Why your startup needs a product roadmap & how to create it
Technology management in business requires the competent implementation of working processes and systems. To do this, it is vital to plan out further team’s actions and roadmaps are an excellent help in this task!
Roadmaps are widely used in business to develop strategies and technologies. This method was developed by Motorola more than 25 years ago for the comprehensive planning of production technology. Since then, the approach has been adapted and applied in many industrial contexts, in enterprises and at the industry level (e.g. International Semiconductor and UK Foresight Vehicle).
In this article, we will tell you in detail about one of the roadmap types - the product roadmap. Why is this a super useful tool for planning further actions? Let's find it out.
What is a product roadmap?
A product roadmap is a high-level strategic document that reflects the general stages of product development. The main goal is to connect the vision of the product with the companys' business goals.
A product roadmap is a result of strategic planning. It documents both the executive strategy and the overall product’s objectives. A strategic product roadmap usually includes the following key points:
- The vision of the product. It is what you want your product to become in the future.
- A strategy. It is an implementation plan that details what your company needs to go through fit the vision.
- The goal. This is a time-limited result that can be measured using a specific metric. Initiative - topics that combine the functions that must be implemented to achieve the goal.
- A feature is the actual part of the product, which is either part of the functionality or a third-party application.
- Time frames - dates or time periods for achieving a specific goal or function. Typically, a product roadmap only provides an approximate value.
- Status markers - used to track progress.
- Metrics - help achieve goals based on measurement data, such as outflow or organic traffic.
- Product Planning Elements Sequence.
- Product Planning Elements Layout.
Depending on what product you are developing and methodologies you practice, the number of teams involved in mapping can vary. Most often, you’ll have a development team, UX, sales, marketing, support, operations team, designers and QA engineers. These are people who will work on a real product.
The main task of all these people is to make the product roadmap clear and easy to understand. It helps the product manager to handle all teams throughout the development process, according to customer needs and business objectives. Thus, a product roadmap is useful and applicable tool if it meets the following requirements:
- Represent Product Development Strategy;
- Shows Product Vision;
- Develops and changes depending on the product and market requirements;
- Priorities for High Level Development Units;
- Acts as a mean of communication between people involved;
- Sets long-term time frames;
- Indicates precise goals and links them to business goals.
Sometimes a product manager creates several roadmaps of different types to present information to internal and external stakeholders. Speaking of the product manager...
Who is a product manager?
To understand all the features of roadmapping, you must also understand who is involved in this, specifically the product manager. In essence, this is the CEO of the product. Their main responsibilities include:
- Market / Competitor Analysis
- Communication with customers
- Product Vision / Tactics / Strategy Development
- Evaluation and prioritization
- Product roadmaps creation
- Sharing roadmaps throughout the organization
- Product roadmap maintenance
An important part of a product manager’s job is to find out what the product will be like and tell everyone about it through the product’s roadmap.
What types of product roadmaps are there?
A strategic roadmap presents your strategic product initiatives. They are great for displaying an effort you need to complete to achieve your goals. Use them when you need to present planned initiatives to the product owners and other stakeholders, as well as to provide updated information on progress. They also help internal teams understand how releases contribute to overall business strategy and promote the product.
The portfolio roadmap is ideal for displaying upcoming releases of multiple products in a single presentation. They are useful, for example, when you need to provide a strategic overview of your plan to leaders or advisory boards. They also help internal teams understand how their specific projects relate to other teams' plans.
The release roadmap is used to plan the production of your product’s new versions. They are ideal for displaying key actions, such as milestones and tasks that must occur in order to bring your release to market. They are also great for conveying important functions. Use them when you need to coordinate release activities with other teams, such as marketing, sales, and customer support. Roadmaps unite everyone around what is coming, what needs to be done and when.
The feature roadmap shows a schedule for providing new features. It is great for displaying features of strategic importance that will be completed in the next three to four months. They are useful when you need to provide more detailed information about what happens to internal groups, such as marketing, sales, and customer support. For organizations that have a continuous deployment approach, they are useful for informing about upcoming product plans.
Types of product roadmaps by audience
In addition to the above classification, roadmaps can also be divided by focus on a specific audience. In particular, the following types are distinguished:
Internal roadmap for the development team. These roadmaps can be created in several ways, depending on how your team likes to work. Some common versions include prioritization of customer value, release dates, and milestones. Because many development teams use agile methodologies, these roadmaps are often organized by sprints and show specific pieces of work and problem areas plotted on a timeline.
An internal roadmap for executives. These roadmaps highlight how teamwork keeps the company’s goals and performance high. They are often organized by month or quarter to show progress towards these goals, and typically contain less details about development histories and tasks.
An internal roadmap for sales. These roadmaps focus on new features and customer benefits. Important note: Avoid including tight deadlines in sales plans so you don't tie internal teams with potentially unrealistic terms.
External roadmap. These roadmaps inform customers of what will happen next. Make sure they are visually appealing and easy to read. They should provide a high-level overview of new features and priority problem areas in order to interest customers in the product future direction.
How to create a product roadmap?
One of the easiest ways to create a roadmap is to use spreadsheets. For example, using Excel, you can compile product ideas, initiatives, set deadlines and so on. They are also quite simple to update.
However, roadmaps in the spreadsheets have significant drawbacks. They don’t have sufficient visualization and aren’t enough for presenting a strategic plan. In addition, Excel, for example, is a static document, which is difficult to control and synchronize versions with all team members after sharing.
It is much easier to visualize a roadmap in software designed to create presentations. Here, the product manager has more options and freedom.
Though, in this case, the presentation is a static document that requires manual updates, like a spreadsheet, which can create confusion with version control. It’s perfect, if the roadmap is updated synchronously for all team members. That’s why services for managing products with functionality for creating roadmaps are becoming increasingly popular today.
