Why are we doing this? What’s our goal? What are the milestones? Do these questions sound familiar? If you’re a product manager (PM), the answer will almost certainly be yes. What’s more, the questions may come from any number of teams, from engineering to sales.
A way to get ahead of the curve is to create a product roadmap that gives teams the insights they need to get a product developed and launched successfully. In a nutshell, a product roadmap in product management is a high-level strategic plan. It’s utilized at each stage of the product life cycle, with maximum usefulness generated at the growth stage.
We’ve put together this product roadmap article to give you a product roadmap definition and a general overview.
What is a product roadmap?
A product roadmap is a visual representation outlining goals or desired outcomes and steps. Product roadmaps reflect the outcomes you want to achieve, and they show how a product will evolve over time. Having a roadmap is useful in successful product development. It’s a coordination tool that communicates the high-level product strategy to everyone involved, aligning your business around it.
Roadmaps include input from a variety of cross-functional teams, with the product managers at the helm. They also require collaboration between all parties involved. A great product roadmap is always up-to-date – it isn’t a one-time document that’s fixed and unamendable. Things sometimes change, right?
A product roadmap reflects the product strategy, and because of that, everyone needs to understand it. All businesses work differently, so to create an effective product roadmap, talk to the teams involved. How do they work best? How’s the best way to present the roadmap?
Why is product roadmapping important in product management?
Product roadmaps give stakeholders and team members valuable info about a product and everything that’s involved in building it. That visibility boosts confidence in the product manager who builds the roadmap, creating a sense of excitement.
Product roadmaps take time to create, but they’re worth it. They align a business around a product vision providing a high-level overview and demonstrating a firm grasp of the strategic wheel.
The visibility a product roadmap creates means stakeholders and teams are able to view how a product is progressing. Product roadmaps also facilitate collaboration, offer clarity, and act as a powerful communication tool.
For example, a product roadmap is crucial to communicating how short-run actions contribute to and maintain long-run business goals. A roadmap tells all people onboard which direction we're heading.
11 types of product roadmaps
Deciding on your roadmap approach is daunting. There are many product roadmap templates and purpose-built roadmapping software to consider that help communicate both what you want to do and why you want to do it in a certain way. The best product roadmaps? Read on for some common and effective types.
1. Objectives timeline roadmap
Larger enterprises and those working in complex environments use an objectives timeline roadmap to share a zoomed-out approach with stakeholders. An objectives timeline roadmap is an example of an outcome roadmap as opposed to an output-driven roadmap.
This roadmap type offers broad alignment across a business in terms of product direction, and it’s easy for anyone to understand.
What are objectives timeline roadmaps great for? Communicating product strategy and goals across teams for the forthcoming quarters. They provide a clear connection between the product and business strategies and end deliverables like features.
2. Now-next-later roadmap
This format offers flexibility and is useful for businesses whose priorities shift regularly. That usually applies when a product is in its earliest stages.
This type of roadmap communicates your priorities over broad time frames. However, there’s an emphasis on the near-term. Features in the “now” section gather more detail as you work on them, while features in the “later” part of the roadmap are more high-level, reflecting long-term strategy.
Now-next-later roadmaps are great for teams operating in fast-changing environments. These include situations where a release date may alter. They allow you to communicate comprehensive plans to customers without committing to deadlines, and are ideal for sharing your product strategy and priorities with large audiences.
To keep things on track and prevent items in “later” staying there indefinitely, you need a rigorous prioritization process.
3. Release timeline roadmap
This roadmap type communicates the activities that must happen before a release occurs. For example, it shows what needs doing, when, and who’s responsible. The most important aspects here are to plan releases within timeframes and with corresponding actions.
This type is an execution-level plan of how you plan to deliver the product and the timeframe. It offers a high-level overview of the product release to stakeholders, executives, cross-functional teams, and maybe even customers.
It’s also ideal for planning future milestones. For example, are you planning on developing a mobile app for a product at some point in the future? Other teams are aware of forthcoming features, without the need to commit to specific dates.
If you’re planning objectives for a future date, you can remain high-level. However, as you prepare for sprints and launch activities, you’ll want to decide which features to release and when. For example, do some features need to be released at the same time?
A release timeline roadmap allows you to map out clear timeframes for releases in the near future. Use this type of roadmap to map out and communicate the release plan to other teams and stakeholders.
Release timeline roadmaps create a low-maintenance tactical roadmap that tracks progress against essential deadlines. Do you work in an agile environment that doesn’t plan releases much more than a month in advance? A release timeline roadmap lets you use specific release objects, while outlining a time horizon with essential milestones and company deadlines.
4. Hybrid product roadmap
Hybrids include dates but not hard dates. For instance, organize dates around months or quarters, allowing you to plan for the future with flexibility.
5. Features timeline roadmap
A product features roadmap shows a timeline for the delivery of new features and is ideal for communicating what’s coming and when.
