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5 reasons why sharing your product roadmap is a bad idea

by Mike McDerment | November 11/2008 |

I’ve been watching a few threads in our forums sparked by customers who want to gain visibility into our product roadmap. This is an important and sensitive issue, both inside and outside our company. We really value all the input we get from our users, and work hard to translate the thousands and thousands of requests into good decisions for everyone.

That said, after a few years of not knowing how to handle questions around what we’re doing next, we’ve settled on a practice of not telling anyone what we’re doing until it’s released. In a nutshell we won’t be sharing our product roadmap, and here are 5 reasons why:

Commitments weigh you down Once you say you are going to do something, you really ought to do it. If you don’t follow through you are going to let people down. If you change your mind once or twice, you can probably get away with it. But if you make it a habit of going back on your word, you will lose credibility.

But credibility is just an internal problem - a bigger problem is it costs our customers when we mislead them. The problem for them isn’t that we blew our credibility; it’s that they made business decisions based on our commitments and when we don’t meet them, they suffer real business consequences.

I’ve killed the release of new features the night before they were scheduled to be rolled out. Why? They were not up to standard. Fortunately we hadn’t told anyone these features were on their way, and no harm was done. Releasing on a specific date what you said you would is a packaged software thing, and on the web you don’t need to subject yourself to this weight. Commitments make you heavy and less nimble, so avoid them every step of the way.

Keep Your competition guessing Are your competitors watching you? There’s nothing like giving away your roadmap to inform your competition and make it easy for them to head you off at the pass. Keep your plans to yourself and you’ll always have your competitors guessing - which is right where you want them.

Purchase decisions get delayed Here’s a scenario: I’m on the phone showing someone FreshBooks and I can tell they are as good as sold. And then I make the mistake of telling them what we are doing next and the conversation goes 180 degrees and they say, “that’s great – get in touch with me when it’s ready!” Not only did I lose a sale, now I have to follow up with someone in the future so I’ve created work for myself! Talk about putting salt in a wound.

People delay purchase decisions if you tell them “what’s coming”. I’ve seen this countless times. Early adopters might be different, but once you reach a certain level of maturity in the market, your product should sell itself as it is today. If it doesn’t, what are you saying about the people who pay for it now?

Don’t set expectations too high Despite what people in Silicon Valley might tell you, you don’t need to tell everyone about your big vision to be successful. Instead, play your cards close and focus on doing a good job of telling people what you’ve done, not what you’re going to do. People want to believe in you, and there’s nothing like a track record of delivery to ensure their aspirations are well founded.

You can bank on surprise and delight Finally, and most importantly, surprise and delight are hugely valuable. At FreshBooks we work hard to execute on extraordinary experiences every day. To be extraordinary you have to exceed expectations, and the best way to do that is to do something your user is not expecting … like releasing a feature they’ve been dying to have but figured you’d never implement.

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