The Roadmap: Where great features go to die?
“It’s on the Road Map”
Long-time user and self-proclaimed head of the WizIQ Crash Test Dummies (as well as, perhaps, the original Edupunk), George Machlan, hates it when we tell him that a feature he has suggested is headed for “The Roadmap”. This is the standard answer that most companies give when people request a feature or ask why something doesn’t work as expected. “It’s on our roadmap.” As a writer for ZDNet, I hear this all the time. “Is there any way to do X when I’m trying to do Y?” “It’s on the roadmap.” “Why do I have to take these three steps instead of just jumping to the right functionality?” “It’s on the roadmap.”
From a user’s perspective, things that go “on the roadmap” sometimes, eventually, make their way to a product and see the light of day. If you’re waiting for a new feature in Microsoft Office, you’ve probably forgotten that you wanted it by the time it appears. In the case of software as a service and other Internet businesses, the time from entering the roadmap to appearing in a product should be much shorter, right? After all, if WizIQ waited 2-3 years between feature releases, our users would just stop waiting and go use something else, even if it’s more expensive or lacks some of the key features we’ve been aggressively rolling out over the last year.
As it is, turnaround time for those things that “go on our roadmap” can be frustratingly long for someone waiting for a particular use case or enhancement that makes their life easier while they teach and learn on our platform. For our developers, however, the roadmap is an endless chain of interconnected features, dependencies, and priorities. Sure, improvements in the class scheduling interface would be very helpful for our users. But if we don’t get the latest enhancements to Flash implemented in our Virtual Classroom, then those same users will be stuck using headsets or struggling with Java nonsense for screen sharing in Mac OS X Lion.
Fortunately, we’re growing our development team quickly…
Our team is cranking out the updates faster than I can keep up. It took them three weeks to implement our Virtual Classroom on both the iPad and Android in alpha versions that I could demo with confidence live at EDUCAUSE. It only took a couple months for the team to integrate our VC with Instructure Canvas, learning to program in Ruby as they went. I know, I know, Ruby is a relatively intuitive fifth generation language, but since they essentially did this project on the side in addition to their regular development work, I’m impressed.
Then there’s the whole host of new features rolling out over the next month or so that we announced at EDUCAUSE. Everything from active noise cancelation (no more headsets, coming soon to a virtual classroom near you!) right on up to the breakout rooms that users have been requesting. These features and many more were on our roadmap, finally making it to the top of the priority list (or moving to the top of the list as soon as Flash supported our vision of key features that we knew should be part of a great virtual classroom).
Our hope is to start making the roadmap more transparent and less of an apparent black hole.
Perhaps nothing will make it more transparent than simply rolling out features faster than we ever have and keeping up an incredibly rapid pace of innovation. Either way, we like to think that our users win. Heck, we win, too – WizIQ is where all of our meetings take place and the sooner I can talk to my colleagues without a headset or use new application-aware technologies to know if our CEO is surfing Facebook instead of watching my new marketing proposal, the better.
Nope, the Roadmap isn’t where great features go to die. It’s where they go to get prioritized, to mature, to be vetted, and finally to be developed by a team with whom I’m proud to associate. Hang on, George…we’ll get there!