’t managed to get my point across through twitting. I hope things are clearer now.

However, my story doesn’t end here.

Collaborating on the roadmap is  a whole team job, which is a great agile value. But there was a nuance I caught in the talk and the tweets: “[roadmapping] requires alignment w/Agile developers included in the roadmapping process” .

Agile is how developers manage their work

Once the roadmap is in place, the developers can develop the products anyway they want. Agile if they choose too. They can and should have continuous integration, automatic tests, the whole lot.

Because they are the agile team.

Note that “they” are not “us”product managers, project managers, decision makers. We decide, they work.

Command-and-control goes hand in hand with waterfall. We can try wrapping the process in all kinds of collaboration efforts, better communication, joint vision and alignment. But when you hear the “us” and “them” you understand there’s no real agility there.

The development team doing stand-ups does not make you agile. Doing a retrospective does not make you agile. Even delivering in a constant pace (gasp!) does not make you agile.

Agility is NOT a developer thing. It’s a business thing. If you discover your roadmap is ruined because a competitor is getting traction in your area, and you cannot compete, it may not be your developers are not agile enough. It‘s probably you overcommitted resources, and now cannot turn the ship around.

At that point, it doesn’t matter who was wrong, “us” or “them”. It’s all of “you” at the bottom of the ocean.

So what about those roadmaps?

Roadmaps are tools. They visualize one way to go. But just one way.

Keep your eyes open, since you might need to capitalize on another option soon, unexpectedly.

When that happens, you’ll be thankful for being part of an agile team.

Published at DZone with permission of Gil Zilberfeld, author and DZone MVB. (source)

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)

Comments

John Lewis replied on Wed, 2014/03/05 - 11:24am

In an Agile context, I like to think of product roadmaps as a higher-level backlog of business requirements, usually structured as epics, that can then relate to a number of specific stories that are actually in the product backlog.

By estimating complexity of these roadmap epics, and then measuring the pace at which the constituent backlog stories are completed (also estimated for complexity, but this a different scale of course), over time we can establish not only a backlog velocity (of story points), but a roadmap velocity (of epic points), which is more useful for the product owner when talking with the rest of business (product backlog is too fine-grained in those cases). That product roadmap, with epics and complexity estimates, can then be re-ordered as business priorities shift, and the estimates of when things could be complete is now empirical (based on roadmap velocity) rather than pure guessing.


Gil Zilberfeld replied on Wed, 2014/03/05 - 11:49am in response to: John Lewis

John,

Thanks for the comment!

I can what you said in "the team builds trust". True, valuable and basically, as a customer, I don't care about it.

Yet all the activities you mentioned, don't add value to the customer. Messing around internally, moving invisible parts, is all waste.

We seem to over engineer our processes. We need to remember what agile was intended for: working software that users want.

Gil.

Roman Pichler replied on Thu, 2014/03/06 - 2:57am

Hi Gil,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I don't agree with the notion that product roadmaps are anti- agile. The problem are not roadmaps in my mind. It's how they are used and what information they contain. I find that establishing shared roadmap goals rather than focussing on (lots of detailed) features is particularly important in an agile context. 

You may want to take a look at my GO roadmap, which I've specifically designed to help agile teams create effective product roadmaps: 

http://www.romanpichler.com/tools/product-roadmap/

Best regards,

Roman

Gil Zilberfeld replied on Thu, 2014/03/06 - 6:14am in response to: Roman Pichler

Hi Roman,

Thanks for commenting! 

A bit of a controversial title, I confess. But, as I summarize, it's not the roadmaps themselves - they are merely tools. How you use them, can really make or break an agile process. If the roadmaps take 3 months to build, and you don't want to make those 3 months sunk cost, so you divert an entire organization to committed work - that's the problem. 

If you summarize what you know, without much effort or too much commitment on a slide (or the GO tool), then that's ok. But you know that already, since you wrote a book on Agile Product Management :)

Cheers

Gil 

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