The Case for Product Management to Own the Roadmap

Most Product Management professionals believe that one of the responsibilities of the discipline is to own and control the product roadmap. In other words, Product Management decides (with the help of engineering, sales, client services, marketing, c-suite, and others) when to ship certain features. My assumptions were recently questioned when someone posed the question “Shouldn’t Product Marketing own the roadmap? They’re in charge of competitive analysis, differentiation, communication both internally and externally. Product Marketing should know what the product lacks, what competitors do better, and how the product needs to be better.” While conducting some preliminary research on my answer, I discovered that none of the blogs explain why Product Management owns the roadmap. They all take it for granted. Product Management should be in charge of the roadmap, and there are good reasons for it.

First, I think the question reflects an overly linear view about how companies build and evolve products. Asking Product Marketing to define business requirements for a fiscal quarter (i.e. roadmap) and pass off requirements writing is analogous to Product Managers writing requirements documents and leaving them on the desks of the development team. As much as we all want it to work this way, development is an iterative process. Roadmaps work the same way. They’re rarely right the first time and require constant input.
Also, engineering time and effort required informs the roadmap as much as any other business consideration (sales, marketing, client success). Marketing could ask engineering for time and effort estimates, but the high level business requirements don’t provide enough detail to get adequate time and effort estimates. It creates a lot of friction to think through high level requirements, ask Product Management to write some more specific requirements, get time estimates, and round-trip to marketing to inform the roadmap. The team writing the requirements already has enough information to weigh time/effort versus other needs.
Lastly, the phrase “decide the roadmap” is the wrong way to think about it. Most blogs incorrectly describe the Product Manager as the “CEO” of the product. I really like the way Josh Elman describes it — “The best product managers coordinate the key decisions by getting input from all team members and are responsible to surface disagreements, occasionally break ties, and gather consensus (or at least ensure that everyone commits to a plan) when decisions get made.”
It is the responsibility of the Product Manager to work with all other departments and build consensus, which includes the Marketing team. Product doesn’t decide the roadmap, per se. They’re responsible for working with everyone to make sure the roadmap fulfills everyone’s needs. Now, replace the word “roadmap” with “product in the last sentence. They’re responsible for working with everyone to make sure the product fulfills everyone’s needs.
There’s some healthy discussion around who owns the roadmap and the distinction between Product Marketing and Product Management. Ultimately, Product Management owns the roadmap and customer delivery for the product. Product Marketing keeps it within the proverbial guardrails — positioning, competitive landscape, company vision.

 


So, what do you think ?