This roadmap type is output-driven, allowing users to set timeframes for individual features. Features timeline roadmaps are ideal for planning features and tracking their progress, because they offer a long-distance view of how things are moving in terms of deadlines and time-bound milestones.
It’s possible to align with development teams on dates and track the progress of features against specific deadlines and milestones. A featured timeline roadmap also allows you to allocate resources when and where they’re required.
6. Timeline product roadmap
Product managers use timeline roadmaps to make sure there’s alignment between teams and stakeholders. This type is useful if you’re juggling multiple teams, departments, and deadlines.
7. Strategy roadmap
Strategy roadmaps display initiatives or high-level efforts required to achieve the product goals. They’re ideal for communicating how different releases contribute to the overall strategy.
8. Column roadmap
Column roadmaps group components according to color-coded bars or columns. That gives an at-a-glance view of what’s going on with the product.
9. Portfolio roadmap
This type shows planned releases across multiple products in a single view, and is useful for providing a strategic overview.
10. Theme-based roadmap
This top-down approach groups goals and plans into high-level strategic categories called themes. Under each theme, the theme-based roadmap includes one or more epics.
11. Department-oriented roadmaps
A firm can have one global roadmap, visible and available for everyone. At the same time, there could be different roadmaps for the development team, sales team, marketing, product managers, and other departments. These roadmaps may include different elements. but overall, they should lead in the same direction – they can’t be inconsistent with each other.
How to create a product roadmap?
If you’re wondering how to make a product roadmap, there are three main stages: planning, building, and presenting. Continue reading for some info on each phase of the product roadmapping process.
Planning a product roadmap
The planning phase is a period of research and problem discovery that requires ruthless prioritization. At this stage, you narrow priorities, define priority-based goals that focus on outcomes and solutions, and decide how to measure success. Keep the following in mind:
- Generate goals for a specific period of time and make sure these objectives align with the product vision.
- Identify user problems. It’s possible to solve by examining usage data and researching the competition via competitive analysis.
- Keep internal teams and stakeholders aligned, ensuring collaboration from start to finish.
- Define your metrics and KPIs to measure success.
- Prioritize the product roadmap by using a framework such as Reach, Impact, Confidence, and Effort (RICE), or value versus effort.
Building a product roadmap
Next, it’s time to take the goals and outcomes formulated in the planning phase and turn them into a clear visual. To do that:
- Choose a roadmap format (see above for types and below for examples).
- Identify dependencies early on in the process.
- Be sure to mark milestones to ensure visibility.
- Don’t forget to track progress of your objectives, results, and goals.
Presenting your roadmap
Presenting a roadmap is the ideal time for product managers to show their skills. It’s important to view presentation audiences as personas. What info does each department and stakeholder care about and what impacts them the most? For example:
- CEO/Executives. These people think high-level and interdepartmental. They care about business goals and how the roadmap helps them achieve their objectives. They also care about resource allocation and how their investment creates a return. It’s important to highlight risks and show them how features and initiatives will help the product capture the market.
- Engineering. This team cares about code, integrity, efficiency, and scalability. They want to understand the value of their efforts. Explain the intrinsic value of each feature and milestone and set realistic timeframes. It’s best to focus on developer-oriented themes like usability, performance, quality, infrastructure, and features.
- Sales and customer support. These teams care about what they promise customers and associated timeframes. Building trust and loyalty are important to them. Focus on the timeline when talking to these teams and show how the roadmap reduces churn. Highlight the what and the when to these teams in a way that’s easily communicable to customers (if they choose to).
- Customers. You may or may not share your roadmap with customers. If you do, be sure to show them the value of the product. Don’t include internal details like dates and team capacity. Remember to under-promise and over-deliver.
Using and updating the roadmap
Once you’ve gone through the product roadmap stages, it’s important to actually use the roadmap and update it as and when necessary.
Adjusting the roadmap and reporting on progress are vital parts of a product manager’s role. Different audiences will want to hone in on different information, so the PM needs to be the all-seeing eye.
For instance, executives will likely want to see key initiatives mapped to product goals. Why? To understand if large themes of work are on track. Marketing and sales may want to see a detailed view of upcoming features and releases that impact go-to-market plans.
A dynamic roadmap is a powerful and robust tool. Proactive, detail-rich progress updates keep everyone informed of how the product strategy is progressing.
Tools for product roadmaps
There’s an array of product roadmap software on the market, including:
Airfocus comes with an intuitive and user-friendly roadmap builder that is highly convenient for working with an outcome-based roadmap.
The next cool feature is consolidating various roadmaps into a one-view roadmap, useful especially for cross-functional teams as it helps to see a common aim. After your work is done, you can easily share and export your roadmap to collaborators.
Image source: Airfocus
Asana offers many convenient functionalities, and one of them is a roadmap tool. You can visualize roadmaps with a calendar or timeline view and sort by priority, category or person assigned.
You can also use the Portfolios option to combine several roadmaps to see the high-level picture of your company.
