Product Roadmaps are some of the most important product tools. Learn how to create your product roadmap in 2021, including 5 templates you can get inspiration from.
Tools are like the anchors that serve to rein in inspiration, focus and achieve your goals. Anything from working as a team or long-distance communication can be improved with the right application.
Roadmapping is one of the unsung heroes in the product arena. While the initial brainstorming and launch are celebrated as proof of the genius’ of individual PMs, charting your course should also be considered one of the genuinely epic moments.
Rather than it being a grey and dull affair, it can be an exciting way of anticipating your future product success.
Besides, a bad plan can really damage you in the long run. Perfect your roadmapping skills by learning from the examples below!
The Principles of Creating a Product Roadmap
1. Hold the ability to improvise
As PMs, you are assumed to hold an ability to improvise. In tech, things move so fast that a situation can easily move to unexpected corners. An experienced product person should be prepared for these pitfalls, but even the smartest thought leaders are unprepared for the future.
So the first advice: plan ahead, but be ready to discard the plan if anything changes. That said, a Product Roadmap is a good tool to actually anticipate mistakes.
Simply, you will be able to assess vulnerabilities, understand where a feature might get complicated or a bottleneck might form. Useful, right?
Roadmaps can also help you establish commercial awareness within a particular sector, as you have to make a case for potential customers and the way to attract them.
This is why, before doing anything else, you have to do some research. If you work at an established organization, you are likely to have set product guidelines and a particular commercial direction.
2. Knowing what not to include
At this point, you should be aware that knowing what not to include is as important as knowing what you wish to include. If you have good communication channels, saying “no” should cause no conflicts within and between your teams.
Once you have a general vision in place, you need to breed consensus; if this is not achievable, then alignment should be enough.
Choosing a tool with prioritization built right in will be the most useful in this instance. A tool such as airfocus (which provides both ready-made roadmap templates and features like prioritization poker) will allow you and your teams to collaborate on priorities even remotely. Making these decisions together seamlessly and in real-time will make consensus more achievable in the long run.
But gaining acceptance within the organization at this stage is vital: as well as keeping teams informed when you progress in your drafting. This is because the roadmap can become your go-to source of legitimacy if you are questioned during its application. You can always refer back to it: we all agreed to this, remember?
Another special principle to be respected is “the medium is the message”. If you are not able to portray the result of your inquiries and planning in a simple, direct and effective way; then go back to the drawing board. Winning hearts and minds is what it’s all about, and you will not get very far with your product if you cannot connect with your internal audience. This provides excellent practice for the communication campaign you will need for external stakeholders.
3. The categoritzation of features
Some final principles include the categorization of features. A rule of thumb suggests that you start with the big ones, and then think of the interstitial gaps that can solve more problems and suggest ideas at the same time.
Having them “thematically” arranged also helps a great deal: for instance, you can draft important “cores” where most value will be generated. Then, allocate tasks around those features.
4. Levels of effort
Finally, Levels of Effort should be consulted with engineers. Make sure that you have good communication channels with your technical teams.
What Should I Include on a Product Roadmap?
Here is a brief list of the desired contents that a Product Roadmap should include:
- A timeline: this is essential and possibly one of the key goals behind the map. Knowing what lies ahead, how long to spend at each phase, what could cause delays along the way… It is just all-around helpful for many reasons, from budgeting to coordinating with other product launches at big companies.
- Task descriptions: There is no need to exhaust the list of action points and allocate each one to teams or individuals. But you should pinpoint what is to be done, starting with general functions and finishing with specific ones. This will help clarify priorities, responsibilities and time allocation from the get-go.
- Goals at each phase and function: These are the Objectives and Key Results, those of the product and those which are time-sensitive. In other words, as the plan moves forward there should be a way to measure its progress (or lack of it). Otherwise, it would feel like walking in the dark.
- Data, data, and data: While you do not want to draw your roadmap with numbers, you should be able to justify each decision with the right sort of data. Why is this function a priority? What can we gain from doing this last? You should have information to back that up.
- Overall vision: Finally, every single element of this roadmap should justify and reinforce your product vision. That is the mission that you are seeking to fulfill with your product. Learn how to tell a story!
