Agree 100% with this.
Let’s not confuse a roadmap with your task list. A roadmap is not an issues tracker. It’s not a formal project plan with due dates, estimated launch dates, est effort, est hours, assigned resources, and so on.
It’s just a roadmap. Features (in the form of user stories, ideally), ideas, feedback, all categorized very loosely into what you are doing, what you may do soon, what you’re mulling over doing someday. That’s it.
No matter if you keep just a high-level list on a physical notepad, a bulleted list in a Google doc, a Trello board (public or private), or if you use a super fancy tool like Roadmap.space or Aha!, I hope we all agree it’s important to put your vision for your product out in the world, not necessarily “public”, but definitely somewhere besides only living between your ears.
The act of creating the roadmap shouldn’t be up for debate, obviously. Just by prioritizing things on a basic level—from pie in the sky nice-to-have ideas, to ideas from customers, to things you absolutely must do to reach product-market-fit—you’ll give yourself enough clarity to confidently march forward.
So back to the original questions: Is it important to make this roadmap document public? And, does having a public roadmap reduce churn?
The answer to both depends on your specific product and your specific customers.
For B2C products, a public-facing roadmap can give buyers the confidence to be an early adopter, because they can feel a sense of synergy with your overall vision. This can turn a fence-sitter into a buyer.
Public roadmaps can be invaluable when you’re attempting to pre-sell something before you’ve actually made the thing. For example, most Kickstarter campaigns are often little more than a public roadmap and an impassioned sales pitch.
Public roadmaps can definitely assist pre-sell campaigns for B2B products as well. Especially in less-competitive niches where your product is either truly revolutionary, or evolutionary by a large margin (10x better or more than the leader of the space). A public roadmap won’t add any benefit to selling a late-entry, me-too product in a crowded, competitive niche.
In highly competitive product spaces, or with products where the customer pain is high (B2B or B2C alike), public-facing roadmaps are a lot less helpful.
For example, a business customer isn’t going to switch to your B2B invoicing app (and a trial user isn’t going to convert to paid) simply because you have a compelling roadmap. They need to send invoices today, not whenever you get around to it, and there are just too many “good enough” options in that product space where they will simply go elsewhere, roadmap or not.
It’s important to remember that a roadmap is always of more value to the product owner/team, and always of limited value to the customer.
While a public roadmap can perhaps motivate a potential customer into becoming an early adopter or motivate a trial customer to wait a bit longer to see if the feature they are interested in becomes a reality, it’s often at such a low frequency as to be moot.
So, let’s turn the question around: can it hurt to have a public-facing roadmap?
There’s been a trend (or fad) lately of being transparent with all things. Build in the open! Publish your numbers! Blog/vlog/podcast about your journey! Publish all your employee’s salaries! Publish every tidbit of source code and business operating documents in the open in a Github repo!
Cons for these kinds of transparency efforts are many. Just remember that just because someone else is doing it doesn’t mean its a viable tactic for your business.
Public revenue dashboards can affect funding opportunities and can affect the types of offers you get if you go to sell your company. Just because Pat Flynn can publish his eye-popping prior month’s earnings figures on his homepage doesn’t mean it’s the right choice for you and your business.
Decisions like whether or not to open source your assets (code, SOPs, etc) can affect funding opportunities and can affect the types of offers you get if you go to sell your company.
Public employee stats on salary and benefits can impact future job applicants and future hiring negotiations. Just because Buffer does it, doesn’t mean its right for you.
Specifically for public roadmaps:
Public roadmaps can assist your competitors in keeping up with you, and they can highlight gaps in your product strategy, which observant competitors can use to pre-emptively fill the gaps.
Public roadmaps can make bad clients even worse if they start trying to coerce you into moving a requested feature higher in priority on your roadmap, no matter if its the right business decision for you or not.
Public roadmaps with far-reaching, expansive product growth goals can be indicators of future dilution of expertise. For example, if I’m looking to use your product because it is the very best tool for this one thing, but your roadmap shows that you are working for exponential growth in a ton of other, dubiously-related areas, I may worry that the portion of the product that I really care about will eventually suffer from lack of attention or lack of focus from the product team. Lack of focus in your roadmap can be as discouraging as too little imagination, so don’t entertain shiny object fantasies in your roadmap.
Public-facing roadmaps can impact funding opportunities (for those of you seeking outside funding) if they aren’t aligned with your pitch deck, or if they highlight risks not discussed in your pitch.
No, it just publicizes the pressure you should already be feeling.
Every entrepreneur, founder, product person, or maker (whatever you call yourself) puts intense pressure on themselves to deliver the best product they can to serve their customer’s need. Speaking personally, the pressure I put on myself is a few orders of magnitude greater than any pressure anyone else can ever put on me. Pulling product goals out of my brain and prioritizing them according to feedback from customers is almost literally the least pressure-causing thing I can do in my business, no matter if I make that list public or not.
Hope this helps!