by Leon Rosenshein

Reading Roadmaps

Roadmaps are important. Having an idea about how to get where you"re going is pretty important to getting there. You know what’s more important than a roadmap though? A destination. Because if you don’t have a destination, you don’t know if your roadmap is going to get you to the right place. But even with a destination, you need to know how to read (or write) a roadmap.

Inevitably though, you end up presenting them to someone. When you do, or even (especially?) when someone presents one to you, remember Sam Higham’s advice:

  • This is a plan, not a promise
  • New ideas are still welcome
  • We don’t have all the answers
  • Not everything will work
  • We will update you as we learn more

There’s a lot to unpack there. Of course, there are the specifics. Things can (and will change). It won’t go exactly the way we think it will. No one has done exactly this before. If there is something that hasn’t been thought of, bring it up. We don’t know everything. We don’t even know all the questions to ask. We’re all learning and will continue to learn as we execute on the roadmap. The part that should be a promise though, is the promise to honestly provide updates as things progress.

Then there are the intangibles. It’s saying “Yes, we made a plan, but I"m not sure.” It’s an admission of imperfection. It’s an admission that we don’t know everything. It’s an admission we might be wrong. It’s a statement that we"re willing to change. As the person providing the roadmap it takes courage to make that kind of statement. And as the person who’s being shown the roadmap, it takes courage to accept the ambiguity and uncertainty inherent in it.

That’s why having a sea chart can be better than a roadmap. A sea chart embraces the uncertainty in the plan. You know where you are, you know what the known issues are, and you know where you expect to be along the way. Once you are on the way, you update the sea chart with your position and any other info discovered. Then you do some more planning, chart the best known course from where you are to where you want to be, and continue.