The role of a product roadmap is to communicate the high-level goals and plans for the product while providing a concise visual summary that maps out the vision and direction of your product over time.
A good product roadmap can be the difference between success and failure. Roadmaps can influence the overall approach to product vision and identify strategies to maximize your customer base. Indeed, a great roadmap even has the power to persuade executives to give a product the green light because it can demonstrate market viability and a clear product vision.
When putting together a product roadmap there are plenty of pitfalls you need to avoid. Unfortunately, in some cases product roadmap mistakes can have a damaging effect on the product, even leading to its failure.
Below we’ve highlighted eleven common mistakes you should avoid when you are designing your product roadmap. These tips should be useful for anyone involved in product management, product strategy and the product development process.
1. Having a fixed roadmap
A roadmap should not be fixed or frozen after being created. It’s not the type of document that we ideate, define, create, communicate, have everything ticked off, and then forget about. It is important to continually review.
Very often we see companies working on their roadmaps at the beginning of the year, and then they forget about it a few months later. They don’t make any changes and this leads to problems as the product evolves during the design and development process.
A product roadmap is a strategic forecast for your product and should reflect current realities and micro and macro ecosystems. It is advisable to review it at least once a quarter. This will give you the best chance of creating a product roadmap that is relevant to your current objectives and capable of visualizing upcoming events or changes.
2. Focusing on features instead of solutions
You do not want to be the next feature factory. A product succeeds when it solves problems. You should think about solutions rather than features because this will provide your product roadmap with focus.
If you concentrate too much on features over solutions you may not have clear product goals. Equally, if you prioritize features before you work on creating solutions you are less likely to address relevant customer needs.
The best practice is to consider your objectives and design a roadmap accordingly:
- What are your goals for this product?
- What problems is your product solving?
- How is your product solving these problems?
If you’re asking these kinds of questions with your product roadmap then you are on the right track.
3. Including too much detail
A roadmap is designed to be a high-level, strategic document. It should reflect the vision of the product team and translate it into themes that can be worked on by cross-functional teams.
One of the most common mistakes is to include too much detail in the product roadmap. Many managers make the mistake of going too specific and putting all their details concerning planned feature development, estimated timelines, and resources in the product roadmap. These details are important but they should not be placed into a product roadmap.
The best practice is to keep it simple and strategic. Product roadmaps are effective tools when they are used to guide and visualize. They are less effective when they are bogged down with endless details at every stage of the process. If you want a coherent strategic vision, keep your product roadmap simple.
4. Including epics and user stories
The best roadmaps are those that provide a big picture of what will happen with your product or feature in the short run. Unfortunately, many managers overlook the primary purpose of a roadmap and start including detailed epics and sometimes even user stories into the roadmap.
Please don’t do this! If you want to create a vision for the product you need to focus on hard data and clear strategic thinking. By including user stories you will reduce the clarity and concision of the product roadmap. It will become difficult to read and the high-level vision will become mired in irrelevant detail.
The best approach is to put these epics and user stories in the backlog. In most cases they won’t fit in with the purpose of a roadmap presentation. However, user stories and epics will be very useful points of data outside of the roadmap. When you are trying to construct a strategic vision it is important to get your priorities straight. At this stage epics and user stories are not a priority so they should not be included.
5. Making bets based on your inner voice
When planning for the future, don’t rely solely on your instincts or senses. Instead, gather hard data. You will need both qualitative and quantitative data if you want to have any legitimacy behind your decisions and priorities. This will help you get the tactical details right and will help you avoid setting unrealistic expectations. Gathering data this way will also help you with stakeholder management.
Wishful thinking is never the best strategy in business. To avoid relying solely on gut instinct, product managers must see the product roadmap as a strategic tool and ensure that the entire roadmap can be sorted by relevant information.
Always think about your users, market, and competition. Don’t be afraid to make bold decisions, if they are feasible from a business perspective. Creating any high level plan will involve some level of intuition but it is important to understand the data and the details before you finalize the vision for your first product roadmap.
