How to Create a Now-Next-Later Roadmap for a Product in Its Early Stages

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Piotr Golianek

Mar 15, 2022 • 9 min read
now_next_later_product_roadmap

A now-next-later roadmap is one of the simplest and most universal business roadmaps out there. It is a strategic tool that can be used regardless of the product or the type of initiatives.

Now-next-later roadmaps are visualization tools that are ideal for product teams that operate in fast-evolving ecosystems where timings are often subject to change. They are great frameworks for roadmapping because they enable communication with large audiences, help to streamline product processes and allow for broad experimentation.

Product managers, product teams, external stakeholders and many more players within the product life cycle will benefit from learning how to create a now-next-later roadmap for early-stage products. So, let’s get started...

What is a now-next-later roadmap?

A now-next-later roadmap is a strategic tool used within product development to guide teams and provide an overall vision of the product. The framework of a now-next-later roadmap is flexible but, in general, it should reflect the product vision, encompass the objectives of the product and lay out the problems the product aims to solve.

The product roadmap should give a general direction to the team and split the work into manageable and logical steps. The roadmap will fulfill these basic objectives as well as addressing some more complex issues.

Indeed, a now-next-later roadmap can be used for project transformations and handovers, especially if the whole process is long, complex and has many dependencies. And they can also be used for validation experiments, where:

  • ‘Now’ is planning the experiment like a user interviews or a smoke test
  • ‘Next’ is conducting the experiment
  • ‘Later’ is gathering and analyzing results to draw substantive conclusions.

A now-next-later roadmap is not a final plan or a concrete statement of intent. In a dynamic and unpredictable environment, with vague estimations, using fixed dates is not recommended. Startups cope with immature products and products that exist in very vibrant markets. The flexibility of a now-next-later roadmap is perfect for this type of planning because it allows for a large degree of evolution and change.

Now-next-later maps also enable product teams to get rid of dates and false estimations. This strategic roadmap helps you to prioritize your work into what needs to be done now, next and in the future. It can be applied in many situations, is easy to understand and can be worked on by everyone.

Overall, a now-next-later roadmap should be designed to handle the most important things in roadmapping: a vision, a direction, a plan. It allows you to see the bigger picture while also providing you with the leeway you need to get creative with specific features and high-level issues.

Now-next-later roadmaps can be also used for project transformations and handovers, especially if the whole process is long and complex and has many dependencies.

How a now-next-later framework can support building a digital product in its early stages

Now-next-later is ideal for environments that are chaotic, rapidly changing and immature. Why? Well, there are a few key reasons.

Firstly, now-next-later roadmaps are brilliant tools for communicating broad plans without committing anyone to specific deadlines. This is critical for product development in the early stages. The now-next-later framework enables clarity in the present and a high-degree of freedom in the future.

Secondly, now-next-later roadmaps are streamlined and easy to understand. This is key during the early phases of product development because it allows everyone to get on the same page quickly and minimizes the potential complexity.

Below we’ve outlined a more key benefits of using the now-next-later framework when building a digital product in its early stages:

  • You can break the work into manageable steps. This helps internal teams understand what is going on and in what order tasks should be completed. It allows teams to focus on customer problems, discuss broad plans and experiment with features and objectives without feeling overburdened.
  • You can easily reorganize and re-assess strategic points. It is important that the product team is able to rejig plans without needing to re-write the roadmap from scratch. With the now-next-later framework product strategy and product vision can evolve easily.
  • You can communicate the priorities over a broad time frame. Your objectives and responsibilities will grow and change over time, and this kind of product roadmap makes it easy to communicate these adjustments over weeks, months and years.
  • It allows you to focus on periods of time rather than specific dates. A roadmap is not a place to emphasize granular details. Instead, the now-next-later framework allows you to focus on broad plans across a wide range of time.

Elements of now-next-later framework

Here you can find a detail description of three elements of the framework as well as a template that you can use to create your product roadmap.

Now: “What is currently being tackled by the team?”

The first stage of your framework can be focussed on what you are currently working on. So, if you are creating an app from the ground up, this ‘Now’ stage of the framework could provide guidance on the approach you want to take to market research or to user experience (UX) design.

This part of the framework can be practical and executional while the next phases may be more strategic and aspirational. As you can see, this roadmap framework allows you to approach your product strategy from multiple angles. At the ‘Now’ stage it’s easy to track high level issues and focus on specific features that you are currently working on.

now_next_later_framework_product_roadmap_template

Source: Slide Model, Now-Next-Later Template

Next: “What are we doing next?

The second stage of your framework is about planning for the near future. What key results are you looking for in the next few months? What is the next stage in the development cycle?

Here you can start communicating priorities. For example, if you're working on an app, the ‘Next’ stage in your framework may outline principles for going to market or display the role of the sales team in launching the app.

A now-next-later roadmap is one of the best frameworks because it allows a useful level of segmentation. Your ‘Next’ stage can look totally different from your ‘Now’ stage but because they are contained within the same framework one will naturally lead into the other.

With your first product roadmap it may be tempting to cram all of your goals and aims into the ‘Next’ stage however there is plenty of room for this in the ‘Later' stage.

Later: “What do we have in the backlog that may not be urgent but is still worth visualizing?”

The now-next-later roadmap allows product managers to plan for the future without losing track of the present. In the ‘Later’ stage you can visualize your aspirations for the product and try to understand how your product might develop in the future.

This stage makes it easy to communicate what may be coming round the corner which is important for many within the product development team.

The challenges of using a now-next-later roadmap

  • Requires a flexible approach

The now-next-later framework is great for startups and businesses in volatile markets. However, this flexible framework may not be useful for everyone. If you belong to a large corporation or you have a fixed product lifecycle, the usefulness of this framework will probably be quite limited.

  • Leaving off the details

As with most roadmaps it is important to focus on the big themes and events. There is no use crowding the framework with details especially when you are using the roadmap to communicate your product vision to a wide range of people.

  • Not looking too far ahead

With the ‘Later’ stage it can be tempting to become vague and aspirational. One of the challenges of using this framework is to ensure that the content within the ‘Later’ is realistic and useful. By all means aim high, but ensure that you remain practical.

Using now-next-later framework to create an effective product roadmap

If you are looking to take control of your product life cycle and implement a coherent product strategy, the now-next-later roadmap may be the tool to use. Especially if you combine it with suitably designed OKRs.

With this easy-to-use visualization tool you’ll be able to focus on the big picture and communicate product goals and strategy to everyone in your team.

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Piotr Golianek

Piotr Golianek works as a Product Manager at Netguru.
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