Most products, especially software, undergo continuous development, with product teams adding new features and optimizing existing ones. These changes, however, happen according to a pre-established plan. Product roadmaps serve as the fundamental framework guiding the development vision and direction of every product.
If you want to delve deeper into the realm of product roadmaps, you’re in the right place. We’ll show you how to build them effectively, and get the most out of them.
What is a product roadmap?
A product roadmap serves as a high-level summary of a product’s future within a business context. The roadmap visually articulates the direction and vision of the product, outlining improvements, priorities, and the sequence of releases. Additionally, roadmaps provide a rough timeline for delivery; think of the roadmap as a long-term action plan for your product.
Beyond detailing the product’s trajectory, roadmaps also illustrate how upcoming changes fit into the organization’s big picture. After all, new product features must align with elements such as overall strategy and business goals.
The roadmap should be flexible enough to respond to market dynamics, client requirements, and stakeholder needs. Its creation and maintenance are the responsibility of the product manager.
Who are product roadmaps for?
A roadmap can serve as a source of information for everyone in the organization. It enables executives, managers, and product development teams to be on the same page. Sharing an understanding of where the product is going and how to get there is invaluable.
Establishing priorities is essential in project management. It lets managers know which initiatives to plan, and in what order. The roadmap’s timeline supports scheduling activities by providing estimated delivery dates that teams should stick to.
Ultimately, roadmap-based prioritization enhances the alignment of projects with business objectives, ensuring that resources and efforts are well-spent.
Moreover, both existing and potential customers can derive benefits from a roadmap. By outlining upcoming changes to your product, you’re letting the public know what you’re up to. But that’s not the only perk; if potential customers identify a feature they need and can’t find elsewhere, this might entice them to buy your product. Having said that, you should maintain separate roadmaps for internal and external use.
Main types of product roadmaps
Wait, I need multiple product roadmaps? Well, kind of. There are two main types of roadmaps: internal and external, and we can break that down even further. You see, the type of roadmap required (especially internal) often depends on who’s viewing it. You might need several roadmaps for various people within an organization.
While the underlying dataset is the same for each roadmap, the content will vary depending on the audience.
Development roadmap (internal)
The development roadmap serves the purpose of communicating strategy and priorities to the development team. So, think about the information that developers will find valuable; such as insights into each feature, customer value, milestones, and release dates. It’s technical, but so are your developers.
Of course, most of the information can change over time. In fact, this type of roadmap is effective for a shorter time frame, typically not exceeding 1.5 months (equivalent to three sprints). However, outlining the basics is still needed, in order to provide developers with a clear frame of reference for upcoming releases.
Stakeholder roadmaps (internal)
This particular roadmap is meant for all teams within the organization; and it’s not just a list of upcoming features or initiatives. Cross-functional roadmaps let teams know about dependencies, milestones, and cross-team handoffs.
As a result, various departments have a clearer understanding of what lies ahead, and most importantly, how they need to work together to make these plans a reality.
In terms of the timeline, focus on a single quarter and make sure to update both your roadmap and the teams every three months.
Leadership doesn’t need to delve into the finer details of each feature; instead, the focus should be on high-level objectives. When building a roadmap for this group, include the goals and success criteria. Show how planned initiatives are helping reach the goals, and track progress using specific metrics.
In addition to objectives, executives care about how you plan to spend the budget; so make sure to include that in your roadmap.
This executive roadmap should cover a longer period of time than its cross-functional counterpart. The sweet spot is between six and 12 months.
Roadmap for customers and prospects (external)
If you want to give your customers a sneak peek of what’s in store, an external roadmap is a great idea.
Focus on high-priority features without too much detail. And most importantly, leave the technical jargon out. Customers may not understand it, and competitors can use it as inspiration, making you lose your competitive advantage.
This roadmap should cover two quarters at most. That’s because most prospective customers are interested in the most immediate updates.
The external roadmap will also be valuable to sales teams in conversations with prospects. However, you might want to change the release dates to account for potential delays. That way, customers receive new features on time, even if internal issues have extended the development process.
Why are product roadmaps important?
They evolve with the product
A product roadmap reflects the product’s evolution, and it’s important to acknowledge that plans can change. Whether influenced by market trends, shifts in business objectives, or evolving customer needs, the roadmap is designed to account for these changes. Think of it as a living document, not a static one.
They empower project managers to say “no”
Stakeholders can come up with new ideas and requirements all the time. But the roadmap allows product managers to either reject an idea or replace a feature with it. After all, there’s only so much a team can do in a given time period, and squeezing an extra feature into the roadmap might impact the delivery of other items.