6. Not prioritizing and not knowing how to prioritize
You know the old saying: “A backlog is infinite”. You don’t want to have the same issue with a roadmap. More often that not the issues prioritization. A common mistake when designing the product roadmap is not prioritizing throughout the map and giving each stage the same level of significance.
You have to know what to include and what to get rid of. And you have to know what elements to focus on within the product backlog.
For example, if you want to include a summary of solutions and a summary of your features it would be best to prioritize solutions over features to ensure that your product roadmap is addressing relevant user needs.
The best approach is to limit the number of requests from your users and stakeholders. Ensure that you are not crowding your roadmap with too many elements. Use prioritization techniques and make sure your prioritization criteria is not changing too much when you develop your product vision.
7. Not being ready to defend your decisions
Plenty of collaboration goes into developing a complete and realistic roadmap. At some points you’ll have to deal with conflicting perspectives and your strategic vision may be challenged by others involved in the development process. While this is happening it is important to be ready to defend your decisions in a way that is productive and leads to constructive discussions about product strategy.
Stakeholders will be throwing in new ideas, challenging your decisions and influencing the product roadmap priorities. That’s normal. You need to be proactively prepared for this. Always be ready to defend your decisions with data-oriented evidence. Equally, if your stakeholders are asking for change be ready to ask for evidence in data.
When you build these constructive relationships with key stakeholders and within your team, it will be easier to create a product roadmap that reflects your collective vision. This is essential if you want your product roadmap to be a practical strategic tool.
8. Not making it collaborative
In addition to defending your decisions you must also be willing to collaborate throughout the process. One of the most common mistakes when creating a product roadmap is to ignore your team. Developing a product roadmap is always a team effort. It is a cross-disciplinary tool that should help you develop the best product possible.
A roadmap is a tool to break silos and, ironically, while creating a roadmap we often work in silos. Too often, we can forget to make the process collaborative. This results in a lack of fresh, valuable insights and will minimize the effectiveness of other departments.
To avoid this mistake, invite key and selected stakeholders from other departments (especially sales, marketing, sales support and tech) into a collaborative process. You don’t need to make it a crowd. Ask 1-2 people from each department (depending on the size of a company, you might need more people, but constantly try to keep it minimalist) and make sure they have space to work effectively with you.
9. Contradicting your company goals
If your product roadmap is not aligned with the strategic high-level vision of your company it is bound to fail. You should avoid that kind of contradiction and always adjust your roadmap to meet the high level plan.
For instance, if your company is planning aggressive growth and bold moves to capture market shares, then don’t include small incremental changes in your product roadmap.
Instead, create a product map that corresponds with the big picture of your organization and is capable of keeping up with the growth of your company.
10. Operating without a product strategy
A product roadmap is a strategic visual tool. The potential utility of a roadmap is maximized if you also have a strong product strategy. Without a product strategy your roadmap planning tool will become vague and directionless. It is difficult to develop a vision for the product with a roadmap if you don’t have an overriding product strategy that helps to keep everything together.
If you don’t have a valid product strategy, postpone creating a product roadmap. Strategy is a superior element to a product roadmap, so make sure you have that set before you start visualizing your roadmap.
11. Starting your roadmap before the time is right
Lastly, make sure that you start your roadmap at the right time. Imagine that you’re working in a startup at a very early stage within a vibrant market. This is not the perfect environment for a product roadmap. How can you be certain what your product will look like in 12 months?
When uncertainties are high and circumstances are changing fast, avoid product roadmaps. Eventually, you can create a Now-Next-Later roadmap or focus on appropriately defined OKRs.
Overall, it is important not to rush. If you are patient with your product roadmap it will likely be more relevant and useful when it comes to creating your product.
The key to successful product roadmap
All of these product roadmap mistakes are easily avoided if you have a coherent vision, are ready to adapt that vision over time and are willing to make the whole process collaborative.
The best product roadmaps are informed by hard data, product specific expertise and strategic thinking. Undoubtedly, there will be some bumps along the road but we believe if you avoid these eleven key mistakes you’ll be able to create a great product roadmap that gives you the best chance of making a first-class product.