Are you a product manager spearheading a new product or service offering and wondering just where to start and how to convey your vision to the board and other internal or external stakeholders?
We’ve got you covered.
Coming up with a concrete product plan and overarching strategy can be time-consuming and complex, especially if it’s your first time. But we’re here to empower you with the information you need to make that process much easier.
In this guide, we’re going to give you an end-to-end overview of product roadmaps and how you can use them to guide product development, support your teams, and reassure your stakeholders that everything’s going to plan.
What is a product roadmap?
A product roadmap outlines the vision, direction, priorities, and progress of a solution or service. It’s a plan of action that provides end-to-end visibility of a development process and aligns key internal and external stakeholders (and the wider organisation) with its short and long-term goals.
While all product roadmaps track progress and show what’s being built, it’s also important to outline why. This is crucial as new products should be linked to the overall Customer Experience strategy and any development process should be flexible enough to respond to customer feedback and the ever-changing business landscape.
What are the benefits of a product roadmap?
Above communicating the purpose of a project and how you see your product developing over the coming months, a product roadmap can provide the following benefits:
- Shared ownership: by providing everyone in the business with a clear view of what’s happening and when, it becomes much easier to get stakeholders involved and bought into product development.
- Prioritisation: product development is chaotic at the best of times, but with a roadmap, your internal teams can prioritise tasks, e.g. those that lead to key milestones and contribute to overall deliverables.
- Reduced burden: as dates are assigned and multiple teams are aware of their tasks (and held accountable), you can focus on the next major release and highlight the key priorities for teams. Other ad-hoc requests can be put to the side as everyone knows where the focus is.
- Budget buy-in: product roadmaps can help you to secure more budget for development as they show finance and key stakeholders what’s actually in the pipeline. You can associate time and cost to each task, as well as outline the customer benefits of new, specific features.
- Coordination: with everyone aware of what’s happening and when you can organise cross-departmental product management to take advantage of other relevant products and services going live at the same time. This enables sales to upsell and cross-sell more effectively.
- Transparency: many brands and businesses like to keep their consumers and customers up to date using product roadmaps – or release views. Consumers and customers can look at these maps (usually web pages) to see when the next big feature is going to arrive or how far along the development is. This kind of transparency puts them at ease.
- End-to-end understanding: with a big picture view, team members can focus on the most important tasks, avoid scope and feature creep, and make more strategic and intuitive decisions. Keeping internal teams on the same page will help your company achieve product success in the future.
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Types of product roadmaps
There are many different ways to build a product roadmap, but the type of roadmap you choose should reflect the needs of your team, stakeholders, and customers.
The three most common (and helpful) types of product roadmap are status-oriented, theme-oriented, and outcome-oriented.
- Goal-oriented: This helps to keep information grouped and explained. Goals determine a reason for every feature to exist. This could be as simple as “improving load times” – that in itself would have a task or feature on the roadmap committed to it. By organising information around your goals, your roadmap is far easier to understand.
- Theme-oriented: Similar to the goal-oriented roadmap, this type centres around themes. For example, you could bucket new, specific features under things such as usability, speed, or engagement, with each category having its own goals and tasks to reach those goals. This gives a more detailed breakdown of what work is being done and where.
- Feature-based: This format entails using features as focus points for your roadmap, making it incredibly detailed. You get feature breakdowns (including the rationale behind them) and associated tasks to get those features implemented. This format can make your product roadmap very difficult to understand as it’s far less of an overview and more of a deep dive. Best to leave this format for your engineers and developers.
- Strategy-based: A general-purpose roadmap that perhaps works best for both internal and external audiences. Provides a high-level outline of your product, with information tied to specific parts/components/features as necessary.
- Release roadmap: This type of roadmap is primarily presented to customers as it focuses on one thing: releases – exactly what they want to see. Doesn’t need many tech or practical details, just estimations of when features are due to be implemented and go live.
How to plan and create a product roadmap
Your product roadmap should provide an end-to-end view of a project while still being concise. You want to focus on the most salient elements of the development process, and key objectives that contribute to progress.
1. Formulate your vision and strategy
Clearly explaining your vision for a product or service, as well as aligning that with expectations from internal and external stakeholders and customers, is key to creating an effective product roadmap. Talk to your customers and product teams. Look at the market and your competitors.
Define your buyer personas and listen to what your salespeople are telling you, particularly about market appetite. Having all of these perspectives will help you to refine your product strategy and focus on the things that matter.
2. Define your audience
Who will you show your product roadmap to? From internal stakeholders to prospects and customers, the format of your roadmap will depend on who it’s intended for.
For example, prospects and customers would be more concerned with when features are being released, and not so much the technical stages that go into each milestone. Developers, product managers, and product teams, on the other hand, may want a breakdown of tasks for each milestone.
There’s no one-size-fits-all plan, and you may have to make an adaptable product roadmap that provides specific details for each audience. This doesn’t mean creating separate roadmaps for each audience, but rather using tools that can highlight the most important elements for each department.
