If you’re an Orion customer, you’re probably also a geek, which means you spend a non-trivial amount of time thinking of ways to improve the world around you---even things (or people) you love.  Since Orion is part of your world, you see ways to improve it.  Never content to just innovate privately, you post to thwack to share your vision of what might be.  That’s where Product Managers (PMs) come in.  We read all of those posts and we try to respond.  Sometimes we can’t say more than that the feature is on the roadmap.  For us, it means that we’ve heard the request often enough that we fully intend to do the feature, but we may not have a particular release slotted in.  Other times, we are actively working on the feature, which means it should be in the next release.  In that case, we post it on thwack as “…what we’re working on…” .  It’s not a promise because things get worked on and dropped, but it’s a pretty good bet.

To be fully up front, the other option is that you’ve just suggested a feature we’ve never heard before so it’s not on any roadmap.  With those unique features, we may probe other customers to see if they’re also interested.  Sometimes, the feature is just what they didn’t know they wanted.  Other times, it’s like we just asked them if they might want a three-armed jacket:  “Uh, that might be useful if I had that extra arm, but having just the regulation two arms, I probably wouldn’t use it myself.”

Now, once you’ve been told that a feature is on the roadmap or that we’re actively working on it, your inevitable next question is “Great!  When do we get it?”  That’s where the problems start.  We mostly can’t tell you, and even in a few cases where we might be able to tell you, we won’t.  Let me explain.  Sometimes, we really can’t.  In some cases, sharing information about a future date for a specific feature can impact how SolarWinds’ reports its revenue (because of a set of boring complicated accounting rules), which is a big deal for a publicly-traded company.  Consequently, we have to be extremely conservative about what we say date-wise.  Some customers point out that other companies do it, and maybe they do, but they’re probably not handling their earnings exactly the same way, and they’re bigger or have been public longer.  In any case, we are following the advice of our financial auditors.  I can tell you that we have spent quite a bit of time trying to achieve the maximum amount of transparency without crossing the line with our auditors.

Other times, we won’t reveal dates because it’s just a bad idea.  We could tell you that your feature is planned, say, for two releases from now.  We could even create a slide deck that showed your feature on a timeline.  But we won’t do it.  Every PM on our team has worked in traditional enterprise software companies.  We have all created a set of roadmap slides and flown out to see a large customers and showed them a 2- or 3-year roadmap.  We’ve made (or at least implied) promises about the future and how bright it will be when we deliver the features that the customer wants.  We’ve also eaten those promises.  Choked on them, really.  We didn’t plan to be liars, but things happened.  Things that are outside of PM’s control.  And sometimes changing the roadmap is just the right thing to do.  The reality is that software is a fast-moving and fluid business and that long-term promises always have a whiff of fiction about them.

In light of the slippery nature of software creation, we’ve had to decide how to communicate with our customers.  One of the important values inside SolarWinds is our relationship with our customers.  Consequently, we don’t want to lie to you.  I wouldn’t like to promise a friend that I can definitely go to lunch on a particular Thursday a year from now because there’s just too many ways that I might be prevented from showing up.  Next week, sure, but not next year.  We won’t make promises we don’t know we can keep.

That’s why when you ask for a date, we evade or just refuse to provide one.  Occasionally, a customer gets annoyed or frustrated.  We know it’s unsatisfying, and we regret it, but we’d rather you be annoyed at us not giving you a date now than having you furious because we had to change plans. In the end, we want to be completely honest and as transparent as we possibly can be.  Don’t let this post stop you from asking for dates.  By all means, ask.  If we can say “weeks, not months”, we’ll say something like that.  Ask for what you want to know, and we promise we’ll tell you as much as we can.