Product Roadmaps Are Anti-Agile

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.

8 comments on “Product Roadmaps Are Anti-Agile”

  1. Lyndsay Prewer Reply

    Great post. Your comments ring very true with me. Our team have a product road-map, but it’s clear to us all that it’s just a plan, and plans change. At the end of each quarter/year, we look back on our updated road-map and our agility is reflected by how much change has occurred, not how rigidly we’ve stuck to the plan. It’s great to have a plan, but even better to work in a way that flexes according to the needs of the market, clients and architecture.

  2. CindyFSolomon Reply

    Hi Gil,
    Thanks for being a great participant during the Global Product Management Talks weekly!

    You were tweeting during the discussion on Product Line Roadmapping with Paul O’Connor, Founder of The Adept Group. Both the podcast and tweets can be found here to provide context:

    With your permission, I’d like to include your article as a follow up and invite others to continue the conversation.

    You are also invited to be the showcased guest on the show!

    Look forward to your great contributions to the discussion. You are also welcome to comment on past discussions by listening to archives on iTunes
    Android app Stitcher

    Looking forward,
    Founder, Startup Product movement for product excellence

  3. Gil Zilberfeld Reply


    Thanks for the comment!

    Plans are as good as you use them. But we don’t get to make plans, we’re paid to deliver. We need to remember that.

  4. Gil Zilberfeld Reply


    Love your show! You’re doing a great job. Thanks for providing the information of the specific cast.

    Would love to be a guest, and of course, please share this article.

    See you on Wednesdays!

  5. Jim Young Reply

    Great post, thanks.

    Love this line:
    “Agility is NOT a developer thing. It’s a business thing.”

    Unfortunately, in many cases, dev teams are expected to be agile while the business around them remains decidedly waterfall.

    Everything that touches an agile dev team needs to be agile – including the Roadmap. Iterate it…

  6. Gil Zilberfeld Reply

    Hi Jim,

    Thanks for the comment. I wish agility spread from the devs outwards. Like any change this takes awhile and requires persistence. To survive you need to adapt, and to businesses to survive they will need to do this transformation.

  7. Anonymous Reply

    Waterfall, Road-map, Agile. It’s metaphor city! The so-called Waterfall is a necessary micro-road-map for software. It almost goes without saying – take it as “read”. Agile means opportunism, adaptation. In AI, chess programs have what is know as the horizon effect – whereby physical limits of space and time limit what the machine can know. This applies to projects. Even “project” is a metaphor – a projection from now to the future.

    The road-map is a poor analogy because real roads and destinations typically represent a fairly immutable spacial landscape, whereas a in projection of the present (a “Project”) the landscape is temporal and mutating all the time.

    We can only see so far ahead – and as we move, things appear over the horizon – and these new things are opportunities.

    Excuse my ramblings – but for me, rambling is the perfect metaphor. You can only see as far as the horizon, and you plan your route based on what vista lies before you.

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