Transitioning from Reactive to Proactive

Building Effective, Evidence-Based Roadmaps for Business Success

In defining roadmaps, the primary goal is to deliver on product objectives that will generate revenue. These roadmaps are prioritized to achieve business goals as swiftly as possible. Typically, the prioritized items listed on roadmaps are broadly visible to customers but often depend on behind-the-scenes work that is not customer-visible, determined when building out work plans.

These work plans allocate time for roadmap items, customer obligations, and technical debt. For instance, a typical allocation might be 70% for roadmap items and their dependencies, 20% for customer obligations, and 10% for technical debt. In healthy organizations, these target allocations will ebb and flow but are largely adhered to, with the roadmap representing the largest commitment in the allocation.

When this is not the case, work plans are treated as roadmaps. In these situations, organizations are in a reactive position, where the only work that gets done is what has been committed to customers, and addressing technical debt has gotten so bad it is already causing harm to the business. These organizations are reactive and are always in a fight-or-flight mode.

Such reactive modes become a byproduct of the lack of structure in building the roadmap, the disconnect in the work supporting that roadmap, and a lack of recognition of the current situation regarding customer commitments. This, in turn, creates a situation where leadership loses faith in the organization’s ability to produce a compelling product roadmap.

This can be the beginning of a death spiral, where the expectation is that every item in the work plan is mapped back to customer revenue. This results in the items necessary to achieve forward growth business objectives being de-prioritized, with the committed sales funnel driving all engineering spend. The work plan and the management of it replace the accountability to build a business and associated engineering investment with a list of customer asks. As a consequence, the organization can never address technical debt or implement the kind of product design pivots needed to tackle issues like improving the size of deals through expanding its footprint within customers, reducing the cost of goods sold, time to close deals, or creating new parallel go-to-market strategies.

While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to product planning, the principles outlined here offer valuable lessons that can be adapted to various organizational contexts.To transition to a more proactive and accountable roadmap-driven model, organizations must commit to a disciplined approach where a significant portion of the effort is dedicated to developing a product that can deliver business outcomes, supported by a robust body of customer evidence. 

This shift also involves ensuring alignment with internal stakeholders, such as product, engineering, and executive leadership. Achieving this alignment is key to prevent the cycle of reactive firefighting and directional resets that consume resources and hinder progress on business objectives.

By returning to first principles and building a compelling, evidence-based roadmap, organizations can over time move the organizations culture from a reactive to a proactive operational mode, regain trust of all participants, and as a result drive meaningful progress toward their business goals.

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