May 31, 2024

Why developers should exchange a roadmap for a mud map

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If the COVID-19 pandemic taught us anything, it’s that businesses that can adapt quickly are in a better growth and sustainability position than those that struggle with change.


I would not characterize software development projects in the 1980s and 1990s as adaptable.

The long-form documentation that guided software development projects of the past were slow.

In the glacial pace of the ’80s and ’90s, this was just fine. Many misunderstandings and issues were resolved in the famous and shifty ‘warranty’ period and, at some point, the software was deemed good enough and accepted.

For nearly 20 years now, the software development industry has largely practiced Agile software development as a methodology that threw away slow, rigid models in exchange for iteration and adaptability. This method has evolved slightly over the years, but is largely unchanged because it works.

The iterative nature of Agile gave birth to the software road map, which is typically a rough plan for what features will be considered to enhance an application in the coming two to four quarters.


Unless we’ve met in person or you’ve heard me speak on a video or audio recording, you might not know that I am Australian.

According to Wikipedia, “mud map is an Australian term for an informal map, intended to assist, but with no pretensions to accuracy or completeness. The term originates in such a map drawn in mud or dust with a stick, perhaps in response to a query by a stranger.”

I started introducing the mud map concept to my team as a replacement for the road map, and I feel like it has tremendous applicability in today’s fast-paced software development environment.

When I think of a roadmap, I think of clean, crisp, and pristine lines. Routes on a roadmap are drawn with precision to exact specifications, and they take passengers on a journey with a fixed start and end point.

In fact, it inherently fluctuates.

Rather, they allow for the inherent fluctuations in our businesses, and in our world. They give our customers a glimpse of what’s to come, but let them know that we are willing to adapt and shift as needed to accommodate change.

I’ve always hesitated to share our roadmap with customers since it implies a contract and communicates expectations.

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