From what originated as a guide map for cyclers of New York City in the 1890s, later being adopted by Motorola in the 1980s to align their product and technology development, roadmaps have come a long way in assisting businesses to stay relevant and competitive in a setting where customer needs change frequently in pace with technological advancements.
Today, product roadmaps have come to play a major role in orchestrating the product development process. They help ensure that the daily tasks carried out by the team are in alignment with your high-level business strategy.
In this post, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about roadmaps – product roadmaps in particular – along with the steps you need to follow to create one successfully. We’ve also provided templates that you can edit and customize online or share with your team to collaborate on in real-time.
What is a Roadmap?
A roadmap is a visual representation of a strategic plan, highlighting the key steps or milestones required to accomplish the defined goal or a desired outcome. It gives a quick overview of what is to be done, the progress made and who is involved.
Its purpose is to quickly communicate your plan to your stakeholders, executives, and the team while ensuring that they are in alignment with your high-level business strategy, allowing them to perform their best.
A roadmap can take the form of a single-page document or of several pages. Every roadmap is different and what it looks like depends on what you want to communicate and to whom.
A roadmap can highlight,
- How the initiatives line up with the high-level (business or product) goals or strategy
- How the team will achieve these goals and the resources they will need
- When the key deliverables are due
- Which teams and team members are involved
A roadmap is:
- Not a list of features. It, in fact, is a high-level plan portraying the strategic objectives and the key steps outlined to achieve them
- Not a backlog containing a list of tasks to complete an initiative. Rather, the high-level strategic components of a roadmap are built out of the backlog tasks.
What is a Product Roadmap?
A product roadmap outlines how you plan to achieve your product vision. It communicates the value you expect to deliver to your customer and to your organization in order to win the support of your stakeholders and coordinate support among them.
It should provide an overview of your product’s current state as well as how it will evolve in the future.
How to Create a Product Roadmap Successfully
Understand the Big Picture
Before you plan out what your team should be working on, step back for a moment to understand the product vision – why are you developing this product in the first place? What will the success of the product bring to the customer, to the organization, and to the market if not the world?
Without a sense of the big picture, the individual decisions of the different teams involved in the process won’t be united by a common vision, hence leading to uncoordinated efforts.
The easiest way to define your product vision is to link it to your organization’s vision or its purpose for being. Everything that is on your product roadmap should support that vision.
“Your product roadmap should slot right in between your company vision and your more detailed development, release, and operational plans.” – (Product Roadmaps Relaunched: How to Set Direction While Embracing Uncertainty by C. Todd Lombardo, Bruce McCarthy, Evan Ryan, Michael Connors)
Tip: Involve stakeholders early in the roadmap planning process. Pay attention to their concerns and objections on what needs to be prioritized and what should be not. Their contribution is crucial to making an effective roadmap that everyone’s in line with.
Define Your Product Strategy
Your product strategy outlines how you will achieve your product vision. It links your product vision and product roadmap by translating the vision into actions that will be highlighted in the roadmap.
Your product strategy helps you develop your future product and hence lay the foundation you need to build your roadmap. Your product strategy should include information on;
- what kind of a product it will be
- who it will benefit (who its customers are)
- how it will fit into the market
- how it will create value for your customers
- how it will help you achieve your goals
This is where you collect all the information that you need to form your roadmap. There are several different sources you can gather these requirements from to develop the ideal solution or features to implement.
- Internal stakeholders such as your sales, marketing, and support teams as well as external stakeholders such as key investors.
- Users of your product who can provide you valuable insight into the usage of your products and what features to add.
Align Everyone Around Common Priorities
There might be too many good ideas that will sometimes compel you to work on all of them at once. In reality though, you can’t implement everything at once, so you have to make a choice in order to execute better.
Equally important is to align all teams – not only the development and product teams but also the marketing and sales – around the same priorities and goals. Involve them in making the decisions that will affect them, early on and accept their input in the development of the roadmap. Precise prioritization of their commitments will also enable them to make the most effective use of their time.
Identify Roadmap Themes
Your roadmap should highlight how you intend to deliver value to your customers and stakeholders as you get closer to accomplishing your vision. These values are known as themes and they help group similar features, initiatives, or epics together.
They describe a customer need, problem, or what your customers will receive (the job that your product/ service will help them complete). For example, under the theme improving customer support experience you can group initiatives that support it.
You can derive your product roadmap themes from your company’s long-term strategic initiatives. You can also identify themes for your product roadmap from your Product backlog by grouping the individual backlog feature ideas according to their related areas.
Under the themes, you can add objectives to help evaluate the progress made toward solving the customer problem or epics (you can also add features under each epic as additional detail depending on your requirement).
Tip: You can add diagrams, mockups, demos, or other exhibits to better elaborate your theme
Set Broad Timeframes
A roadmap is a strategic document that is purposed for offering your team guidance on what to focus on. Therefore it shouldn’t revolve around estimating design and development efforts or specific release dates. A project plan or a release plan is more suited for these time estimations.
By constraining your roadmap with specific ship dates for roadmap themes and solutions, you will be distracting your team with unnecessary pressure to focus on time and thus hinder the process of innovation.
The roadmap should highlight what needs to be prioritized instead of due dates, therefore set broad timeframes such as calendar quarters or Now, Next, Later to make it seem more flexible and to avoid overcommitment.
Customize Your Roadmap to Your Stakeholders
The process of developing and delivering a product involves different teams and consists of initiatives exclusive to each of them. While your development team may want to see the product’s development aspect of the product roadmap (i.e. what technology they’ll be expected to use, timeframe for them to get the work done, etc.), your investors may expect an overview of how you plan to increase market share over the next few quarters.
Therefore tailoring your product roadmap to highlight the particular information they are interested in is important.
Executives and top management: the product roadmap you create for them may need to include the elements that you have highlighted in your product strategy, and data pertaining to market size
Development team: requirements, individual tasks, deadlines, sprints
Marketing team: you may need to illustrate aspects such as product features, how your product positions itself against that of your competitors, and its potential to generate sales
Sales team: here you may need to customize the product roadmap to show how the product will benefit your customers, as well as important timelines for the customers
Revisit and Update Your Product Roadmap
The details in your roadmap are not set in stone. As the priorities of your company change, and as the customer needs and market trends evolve, updates to your product roadmap along the way will be inevitable.
Got More Tips on How to Create a Product Roadmap?
A proper product roadmap outlines your vision for your product and how your product will help accomplish your organizational strategic goals.
We hope this post will be a good starting point for you when building your own product roadmap. Got more tips on how to create a product roadmap? Let us know in the comments below.