Image source: Asana
We heavily utilize Confluence at Netguru as a knowledge base and internal communication tool. But it is also possible to create a roadmap within Confluence using a product roadmap template.
This feature is not as extensive as other tools. However, you can still have core functionality and don’t need to use another app, which positively impacts your budget and focus.
Image source: Confluence
This commonly known guy is on this list, not without reason. Microsoft Excel is a tool that you most probably will use at least once in your life. It has many functionalities, and you can create a roadmap too - on your own, or you can use one of many templates available on the Internet.
Alternatively, within Microsoft Office, similar functionality is available in PowerPoint. Given they are almost certainly already installed on your computer, this gives them some advantage, although compared to other solutions, these rather stand apart. If you will not share it externally and you want an on-premises solution, Excel is for you.
Image source: Office Timeline
Jira is one of the core tools we use at Netguru and perhaps one of the best tools for roadmaps. With Jira, you can work on epics, child issues, assign dates, filter, and change views.
You can also find dependency manager to be beneficial. Jira also has useful export options. It is worth highlighting attractive visual form and user-friendly flow.
Image source: Atlassian
Monday.com is a funky tool for project and product management. You can create roadmaps based on the templates provided, which you can freely customize and use. They offer everything that you need from a good product roadmap.
This tool offers a great roadmapping experience. You can easily create an interactive visualization of your prioritized plans that you can share with colleagues across the organization. You can create multiple views of your roadmap to cater to different stakeholders, and all will automatically remain up-to-date. There is plenty of configuration settings enabling you to group items by release or status.
You can also display a feature objective or hierarchy. With additional features, you can easily move from a high-level view to details. Apart from that, you can create multiple versions of your roadmap with different settings and filters applied. Productboard has also rich sharing options.
Image source: Productboard
A lean roadmap tool with effective visuals, a drag and drop interface, and intuitive flow. Align goals, maintain right internal transparency, share, and control who sees what.
Image source: ProdPad
ProductPlan offers perhaps the most roadmap-oriented solution out there. With a drag and drop interface, Timeline, List, Table, or Portfolio layout you can easily collaborate, share and transfer an unlimited number of roadmaps between users.
This tool also allows you to comment and mention other team members, which is useful if you want to put a roadmap into a discussion. They also offer plenty of integrations, and you can choose from dozens of roadmap templates.
Image source: ProductPlan
Trello is a swell tool for making a Kanban Board and organizing your tasks. But you can also use it for roadmaps. It’s super intuitive and easy to use and has many practical integrations and features. You can also save time by using one of the templates provided.
Image source: Trello
If you are a fan of sticky notes as we are, you will find Miro handy for making visual roadmaps. This tool offers also a practical feature enabling to build of Kanban boards, which you can customize to form a roadmap.
Undoubtedly, if you’re looking for a tool to unleash artistic spirit and capabilities and turn them into a good product roadmap - this is a tool for you.
Image source: Miro
OKR vs roadmap
Can product teams move to an OKR-only system? Is it possible for OKRs to replace product roadmaps? During the introduction phase of the product life cycle, the main goal is creating a product that addresses the problems and needs of customers. Here, an OKR-only system works well.
During the growth phase when the product and features are developed, a product roadmap comes into play alongside an OKR system, aligning each item with the objectives.
At the maturity stage, all features are built and the product is optimized to fulfil the objectives. Here, an OKR-only system is possible.
When it comes to the end of life maintenance phase, no new features are built, and each task is associated with an output, meaning an OKR-only system is feasible.
OKRs may not be a total replacement of a product roadmap, but it is possible to use them alone at certain phases. Base your decision according to the product in question, the lifecycle stage, and the requirements.
What makes a good product roadmap?
When building your product roadmap, keep the following product roadmap checklist in mind:
- Keep focused on goals and results.
- Don’t neglect the prep work.
- Be sure to tell a coherent story.
- Keep things simple.
- Make sure you secure a strong buy-in.
- Don’t be afraid to say no to ideas and requests.
- Prioritize roadmap items according to importance.
- Know when to show dates and when to give release sequences.
- Ensure the key results are measurable.
- Figure out costs top-down, not bottom-up.
- Review and adjust the roadmap regularly.
- Keep the roadmap flexible.
- Ensure the roadmap is visible and understandable to all departments.
Map out your product vision and overall product strategy
A product roadmap is a dynamic and visual communication tool that aligns teams around a high-level product strategy. It’s also a coordination tool that offers visibility and promotes collaboration. There are many types of product roadmap, from timeline and strategy to column and portfolio.
Creating a product roadmap involves planning, building, and presenting. Once created, it’s then down to the product manager to keep the roadmap updated. The type of roadmap you choose helps determine the software you use.
Remember to keep things simple, be flexible, and stay focused on goals and benefits. If you’d like help with product management, we provide comprehensive product roadmaps. Get in touch to find out more.
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