They show stakeholders what we want to achieve
A product roadmap serves as a communication tool. It gives leadership visibility into the broader trajectory of the product. It also highlights what’s important, and how the teams plan on getting there.
Executives also gain valuable insights into current progress, not just the future. Instead of having to ask project or program managers for updates, they can quickly assess the status of key initiatives. Even if they do that once in a blue moon.
They keep the entire organization up to date
When all teams have access to the roadmap, they can effectively review the direction of future plans. Having priorities and strategy listed in a single place streamlines communication across the entire company. Additionally, it makes it easier for each team to understand where they fit in the company’s plans, enabling better preparation for the near future.
They support planning ahead and understanding changes
With a roadmap in place, project and program managers have a clear understanding of the direction and priorities. As a result, they have a foundation for planning relevant initiatives.
Just like products, roadmaps change over time. Market trends, customer preferences, and business objectives can all reshape the product’s future. However, when a roadmap undergoes modifications, all relevant people can stay informed by referring to the same source.
They are informative without being overwhelming
A roadmap should match the technical proficiency level of its audience. For developers, it can be more technical in nature. For teams like marketing or finance, the roadmap provides an opportunity to stay on top of upcoming improvements without having to decipher technical jargon.
Key elements of product roadmaps
Are you creating a product roadmap for the first time? Here’s what you need to include to make it valuable for your audience.
- North Star Metric – the most valuable measurement of success for the business. “It defines the relationship between the customer problems that the product team is trying to solve and the revenue that the business aims to generate by doing so.”
- Vision – what the product should look like, its features, and potential. Importantly, it’s not the endgame, but rather a direction in which we want to develop the product.
- Strategy – both in an internal and external roadmap, you must explain the goals, stakes, and business value to stakeholders and developers. The strategy allows to keep consistency with the aforementioned vision.
- Requirements – the necessary tasks required to fulfill the product goals. Typically derived from market and customer research, to figure out which features are necessary, welcomed, or non-essential.
- Product Plan – involves assigning specific timeboxes to features, and estimating the workload in a roadmap.
- Milestones – to highlight potential achievements and task completions. They don’t have to be exact dates, but will allow stakeholders to have a sense of when to expect the completion of a certain feature.
- Metrics – the criteria for success and how to measure them.
How to define success metrics and KPIs for the initiatives in the product roadmap?
All the metrics are based on data, but before we choose our key metrics, remember that some data is more important than others.
The number of followers, likes, or views are sometimes described as “vanity metrics”; meaning that they lack substance, nuance, and can be rather misleading. No wonder they’re often used as a PR trick.
The proper choice of metrics is crucial, and will depend on the type of product your team is working on. Here’s a short list of useful KPIs you can use:
How to create a product roadmap?
Building a product roadmap requires a lot of effort. But with the right blueprint, it’s much easier. Follow these five steps to craft an amazing roadmap that will serve as the foundation for all of your product initiatives in the future.
Define your vision and goals
Step one is to narrow down the “why” behind your product. What is the purpose? How is it going to help users? The answers to these questions will guide the selection of future product endeavors.
Once you refine the vision, it’s time to focus on business objectives. In other words, what goals does the product aim to achieve? Whether your focus is on revenue, growing your user base, or any other metric, it’s important to include it in the roadmap.
Evaluate ideas, initiatives, and features
Typically, there’s no shortage of plans and ideas for a product. It’s the selection that’s difficult. So how do you determine which features or product ideas will make it onto the roadmap? You follow the vision and goals.
Whether it’s an unrefined idea or a concrete product feature, check if it aligns with the business objectives and vision for the product’s future. If it does, great, you can shortlist it.
If it doesn’t, set it aside. Just make sure that you’re able to retrieve it down the road. After all, it can be useful when your objectives change, and there’s no need for good ideas to go to waste, even if they’re not in demand at the moment.
Other criteria for evaluation include customer needs, market trends, and the competitive landscape.
Once your list is complete, it’s time to move on to the next step.
Group, size, and prioritize features
Your list from the previous step is likely disorganized. Now, the key is to reorganize it by grouping tasks that logically fit together.
After that, it’s all about prioritization. There are many ways you can go about prioritizing your product roadmap items.
Sequencing – establishing the order of features based on dependencies, priorities, user needs, and business objectives.
User feedback and behavior – asking and learning from customer feedback, their opinions, and behavior.
Value vs. Complexity – this model is gaining significant popularity nowadays. Its foundation lies in defining the business value of each task or initiative and assessing the potential amount of work/complexity associated with these elements. We can compare it to the Impact Effort Matrix, where the high-impact tasks requiring little effort are low-hanging fruits, while the low-effort, low-impact tasks are perceived as work for the sake of work.
