A product roadmap is a high-level, visual summary that outlines and maps the key aspects of your product: its direction, priorities, and progress over a period of time. A product roadmap can be seen as an action plan, detailing both the short- and long-term goals for the product, plus how these goals will be met. Ultimately, it’s a plan for executing the product strategy.
The roadmap will show not only what you’re building in your team, it will also show why. Each item on your roadmap should be clearly linked to your product strategy. This will help you stay focused on your project goals and keep your team progressing.
Another key feature of the product roadmap is that it’s responsive to change: your roadmap should be updated to reflect customer feedback collected during your product development.
As a central source of truth, the product roadmap ensures all key stakeholders are on the same page when it comes to how the product will develop over time. Product roadmaps are frequently referred to in Agile teams to provide guidance and context on day-to-day work.
The product roadmap has a number of goals:
- Describe the vision and strategy
- Act as a guiding document to execute the strategy
- Ensure internal stakeholders are on the same page
- Encourage discussion of options and scenario planning
- Foster communication with external stakeholders, such as customers
Who is responsible for the Product Roadmap?
Product managers are the owners of the Product Roadmap. They decide what kind of roadmap is created and when. The product manager takes charge of gathering research and feedback, as well as creating features from this research, and prioritising items within the roadmap and product backlog. As well as this, it’s the product manager’s responsibility to create the roadmap itself.
Although the overall responsibility for the product roadmap sits with the product manager, cross-team collaboration is crucial to the success of its implementation. It’s no surprise that you’ll get far more support from your team if you’ve involved them in the process, taken on board their concerns and queries, and respected their expertise in their relevant fields.
Types of product roadmap
It’s important to note that there are a number of different ways to approach the product roadmap, and this depends on who its audience will be. Below are examples of the roadmaps that may be displayed to different stakeholders and what they should include.
Internal roadmap for the development team:
- These roadmaps often show detail of the prioritised customer value or benefit, as well as planned release dates. These roadmaps centre around features, releases, and key milestones. For Agile teams, these roadmaps are often at the feature or epic level and are arranged into sprints.
Internal roadmap for executives
- These roadmaps demonstrate how the work of the development team contributes to high-level, cross-company targets, focusing on factors such as growth, market penetration, customer satisfaction, and market position.
- These roadmaps are often divided by month or quarter to highlight progress over a given time period.
Internal roadmap for sales
- These roadmaps focus in on new features and value for the customer, as this helps sales teams make products attractive to potential clients. It is useful to group certain features/items into themes to make the overall view more appealing.
- Avoid providing hard deadlines in a sales roadmap, as circumstances can change and development teams can end up overcommitted to unattainable timescales.
- These roadmaps should get customers excited about what’s due to be released. They should be visually appealing and easy to read, and should offer a high-level overview of new features, with a clear demonstration of how any problems flagged are being addressed.
- Again, it’s generally a good idea to avoid including specific launch dates on an external roadmap so that teams aren’t prematurely overcommitted.
The importance of product roadmaps
Product roadmaps demonstrate how the product strategy will become a reality. Product roadmaps focus on prioritisation, meaning the most important work gets done first. This helps keep stakeholders happy with project direction and progress, securing buy-in at the necessary levels whilst also providing granular, in-depth information to development teams.
Product roadmaps, in demonstrating the shared vision of the product, can provide motivation for the development team. Each individual within the team is able to see how exactly their work contributes to wider organisational goals, which often provides a sense of purpose.
Product roadmaps clearly communicate the direction of the product: its goals, progress, and reasons why certain decisions have been made. It’s an easy to digest, effective way of keeping everyone from marketing to finance on the same page when it comes to product vision.
Finally, product roadmaps help organisations to avoid scope creep, ensuring smaller projects don’t spiral and become a focal point of the team’s capacity. The product roadmap also highlights dependencies, providing an early warning when it comes to knock-on effects of potential risks or blockers.
How to create a product roadmap
When it comes to creating a product roadmap, there are some key steps you need to take in order to make it the most effective it can be.
Define your product strategy.
Without clear, strategic product goals, it won’t be possible to effectively structure your roadmap. Strategy represents your product’s ‘why’, detailing how this development will further the project of your organisation as a whole. At this stage you need to define your product vision – defining who your customers are, their needs, and how you’ll take your product to market.
Review and prioritise
Having a large numbers of ideas from a variety of stakeholders is a great thing, however, if these potential items aren’t organised effectively, it can cause problems for the development of your product. Prioritisation is key here, as your development should focus on the most important tasks first, bringing the greatest value to the customer as quickly as possible. Try scoring the importance of tasks as a team to establish your priorities.
Define features and requirements.
With the organisational goals and priorities in mind, select the product features that need to be delivered. At this stage, requirements are defined, details are added to these requirements, and related items are grouped into epics. For items that are valuable but not imminently urgent, you can add them to your product backlog. User Stories are a useful way to highlight the benefit of each item for the user, which can assist in your prioritisation.
Organise into releases.
At this stage, you’ll determine the ‘when’ of your product, as you have already covered the ‘what’ and the ‘why’. It’s time to establish your delivery timeline when it comes to releases, which are organised either based on product launches or capacity.
Choose your roadmap view.
Now it’s time to experiment with different visuals for your roadmap to see what suits your project best. There are a number of roadmap templates and roadmapping software, e.g., Jira, for you to use. Make sure you keep the audience of your roadmap in mind, ensuring you tailor its content and layout to the specific requirements.
Product roadmaps in Agile
For teams working in an Agile way, responding to change quickly and effectively is of vital importance. Before Agile working was widely adopted, product roadmaps tended to be created and not altered throughout the duration of product development.
Nowadays, most product roadmaps undergo much more change over the course of the product’s development. Roadmaps are now considered to be living documents, subject to change throughout the product’s lifetime. Roadmaps are often split into much shorter timeframes, making it easier to adjust the direction of development in light of changing priorities and feedback.
The consequences of not updating your product roadmap can be severe – outdated roadmaps cause confusion, misspent effort, and potentially even conflict within your development team.
Different products need different roadmaps
There are some key differences between the product roadmaps of start-ups and those of established products, which are important to consider before creating your own.
- Timeline: Future requirements are more difficult to predict for younger products, meaning the roadmaps of start-ups are often unable to venture too far into the future. For more established products, roadmaps can look further into the future as development teams generally have a more solid understanding of their customers and market.
- Frequency: Generally, less established development teams are under more pressure to release features quickly, whereas products on the mature end of the spectrum can release on a less frequent basis.
- Reputation: Another factor influencing frequency of release is the fact that start-ups generally have less of a reputation to uphold, so are freer to develop at speed, without as much fear of potential risk or ‘breaking’ anything. For established teams, legacy and reputation are at stake, meaning releases tend to be more staggered and thoroughly explored.
- Goals: The goals of a start-up are often vastly different from those of more established companies, meaning the strategies and, by extension, roadmaps, of the two products will vary.
Product roadmap software
There are a number of types of software available which can support you in creating your product roadmap. Which one is the best one for you will depend on factors such as the size of your team, the number of subtasks required, and the preferred layout of the roadmap.
A simple selection, all with free options for you to experiment with before committing, includes: Google Sheets, Draft.io, Trello, and Monday.com, but this is only the beginning.
To really understand what works best for your team, start by just giving one a go!