BM 1/53: The Empty Roadmap

For the past year or so I have experimented with an activity.

I ask teams to imagine that they stop "shipping". Nothing new. No improving existing features. They keep their jobs, and fix major production issues, but otherwise stay idle. When possible, I ask them to refer to some sort of business dashboard or statement. How do these numbers change? They imagine industry press, coffee machine conversations, customer feedback, and board meetings. What happens with the passing months? Could X possibly go unchanged? Would you be surprised if Y doubled?

The responses are very interesting. It feels unnatural to imagine doing nothing (even if doing nothing may be the best decision). We're wired to keep ourselves busy and talk ourselves into our grand plans. In some businesses, the impacts of doing nothing are felt quickly. In others, teams find they can go a year or more without real "damage". A competitor gains ground. Cost of acquisition increases. Team members leave for a competitor (or to start their own businesses). It hits home that successful products are a slow burn, the result of many decisions over time.

To tackle the exercise, some teams review the past year. How did that work contribute to where the business is today? For new product launches, add-ons, packages, etc. it is easy to say "if we hadn't done this, then X wouldn't have happened." We gravitate to obvious connections, but that is a trap of sorts.

The purpose of this exercise is to surface assumptions, and to focus the team on the Opportunity. Yes, it is "not realistic". It takes some practice, but more than practice it takes freedom and safety. Freedom to explore a possible future without judgement. "Non-business" types (if there is such a thing) need to feel free to explore the problem-space.

Give it a try! With a big cross-functional group. Folks with more familiarity with “the numbers” should be prepared to teach and guide. Folks with more familiarity with the long-term, slow-burn issues (market share, inertia, product phases, ecosystems, etc.) should do the same.

That's it for now. I’m very much looking forward to this path for 2020, and super humbled that people deal with these various shifts in how I end up publishing.

Some upcoming events/things of interest: