The reasoning behind the roadmap

There’s more to creating a product roadmap than putting boxes on a diagram. To create effective roadmaps you need to understand the logic that applies behind the boxes.

Product roadmapping uses deductive reasoning. It starts with a theory, sets a hypothesis, and then makes observations to prove or disprove the hypothesis, and so deduce conclusions from things proposed by the theory.

Products start with the ‘subjective theory of value‘. It states that value is determined by the importance an individual places on a good for the achievement of desired ends.

When we talk about products meeting user needs or outcomes, we’re talking about the subjective theory of value. It says users value meeting their needs more than they value the money the product costs, that’s why they pay.

Next we set hypotheses to test the theory. It could be ‘releasing new feature X will meet user need Y and users will pay Z for it’. We might show this on a roadmap as ‘Feature X’ but really we’re expressing the hypothesis.

When we measure how well that feature is performing we are conducting observations to prove or disprove the hypothesis. If we get feedback that the feature is meeting the need and that users are willing to pay for it, then we’ve proved our hypothesis correct.

We use deductive reasoning for roadmapping because it closely follows the path of logic and has advantages:

  1. Explains causal relationships between concepts and variables.
  2. Measures concepts quantitatively.
  3. Generalises findings to a certain extent.

Concepts are abstract ideas like ‘paying’ and a variable might be ‘price’. Deductive reasoning helps us understand the relationship between the price, which we can change, and the how likely users are to pay that price.

We can measure a concept like ‘paying’ quantitatively by observing how many users pay and how much they pay. This helps us understand the concept more objectively and build theory off of it.

Deductive approaches allow “reasoning from the general to the particular” (Pelissier, 2008) meaning that what we can link premises in the theory with conclusions from our observations.

So, roadmaps are more than just a diagram of features, they are a means to bring the discipline of deductive reasoning to product management and to express the hypotheses that we use to test theories.