Why don’t we see more platform technology roadmaps?

Platform Roadmap

Why don’t more technology platforms have published roadmaps? A product roadmap, in this case for a company’s platform offering, would be a detailed list of fixes and new features in upcoming releases/revisions of the platform. In its most comprehensive and impressive form, the roadmap will include future release dates, version numbers and even advanced documentation on method signature and event changes.

The benefits of a published roadmap could be beneficial to both the company and the developer/user community. Yet, it’s a rare thing to see a roadmap of features available for your platform of choice. Here are 5 possible reasons that a company (or engineering team) wouldn’t publish roadmaps:

1. The company doesn’t know or plan releases. Amongst platforms that I would love to view roadmaps of, I really hope and doubt this is the case. How could a company not know what they are working on in terms of new platform features or fixes? I suppose there has to be some out there that wouldn’t publish a roadmap for this reason, but it’s got to be the last possible reason.

2. The company has low confidence in engineering team. Probably and sadly a bit closer to reality, the company may have a tough time keeping to previously released schedules and as a result, has little confidence in its engineering team to deliver on time. There are other factors in the release process such as sufficient resources, timely QA, scope creep and such. Still, to find yourself in this situation is not good.

3. Admission of guilt. If you publish a list of ‘bugs to be fixed’ too soon, it may show how many flaws there really are in an existing release and force your users/community to lose confidence in the current (and possibly future) release of the platform.

4. The company fears competition will steal their thunder. I’d like to think this is the most frequent reason you don’t release a roadmap. Should you announce your plans to early, via a published roadmap, of ground-breaking new features, you may open the door for your competition to take on those tasks as well. Keeping new features close to your vest can prevent this.

5. Avoid hesitancy of adoption. If the roadmap were to reveal new features or easier/improved ways of doing things, the community may hold off adoption awaiting the better release thus slowing adoption and growth of community.

Again, I think even with these reasons/excuses, companies should make every effort to publish their platform roadmaps. Your users are vital and likely high spirited about your product offering. Keep them in the loop about your upcoming releases, solicit feedback when possible and give them a chance to tell you what should be fixed/improved/added in your next release.

Do you know of any good platform roadmaps out there?
Ask your platform company of choice why they don’t publish their roadmaps.

As a platform user and evangelist, I want to see more!

For reference, here’s a great example of a platform roadmap: http://source.android.com/roadmap

chuckstar

7 Comments

John Dowdell

Another reason: It can be hard to assure something will be done until it is done… sometimes it isn’t until you’re close to a deployment that you can see how it really works, for real people. Setting expectations too high risks frustration later. That’s why predictions are usually in general terms.

jd/adobe

Josh

The fear of competition stealing thunder is understandable. On the other hand, public roadmaps would be great for you and I because all that open information pushes companies to try harder. I think it would also help destroy bad ideas faster. Look at how much the community was able to influence Flex 4 for the better thanks to all the information that’s been available so long before the release.

In the startup world, founders are encouraged to talk about their ideas with anyone and everyone. The urge to keep things secret is strong, but there’s a huge difference between a potential competitor saying, “That’s neat, I bet I could do that too” and actually committing to it. The feedback a startup receives from sharing ideas with users and smart people greatly outweighs the low risk of creating competitors. Larger companies could learn a bit from that.

chuckstar22

@John Dowdell
That makes sense, especially if it’s a new service or breakthrough innovation that has never been done before. Even still, that feature would likely be added to other ‘safer’ items that should be announced. Should the new feature work and be included in the platform, it would be a pleasant surprise.

chuckstar22

@Josh
Right on. I think a company like Adobe already has the ability to do it, almost like a reverse bug report forum. List the new features ahead of time and get feedback on them. Let developers tell you what they want out of them and how they might implement them. Think about how much fostering new ideas, excitement, anticipation AND PRE-ORDERING that would bring on!

Tink

Publicly announcing roadmaps would only lead to disappointment in my opinion.

That said Adobe publicly announce ‘safer’ items before the release and before its fully complete don’t they?

It’s difficult for them not to with Flex as its open source, but they always give you info on the player, and new stuff thats in the Flash IDE.

Freddy

Previous hypothetic Adobe Flash Player road map:

“In six months from now we will listen to our users and add low level audio manipulation, but without any useful help pages”
“In seven months we will ask our users about the bugs in Flash CS4 IDE, just to find out there are plenty, and we will fix only a handful of them, but don’t worry, you can get more bug fixes on the next suite update”

a worthy roadmap!

san1t1

Releasing new feature – rather than bug fix – roadmaps gets easier as your product gets entrenched and you move from customer acquisition to customer retention.

(I use the word customer loosely, it’s the folk who are active on your platform, be their developers, resellers, end consumers, etc.)

As your platform matures you keep your current user base excited by involving them in what you are doing, the threat of competitors stealing your thunder being lessened by the cost – to your current customers – of platform migration.

Microsoft have a pretty open process, with lots of community involvement in so many aspects of their platform direction.
Likewise Adobe. They are both on a large proportion of desktops, so both MS and Adobe having entrenched platforms, their key task is to retain and upsell, so openness about the future really quite helps them, any competitors they have, they need, to prevent or mitigate the risk of being a monopoly.

On the other hand, Amazon’s Web Service platform is relatively young, and they are need to win customers more than they need to retain – though obviously retention is important as well. Plus there are a growing number of cloud hosting providers to compete with.

There are countless younger aspirational platforms in the start up community. These all live in a less predictable, less proven market, and with less entrenched customers they need to avoid disappointing their audience, so keep their cards closer to their chests.

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