Roadmaps lack detail. Film at 11.

13 January 2010

I love Google Maps on the iPhone. If I find myself with 5 minutes to spare in a place I'm not familiar with, I can start the app, hit the GPS icon, and the screen shows me where I am. If I'm trying to see where I am in respect to other streets and the like, I use the map option. If I'm just wondering what it's like around here I can look at the satellite view to get an idea.

The map is ideal for understanding the layout of the streets and understanding how to get from A to B. There is, however, no detail. It's essentially just a collection of vectors joined end to end and to each other, each vector having some attributes (start and end latitude and longitude being the primary ones, but type of road, speed limit, etc, are others). For detail, you have to switch to satellite view and then you have all the detail you want: houses, trees, open space, rivers, whatever.

Our roadmaps are like the map view. You can see the general direction and the route we're planning to take, but there are little to no details. If you think about it for a little while, you'll understand why. We just haven't had the time to fully flesh out and design everything at the point where we discuss and decide on the roadmap. Instead all we have is a list of features, with some information about each feature, and from that starting point we discuss and make a decision about each. Yep, we could be making a decision based on insufficient or imperfect information, but it doesn't matter. If we waited until we did have sufficient or perfect information, we'd be publishing the roadmap at the end of the year in "satellite" view with flawless hindsight. It would of course be completely useless at that point, apart from as a "this year in review" type blog post.

Of course, there will be errors in the roadmap. Some things won't get done. Some others we didn't mention, will. Others still will be done but in a different order. However the overall arch of the roadmap will be valid. For the 2010 roadmap that means more Silverlight and WPF; it means more work being done to make XAF/XPO the primary choice for business applications; it means polish type work for WinForms, some further investigations into ASP.NET MVC on the web side, and so on.

But what it means for feature X (for numerous values of X) that's mentioned en passant in the roadmap, we don't fully know. We have some ideas, yes, otherwise it wouldn't be there, but how X will be designed and implemented is probably still being decided, and may even require something else to be done first. What it means for feature Y that's not mentioned at all: it's either too small to mention in a coarse-resolution roadmap, or it's probably not going to be done (but who knows).

So, please don't take the roadmap to be any more than it already is. There is no subtext to it. Although I mostly make my living from writing these days, I didn't have the time to add Dan Brown style hints and clues to it: What you see is what you get. It's a map, not a satellite or street view.

(Aside: for customers who don't know the idiom, here's the explanation for "Film at 11".);

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