Roadmaps, product roadmaps specifically, provide business leaders with a way to shape their company's evolution, when they're done right. The trouble is, most product roadmaps look more like the classic board game "Candy Land," in which players never make choices - they're given directions, and winners are predetermined by a simple shuffling of the cards.

In this case, players are your customers and their outcomes are predetermined by the list of features imposed upon them. A good product roadmap, however, will be woven around empathy, user feedback, and benefits to be delivered rather than features sets to be rolled out.

How do you avoid making the all-too-common mistakes that lead to product roadmap failure?

Hat tip #1: Practice empathy.

1. Failing to test features with users

Product roadmaps can be exciting as they offer a sneak peek into the possibilities of the future. They give vision and structure to the abstract, and provide sales teams new talking points to play with when pursuing leads or nurturing current customers. Sometimes, though, the priorities of the roadmap are set by the people driving the bus, not the passengers along the route.

Roadmaps should always prioritize solutions to user problems over strictly listing features. Talking with your customers and prospective customers helps take assumptions out of your roadmap and streamlines your company's approach to long-term product development.

What overarching themes will be present in your next update? To discover these, ask: what customer pain points can we address by the end of the year? How can we better help customers reach their goals?

Hat tip #2: Get out there and talk to your customers.

If your product is early stage, user feedback doesn't end with the establishment of your minimum viable product. As you continue to add features and document them in your roadmap, it's imperative to consult with your customers to see what's working and what's not.

Feedback will shape your map, and that's a good thing. Blindly speculating features is akin to giving your customers a stack of cards in which the draw dictates their next move on the map, rather than understanding where they want to go.

2. Not associating metrics with new features

As the old saying goes, the numbers don't lie. It's not unheard of for customers to say one thing, but behave completely differently. Each time you implement a new feature, allow the usage rate to inform your future roadmap.

What features are providing the highest return on investment? Which are performing against the goals you've set for the product and the business as a whole?

Hat tip #3: Set your goals early and revisit them often.

As you take inventory of your features, you should be able to identify themes that clue you in as to why certain ones are being adopted while others are not. These themes, as mentioned before, are based in real human truths inherent to your customers and inspire the way you evolve your product.

You might find certain behaviors render a particular feature useless or that users are utilizing another feature for something other than it was originally intended. This data, and understanding the "why" behind it will help define a successful roadmap.

Why did a feature that tested great initially fall flat in the new update? Why are users gravitating towards a similar feature from your competitor?

3. Focusing on features over benefits

At the end of the day, we all want to know what benefit we are going to get out of using a particular product. We don't necessarily care about the specific feature. We want to know how it's going to help us reach our end goal.

Most marketing teams are quick to grasp this concept, but we often lose sight of it when building the product roadmap. Focus on the goals of your customers first and foremost. How can you help them achieve those?

How will you help them reach Candy Castle and find King Kandy? The answer to this will dictate the key milestones along your roadmap.

Empathy, benefits over features, and continual measurement will help ensure your company is on the path to success.