How GitHub, Meltano, Airbyte, and Atlassian manage to stay focused on bigger goals while still staying flexible and agile.
“As a PM, you must plan for the near term milestones (more detailed) as well as for the long term strategy (more broad), and everything in between. Considered as a spectrum, these form a nearsighted roadmap. This will enable you to efficiently communicate both internally and externally how the team is planning to deliver on the product vision.” (from the GitLab Product Handbook)
““In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” (Dwight D. Eisenhower)
Planning, roadmaps, OKRs. The modern-day product manager has lots of different tools he can use to conduct his work. I found roadmaps to be a very important part of my work. My understanding is guided by the two quotes above. As GitLab says, roadmaps are very effective communication devices. On the other hand, they are living documents and as such great for continuous planning. They provide the guardrails for a long-term perspective, and just the right amount of details for the now.
But only, if you do them right. In my opinion, good agile roadmaps are nearsighted. They contain both, short and long-term planning. But the farther we go into the future, the foggier and bigger the milestones get.
Why produce a roadmap at all? Every product manager has some kind of vision & strategy he is working on for the products he manages. They might be supplemented or even be part of overall company OKRs or department OKRs or he might be responsible for creating it from scratch. In any case, a roadmap is exactly the step in-between, describing “how” a product will evolve to deliver on the vision, or meet the Key Results to deliver on the Objective.
Below, I share four good examples of nearsighted roadmaps because when I looked, at first I couldn’t find any. I share the one of Meltano, maintained at GitLab which sits at the source of nearsighted roadmaps, the roadmap of airbyte, a data integration start-up, the one of GitHub, and the one of Atlassian because they come close to nearsightedness although the first two are even better examples.
Note: Maybe I find nearsighted roadmaps so appealing because I work in the B2B context, or maybe because I think they are also mandatory in almost all data-related products. But maybe nearsighted roadmaps are simply the right tool for all kinds of products. They might just not be as important in the B2C context, because outside communication ain’t as important as in the B2B world.
Meltanos Perfect Nearsighted Roadmap
Meltano, being right out of the birthplace of nearsighted roadmaps, namely GitLab, has a great nearsighted roadmap. The next 3–4 months are each planned out in detail, e.g. highlighting the next integrations line by line, then the second larger time unit is “Rest of Q3” which contains rougher items that don’t sound that refined yet.
Finally, the largest time unit is simply “2021-Q4 without any details, but with a clear focus.
In addition, all-time units, small or large, contain a one-liner highlighting the direction that is worked into in this time unit. And the more detailed items are all linked up to actual GitLab issues with progress etc.
Notice there isn’t a “backlog” on the roadmap, of things that will probably never happen. The clarity is amazing.
If you dig deeper into the GitLab based roadmap, you can even see how things are chopped down close to implementation.
This kind of roadmap is perfect to convince companies to actually use meltano, because as you can see, you can be pretty confident that they will work on both orchestrations as well as data observability. So by the time your company adopted meltano, the tool will very likely have matured to the level you need it to be at.
Let’s stick with data integration tools for a minute.
Airbyte’s Perfect Nearsighted Roadmap
Airbyte is a young start-up that apparently develops at supersonic speed. Developing at supersonic speed makes it necessary to know where one wants to go. They also adopted a nearsighted roadmap. Maybe these two facts are connected.
They chose the time segments “within a few days” “a few weeks/months” and “a few quarters/ years”. Again, it’s a perfect layout to understand for a company whether it makes sense to invest in this tool now or not.
Just as the meltano team does, they link to both, details on the current implementation which is hosted on GitHub as well as consumer feedback and discussions which contain important feedback and ideas to develop these next milestones.
Speaking of GitHub.
GitHub’s Good Nearsighted Roadmap
Ok now we’re moving away from the perfect nearsighted roadmaps, but the next two also do pretty well. Github plans out the next three quarters and has a “future” bucket. Ideally, they’d plan another “Q4-Q1” time segment after the three quarters but currently, they don’t.
I’m also not sure how the “Future” column relates to the actual future. Is it just the backlog with stuff that’s never gonna get done? Or is it already ranked by priority?
Still, even this roadmap gives a great overview of what directions the tool will go over the course of the next year and would provide a good basis for both a team to work on GitHub to understand it’s direction as well as for a potential enterprise user to make the investment.
Atlassian’s Good Nearsighted Roadmap for BitBucket
Finally let’s take a look at another example, the roadmap that Atlassian provides for its tool bitbucket. They provide quarterly labels and whole year labels effectively covering roughly 2 years’ worth of development with this pretty small roadmap. This is a great timeframe for a nearsighted roadmap, being somewhere between 1–1.5 years.
Admittedly it’s not the prettiest form, and I enjoy both meltanos & airbytes versions much more, but it’s a decent agile roadmap at the end of the day and serves the purpose.
Now it is Your Turn!
Now go ahead and create your own nearsighted roadmap using these four tips:
- Increasing sizes of time horizons like “next week” “next month” “next quarter” “later”
- Increasing size of items like “add button” “add component” “develop a new product”
- Link to details. Link to consumer feedback & discussions e.g. in issues
- Provide a one-liner focus idea for each time horizon
And if you got another example, please share it with me in the comments or any other way!