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How soon does a product manager need a product plan?

Posted on July 2, 2008 · 1 Comment

Question: How quickly should a product manager develop a product roadmap?

After starting a PM position at a new company, what do you recommend as a reasonable timeframe to develop a 3 year product plan?  60, 90, 120 days, etc.

Answer from Rob Grady of RobGrady.com: Given the broad question, I defer to the standard lawyer answer of “It Depends.” As every company, culture and product mix is somewhat different, so are the needs. With that said, a good rule of thumb to get the product plan out there sooner than later. With that said, if you can get a draft plan ready for review in 60 days, that is much better than 90 or 120.

Here are a few of the many “It depends”:

  • It depends if you’re starting with an existing product and strategy. If you have a legacy product plan, it should give you a head start and it is actually more important to get product plan to validate the existing business assumptions with stakeholders
  • It depends on whether you have enough market data. If you don’t have any data, you’ll need time to gather, analyze and define the product plan accordingly.
  • It depends on the volatility of the business, competition and product. If your competition is putting a revision out weekly, clearly 120 days won’t work
  • It depends on whether you work in a multi-product environment. If you have a multi-product or other product dependencies, you may need a longer time period to coordinate across multiple products.
  • It depends on your stakeholders and executive team. If you have a sociopath in the corner office, sooner and more often is better.
  • It depends on your collateral duties. If you’re playing roles in product strategy, product marketing and product support set a longer period of time to develop the plan. Set yourself up to succeed.

It is also important to note that a 3 year plan is likely to change unless your product is as static (as in toilet paper). Hope this gives you a few things to consider.

1 other answer so far ↓

  • Derek Britton // Jul 3, 2008 at 8:23 am

    Considering the following question might also help you determine the timeframe and frequency of update that may be required.

    “What is a product roadmap?”

    Depending on who’s being asked, you will get different “requirements”…

    A roadmap is (or at least has been ‘expected’ to be) –

    1. a list of all the requirements for a given set of releases for a given product area (i.e. the Development perspective)
    2. a list of key features and product bug fixes with committed dates (i.e. the Customer perspective)
    3. a general vision and strategy statement with key (quarterly/half-yearly) milestones, with broad-brush release details (i.e. the Corporate view)
    4. a version of 3 mapped on to key go to market programs, events, customer engagements (i.e. the marketing perspective).

    So get that clear first. Usually one has to start with 1 and the rest becomes something of a summary of the same.

    However knowing why you need each, what the differences are, how the “version management” will work between each, will shape how often you can afford to update it, and how then it is communicated.

    I often find that proactively explaining this to customers helps keep the details honest, helps keep customers totally “inside the tent”, helps promote BETA/EAP programs, and helps you force the pace in terms of getting roadmaps ready and communicated. A roadmap is really only a barometer for how the rest of the PM effort is going (planning, project control, customer management, revenue generation, strategy and vision etc. etc.).

    For me, a PM without a [tested and current] roadmap that can be externally described is a fish out of water. So when? A.s.a.p.

What do you think?