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Roadmaps – The Ugly Truth

imagesEvery one has one question in mind when they ask me about the OpenText acquisition of ECD (Documentum). What about the roadmap?

It is the wrong question.

Our entire industry is addicted to selling the roadmap. Here is something you won’t hear anywhere else. You can’t actually buy one.

No one ever reads the lawyer slide. It is always the second or third slide in a deck and has a lot of words. When you put it in Google translate here is what it really says.

“Roadmaps are guaranteed to change as soon as you disconnect from the webex.”

This is true both before and after any acquisition. I hesitate to make absolute statements but this observation is about as close as you are ever going to get. Roadmaps change.

More often than not when people ask this question what they really want to know is how does it affect me? Personally. Is my pet project at risk. Is all that time I spent in training now useless. What about all those product specific linkedin contacts that I hoped to ping when I start my own consulting firm. My system, my department, my budget, and the most important of all – my career.

That is entirely fair but only tangentially related to a roadmap conversation focused on platforms and point releases. The marketing term for this concern is “investment.” A concept that goes way beyond simple capital to include things like organizational structure, headcount, political and market risk. The roadmap question too often encourages you to focus on the past, thinking about what you have already done and defending it while only pretending to talk about the future.

Protecting what you have already done only gets you what you already have. Call it innovators dilemma if you like but when looking at it in product evolutionary terms I call it the parity pitfall. More on that in a later post.

The right thing to ask is “how can you the vendor better solve this new problem I have right now?” You need to ask how an acquisition makes it easier for a vendor to do more for you starting today. Not in six quarters. What is in the toolbox that wasn’t there before and how do I use it to evolve?

This is the far more productive, relevant and less speculative conversation.

A roadmap conversation can tell you one thing. It is the clearest indication that a given company understands the business they are in. Even when the eventual path to get to “there” bears no resemblance to the timeline they showed you. That understanding is more rare than you might think.

The specifics do not matter as much as the trajectory. Do the roadmaps represent a continued focus on past success? Or do they acknowledge the changes in the technical landscape that, no matter how painful, you need to accept and plan for?

A true roadmap conversation should make you challenge your own structure as much as it does that of the vendor. When done right these are honest business conversations that affect both parties and are not just the product management equivalent of a weather report. The assurance you need should not come from a denial of change but rather an embracing of it and a commitment to go through it together.

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