The MoSCoW Method – the principle is simple, we create four categories and assign tasks to them. These categories are:
- Must-have – absolutely needed and expected feature,
- Should have – important, but not a vital addition that can create extra value to the product,
- Could have – good to have, but not necessary, especially if it generates extra cost,
- Won’t have – unimportant; the status of such a task may change later.
Story Mapping – used to define tests on new products by visualizing the product backlog. It allows teams to gain maximum knowledge with minimum effort.
Establish the timeline of releases
When the “why” and the “what” are clear, move on to the “when”; which means estimating the rough timeline of your initiatives.
The timeline should account for clearing technical debt, as well as maintenance and innovation.
You can start by estimating the duration of each initiative. For Classic projects, you can use a Work Breakdown Structure and assess the duration of each task. For Scaled Agile projects, it’s best to use Program Increment (PI) planning.
Keep in mind that the duration is tied to the availability of resources. That’s where capacity planning can help you a lot.
Prepare alternative versions for various groups
Before you present the roadmap, check if its content speaks to your target audience. For example, if you present the roadmap to developers, is there a right amount of detail? Whether you stick to high-level themes or include crucial user stories, the roadmap should help developers in their everyday work.
For executives, your roadmap should showcase the main objectives and their progress. Making it easy to read will be an added bonus.
Present your product roadmap to stakeholders
Want to convince stakeholders and potential investors? Here are a few key things to remember:
Substance over style – it’s important to impress people, but don’t use smoke, mirrors, and fancy buzzwords. Instead, focus on key features, time frames, budgeting, and advantages.
Keep it real – again, promising the moon sounds fun and all, but it can easily backfire when you’re at the stage of creating paper planes. Make bold but realistic plans that can be executed, or at least extended over time.
Set the right context – it’s easy to create a roadmap; put some items on it, show it to developers, and ask them to get to work. Of course, this is a recipe for total disaster! Instead, think about why you’re creating a roadmap – what’s important? What do we want to accomplish? How much time do we have? What are the key features? What are the dependencies between tasks? Context is crucial.
From zero to hero – set one big but approachable goal, and break it down into smaller initiatives with tasks and dependencies. Your team will work on them and, one by one, get closer to achieving them. Leaping to one big thing can bring about failure.
Stay open-minded – a roadmap is crucial for your plan, but it’s not the end-all-be-all. Meaning, that it can be discussed with your team and modified. Listening is part of a project manager or product owner’s job – when stakeholders have doubts or hesitate about some aspects of the roadmap, it’s worth listening to what they have to say.
Product roadmap best practices
Do you have your product roadmap ready? Do the stakeholders have access to it? Awesome! But there’s still a lot to keep in mind. Here are 10 best practices that will help your entire organization get the most out of your roadmaps:
- Have a set vision of what you want to achieve.
- Don’t be afraid to think big, be prepared for small steps.
- Think of outcomes, not features.
- Set realistic timelines to achieve milestones.
- Prepare different roadmaps for different parties…
- … But base them on the same data, to keep your single source of truth (SSoT) intact.
- Communicate with your team.
- Keep the stakeholders up-to-date.
- Don’t be afraid to edit or change the roadmap – it’s better to remove or postpone some items than to overwork your team.
- Keep your eyes on industry trends and customer needs – obsolete products on arrival are basically dead.
Create and manage your product roadmap in BigPicture
Want to stay ahead in the planning and execution of your key initiatives? You need comprehensive PPM software. BigPicture by Appfire enables you to seamlessly combine the straightforward creation of a company-wide roadmap with the efficient management of work at a more detailed granularity level.
Use BigPicture as your roadmap command center
Add and modify initiatives and display them onto a neat timeline.
Display information on multiple levels
Focus on high-level epics or break them down into lower-level tasks. Changing the display of an epic or its internal structure is just a click away. That means you can quickly adjust the look of the module to match it to the right audience.
Connect everything together
BigPicture is more than a roadmapping tool. Other modules support your daily management activities; as a result, it’s easier to connect the overall picture to the little details that make it work.
For instance, the Board module lets Agile teams plan iterations in detail. Assigning user stories to developers and keeping track of the workload is easier when it happens in one place. With capacity planning and allocation warnings, BigPicture lets you know if the team can handle the scope planned for the iteration. Having the backlog right next to the board simplifies and speeds up the process of adding tasks to the board.
Set up and monitor objectives
Aside from planning and managing the lower-level work, you can also set up and monitor objectives. Connect specific epics or tasks to the objective to easily see the progress of crucial company goals.
As you can see, with the right software, you have better control over the goals, initiatives, and tasks. Which means better alignment throughout your business. If you use Jira for work management, add BigPicture to your app stack. It will take your product, project, and portfolio management to the next level.