Let’s assume you are about to spend millions of dollars on a COTS package or a custom-built application. Large scale software acquisition frequently creates a multi-year relationship with a vendor.
Your organization, at the end of your acquisition processes, will select the vendor that best meets your requirements today. Before you spend the money, how do you know if you are aligned with your vendor in the future as well as the present?
How can you ensure that a vendor sees the market, industry, and technology the same way your organization does three or more years from now? One way to check alignment is to ask vendors to include a Product Roadmap in their proposal.
Click Procurement Examples for system shall statements.
What is a product roadmap?
A product roadmap is a strategy for how a vendor’s product is going to meet future business objectives. The roadmap details the direction of product development and the major activities required to get there.
The purpose of a product roadmap is to describe how the vendor’s product will evolve over time. It ties product initiatives with future deliverables dates and gives visibility into the product direction in the short and long term.
Roadmaps communicate the product direction and progress to both internal teams and external stakeholders. In addition, roadmaps allow product teams to assess and prioritize requests for new functionality within the current development schedule.
The roadmap is a living document. The vendor will revisit and modify the roadmap over time and should communicate changes to your organization in a timely manner.
What make a good product roadmap?
A good product roadmap should include these characteristics:
- Vision and goals – contains a multi-year vision for the product based on customer needs. It should also include measurable goals.
- Stakeholder input – product roadmaps should incorporate inputs from key stakeholders including vendor leadership and staff as well as customers and partners.
- Flexible – deliverables and timelines can change based on external inputs and changes in priority.
- Realistic – expectations for deliveries are not overly optimistic and have a high probability of begin completed by development teams
- Simple and easy to understand – product roadmaps avoid going into too much detail and no special knowledge is required to understand the contents.
- Regular updates – A product road map should be updated every three to six months as well as anytime this, that, and the other event occurs which changes product direction and warrants an update to the roadmap.
What are the benefits of a product roadmap?
Here are the top three benefits of a product roadmap:
- Communication tool– it efficiently communicates product strategy and goals to internal stakeholders and customers, includes key development milestones, and excludes unnecessary information. It paints a picture for the future of the product.
- Focuses attention on product vision– it draws attention to the product vision and proposes a plan to actualize that vision.
- Setting and clarifying priorities– A vendor will use the Product Roadmap to prioritize and schedule the new develop effort. Companies have many customers. Each customer has change requests they would like the vendor to create for them. The vendor has to evaluate all change requests across the portfolio and decide what to work on and when.
Why is a product roadmap important to review as part of a procurement?
Organizations should review a vendor’s product roadmap to ensure alignment between vendor and the organization prior to contracting. Does the vendor see the market the same way? Are they investing in similar technologies or are they heading in a different direction which may make support more difficult in the future?
Each vendor should clearly articulate their product’s vision and strategy to make it easy for your organization to verify that the vendor’s vision of the future aligns with the organization’s strategy and goals.
At a minimum, a product roadmap should include features, release dates, and be easy to understand. Lack of clarity may be a red flag that the vendor’s product strategy is not well defined.
Roadmaps reveal gaps in product and technology plans between the vendor and your organization. These gaps should be analyzed to understand their impact on the organization.
When evaluating responses, the gaps resulting from technology differences may be significant enough to prevent an Offeror from becoming a Finalist.
How to review a product roadmap for alignment?
Carefully reviewing a vendor’s product roadmap will help you determine if your to-be architecture is aligned with your vendor’s.
Review the following items:
- Product strategy and goals
- New features including delivery dates
- Incorporation of new technologies
- Response to market and regulatory changes
Before you select a vendor, make sure you can influence future versions of the product.
Here’s an example to consider for your procurement document:
The Offeror must provide a product roadmap and product backlog that outlines future features, platform and environment upgrades and/or modifications, any other significant product changes, and the corresponding release dates.
The Offeror must provide a product roadmap covering the next three (3) years including any planned enhancements.
Awarded vendor must report on product roadmap and product backlog changes at least every six (6) months and within five (5) business days for any major changes in direction or strategy.
What is the difference between a product roadmap and product backlog?
The product roadmap is a strategy for how a vendor’s product is going to meet future business objectives and a product backlog is a list of everything known that needs to be in the product including a plan to implement it.
The product backlog is the single source for changes to be made to the product including new features, enhancements, regulatory updates, bug fixes, changes in infrastructure – basically anything that is tied to the product. It is usually organized into increments or phases delivered over time to implement the strategy in the product roadmap.
What is the difference between a product roadmap and a release plan?
The product roadmap is a strategy for how a vendor’s product is going to meet future business objectives and a release plan describes which features will be implemented and when they will be delivered in upcoming product releases.
What is the difference between a product roadmap and a technology roadmap?
A product roadmap communicates the product strategy while a technology roadmap outlines the organization’s technology strategy. Sometimes a technology roadmap is also referred to as an IT roadmap.
A product roadmap is updated every three to six months depending on product maturity, a technology roadmap is updated every three or so years depending on the organization, industry, and technology drivers.
The Offeror must provide a technology roadmap for the proposed system including a five (5) year plan for new software version releases, support, and sun setting.