They are helping:
- Present a product roadmap visually
- Link global strategy to roadmap processes
- Identify and evaluate ideas
- Collaborate with all interested parties (including customers and non-technical colleagues)
- Integrate with third-party systems
Here are just a few services for roadmaps creation.
The service helps teams collect ideas, plan and visualize a product strategy, share it with colleagues. In order not to create a plan from scratch, you can import data from Jira or a spreadsheet.
In addition to Jira, ProductPlan integrates with GitHub, Pivotal Tracker, Slack and other services.
In this program, you don’t simply create a roadmap, but also completely manage the product. There are options to segment users, collect and store research, plan and evaluate a strategy. You can set the criteria by which the program will automatically prioritize and check each function of the product for compliance with the plan and user requests.
Service from a customer-oriented company with more than 250 thousand users, which helps building a product roadmap or marketing plan. There are six roadmap templates to choose from, and the result can be shared in PDF, PNG or web presentation. Integrates with Jira, GitHub, GitLab, Google Analytics, Slack. Suitable for product and marketing teams who work on Agile. A mobile version is available for iOS and Android.
The main stages of product roadmap creation
There is probably no need to remind once again about key business goals that are directly related to the roadmaps creation. By clearly understanding them, as well as your initiatives that you intend to invest in, you can determine which features add to your roadmap (thinking about what will have the greatest impact on your business). Here is a 4-step strategy that will be useful to everyone:
1. Define a strategy
Usually global strategies are based on key goals. Product managers must establish the ‘goal first’ approach and determine the direction of their product. This vision reflects the essence of what you want to receive. Make sure that everything is clear for you team at this stage in order to develop your future masterpiece.
2. Customize releases
Here you select the features that you want to highlight, and decide whether internal or external data should be presented in each release or not. Dates for external and internal releases may vary.
3. Prioritize features
Remember that customer requests should always be judged according to your strategy. There are various metrics that help evaluate your strategy. It’s easy to create your own scorecard for your product type, as each product is unique. Having your own scorecard, you can objectively prioritize your roadmaps. Remember the general rules for prioritization and the well-known prioritization methodologies.
4. Share a roadmap
Creating great products is impossible without communication, feedback and relationship transparence. You can’t do without them in your strategy.
When you get the desired result, you can save and share it with interested parties. With product management software, you can easily share your roadmaps by constantly updating them.
Top useful product roadmap tips
1. The product roadmap is not a panacea
Theoretically, the roadmap reduces the level of uncertainty and associated stress. But in practice it is difficult to predict the future.
If you, like most product teams, do experiments and customer interviews, you will inevitably have to adjust the roadmap to make the best product.
However, creating a roadmap is a hard work. It is necessary to determine what to do, set real terms, coordinate with everyone and present it in an accessible form. And sometimes instead of spending time arguing which of the two functions to do in the product, it will be faster to make both options, test them on clients and get the best result.
Prioritization is very important, but don’t let the roadmap process take longer than creating the product itself.
2. Start with a customer-oriented focus
If your roadmap is not based on an understanding of what customers need (what kind of pain the product relieves), then it will quickly become completely useless.
You should see the problems and needs of customers. In the process, the product and functions may change, but the vision of customer needs must stay unchanged.
3. Combine the input of all interested parties
Responsibility for creating the product roadmap lies on the product manager. But to achieve the stated goals, the product manager must collect input from various sources. These sources are:
- Customer Feedback
- Design and Development Department
- Sales and Marketing
- Top management of the company
- Company goals
- Company and product strategy
Based on the input from these sources, the product manager must prioritize and ensure that the product roadmap matches them.
4. Focus on high-level priorities
Uncertainty leads to stress. But unjustified expectations can have even more serious side effects than uncertainty. Unfulfilled expectations can lead to disappointment and doubt in the abilities of the team and the success of the product.
When it comes to the long-term stages of the product, you do not need to paint everything in detail. Anyway, it is difficult to accurately predict which particular product function you will release and when.
One of the possible solutions could be high-level priority planning. For example, by creating a product roadmap at the beginning, you can set the task - to work out three big hypotheses. And then choose the product features. This will keep the team focus on the development of three hypotheses, instead of simply enumerating functions.
5. Be Agile
Product teams that use the Agile approach for managing a product development project constantly check customer feedback on the product, features, and adjust the product accordingly. In such a process, a product roadmap is a living document that is regularly updated.
Instead of trying to predict which product features should be developed for several years ahead , Agile product managers regularly update the product roadmap based on emerging market opportunities and customer feedback.
Mistakes to avoid when creating a product roadmap
Remember that your roadmap will be constantly changing, and you’ll need to update it with indicators to help you measure the progress of your goals and develop a roadmap according to priority functions.
If you are developing a roadmap for the first time, then you may encounter the following problems:
- Too many priorities. Leave only one clear priority (for example: attracting users), such goals are more attainable;
- Too many changes. It is important to keep the roadmap up to date, but do not get ahead of your current tasks;
- Difficulties in coordinating several different groups around a product concept. This requires strong and well-established communication in product reporting and version control. Communication is crucial!
It is important to understand that in order to create a roadmap, expertise is needed and, in general, it is best if it is developed by the efforts of a team. Thus, the most complete and objective picture of the planning of further steps will be obtained. In this regard, contracting companies that have IT consulting in their list of services look advantageous.
This service allows you to plan a project in a high-quality manner, to avoid major mistakes and unnecessary expenses during the implementation process. Also you can obtain the expertise of company at all stages of cooperation. During IT consulting, business analytics give a comprehensive assessment of the feasibility of ideas, risks, the formation of tactics and technical specifications for software implementation. It will allow you to get the exact product you need. Read more about the benefits of IT consulting in our article How IT consulting actually works.