3. Pick a suitable format
As mentioned above, your format will change depending on who you’re showing your roadmap to. Developers will benefit from a feature-based format, while executives and board members will want to see key deliverables and outcomes.
For example, customers don’t want to see information about internal processes (nor would you want to show them), instead, they’ll want to see the benefits of new features or track progress towards certain goals.
4. Identify your metrics
Metrics will help with tracking progress and seeing the bigger picture. Depending on the purpose of your roadmap, you may want to choose metrics that are more focused on customer needs or business needs. Either way, metrics will help you to track progress and relay important successes to your product team.
5. Keep it high level
Your product plan should provide a broad overview – people should be able to look at it at a glance and immediately understand what’s happening, where, and why. You should also aim to regularly update your product roadmap. Your product is always (or should be) changing, so as you come up with new features and goals, that information needs to be communicated via your roadmap.
Presenting your product roadmap
Now until your roadmap presentation – and by that, we mean via a presentation in a company or team meeting – it’s just a detailed document.
Through a roadmap presentation, you have a chance to show stakeholders that you understand their motivations and strategies for the business, as well as its products and services. The presentation itself isn’t to secure buy-in but to affirm roadmap alignment (that should have been established before the meeting).
Now there are two ways to go about presenting your product roadmap:
- Short-term updates: This strategy works well for smaller teams. You would have weekly or biweekly syncs covering the specifics of what’s being built. This helps to keep everyone on top and on track.
- Long-term updates: For larger organisations and teams, you could present your roadmap monthly, bimonthly, or quarterly. This approach is typically suited for high-stakes projects that require massive alignment across several departments and have variables that depend on activities elsewhere in the business. Getting buy-in before a long-term roadmap update is absolutely crucial otherwise, stakeholders and other key personnel will be confused.
But what else should you be thinking about as a product manager?
What else do product managers need to think about?
Know the high-level product strategy
When it comes to presenting your roadmap, the most important thing is to know the big picture – what will your features/changes or new implementations address? How will they empower prospects and/or customers?
Regarding people in the meeting, they’ll want to know what’s most beneficial to them and the business’ target audience. Being able to speak to the product vision and company strategy, as well as how your roadmap aligns with both, will make buy-in much easier.
Know the stakeholders
Having a good relationship with the key stakeholders and knowing their challenges, objectives, and deadlines is key. Working on your product roadmap to align with their needs will build trust and also ensure your activities go smoothly.
How much bandwidth does the business have? Will you get pushback from departments when presenting your product roadmap? What you want to avoid are delays throughout the process, as this will not only annoy your stakeholders, it’ll also annoy prospects and customers. Whatever your plans, you need to be able to articulate resource requirements – and highlight the trade-offs (if necessary) that need to be made elsewhere to accommodate the plan.
Use the right tools
Your roadmap should be flexible, personalised to those you’re presenting to, and capable of being modified in real-time. You should also consider how you visually present your roadmap, some use In Progress, Scheduled, and Proposed to define the stages that tasks/features are in. This could be further broken down into categories or themes (if that’s the approach you’re taking).
As for personalisation, colour-coding tasks to refer to specific departments is a great way to go. It’s clear and easy to organise. You could even use this to filter tasks so that unrelated tasks (e.g. those for other departments) are hidden.
Finally, collaboration. It’s best to use a cloud-based product management tool or product roadmap software, as this gives everyone in the organisation the means to make changes and update progress. It’ll also be beneficial during presentation meetings if people can go in and make changes or make feature requests for team members to consider.
Avoid technical debt
When you have multiple teams working on major releases independently, it’s incredibly easy to bring on something called technical debt. This issue results when development teams and product managers take actions to expedite the delivery of a piece of functionality or project which later needs to be refactored. In essence, it’s the result of prioritising speedy delivery over perfect code. In these instances, you must take a more strategic, value-based approach to your product roadmaps. Take the time to organise every step of the process to avoid complications later on. It’ll be much easier to refine your product if you test at every stage and iron out problems before they become deeply ingrained.
Look for a product roadmap template
If you need more help presenting your product roadmap, look for a product roadmap template. There are plenty of free templates available online (either alone or as part of a product roadmap software) that can help you to create a high-level overview of all the features you have lined up, as well as explain the strategic rationale.
Prepare for questions
As with any project, there will always be questions and a degree of pushback. What’s crucial is that you prepare and think about what stakeholders might ask: how much will it cost? What’s the value of this project? Is the timeline accurate? Are there any risks? Ensure you have a strategic response to all of these questions and the presentation will go much more smoothly.
Start creating great products, today
With the advice so far, you should be able to create, deliver, and manage a successful product roadmap.
Maintain a degree of transparency, work closely with stakeholders, ensure information is accurate and concise and update your plans regularly.
As you no doubt know, great products are at the core of every successful business. With this guide, you know how to plan – but how do you come up with the right ideas to begin with?
In our guide, 16 Research Methods to Maximise Product Success, we outline:
- Why product research is crucial at every stage
- Common research methods and when to use them
- How to maximise the life and value of your products
Our guide will give you everything you need to generate ideas, find the right price, incorporate innovations and know when to retire your product.
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