In short, a Product Roadmap is somewhere in between a marketing strategy, a business plan, a feature description, a list of essential tasks and priority targets; all at the same time.
Let’s see how these are fleshed out across various examples.
5 Product Roadmap Examples for 2021
Let’s check out some diverse ways of roadmapping that can take your product to the next level in 2021.
1. If you are juggling different products
This type of Product Roadmap will be very appropriate this year if you are working with different products at the same time. While adding complexity, it can help you coordinate effectively. Make sure not to bloat it with information: your synthesis skills are extremely necessary so this becomes usable across teams.
This is more helpful for large companies and can solve many communication problems, allowing for smooth progress without the need for so many meetings.
2. If you are organizing work by features
Does your entire strategy rely on your ability to solve particular problems for your users? Not to worry. You can actually make your Product Plan a dedicated “shopping list” where your desired features are at the center of everybody’s attention.
This plan is particularly suited for digital products that are seeking to revolutionize a particular sector or service, and thus need to ensure that all functions are finished and coordinated at the same time.
3. If you are time-conscious
Here’s one for the startups. They say time is money, and most startups lack both. Save for the future by sticking to a plan where deadlines are in a privileged position.
Additionally, it can be a useful picture for teams that work remotely, as their lack of day-to-day contact with the office can surely make them miss vital information. This way, everyone is clear on what are the goals for each stage of product development.
4. If you want to flesh out your marketing strategy
You might have in your hands a great product, but it is surrounded by so much competition that you need a solid marketing plan to bring it to fruition.
This Plan is great for those teams that have sorted all technical issues but need a bit of a push in terms of market acumen and customer empathy. Try this template here.
5. If you are following the agile framework
Agile is based on how teams actually work. This collection of principles guide you to building something but in a rapid, collaborative, team-oriented and quality-focused way.
This plan is extremely versatile for any situation, but you need to know how to use it. It is based on constant improvement, seeking to satisfy the customer while welcoming challenges and optimizing the process. Those familiar with the SCRUM framework will find this Plan the ultimate highway to product success.
If you need more template starting points in your company, FYI provides several great examples of product roadmaps.
Last Notes on Implementing Your Product Roadmap
Hopefully, one or two of these examples should fit your current situation.
After planning, it’s time for implementing! As written above, a Product Roadmap is less of a GPS and more of a traditional navigation map. It is made with a mixture of art and science, and cannot possibly predict the future. However, there are some common mistakes you can avoid.
Common Mistakes to Avoid When Building Your Product Roadmap
- Focusing on useless features. Listen, we have all been there. It all looked so perfect on paper. It is even beautifully designed. But, after user testing and the beta launch, it seems that nobody really cares about this part of your product. Why insist on working on it, wasting precious time that can be spent on your crown jewels?
- Feeling too attached to certain features. This is a similar point, but for final features. It can happen that, within a long roadmap, particular services that you offer become obsolete. Your team can spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to square this declining feature with the rest of the product. Forget it. Drop it, and move on.
- Listening too much to certain teams, especially those down the stream. Well, as you know, you are “the CEO of your product”, but not the CEO. But the actual CEO could chip in, or other teams that are more horizontally related to you. It is possible that those more connected with your final users, marketers, and salespeople, will be more eager to provide advice. When in conflict, simply have a chat over your plan, but don’t be too influenced by them!
- Copying the competition. Do not just copy what others are doing because it seems successful. In the world of tech, it so happens that many teams can be working on the same thing at the same time. Who says that your solution will be the losing one? Stick to your principles: you might need to reevaluate your initial plans, but do not just drop them altogether because guys down the road are doing something completely different.
- Doing something out of desperation. It could happen that everything seems a disaster, nothing goes according to plan and all your attempts to steer the ship in a different direction are in vain. Don’t panic! Go back to your initial inspiration, check your numbers, review your research and locate the pain points. If you take any action, make it so it is coherent with your plan’s vision.
Obviously, this advice only applies if you took seriously drafting a roadmap in the first place. Make sure to read the whole post to get the general picture.
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