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How to Navigate Product Roadmaps: 2024 Guide

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Carlos González De Villaumbrosia

July 04, 2024 - 21 min read

Updated: July 5, 2024 - 21 min read

Whether you’re new to Product Roadmaps or already know what they are but need to learn to plan, build, and use them, you’re in the right place. In this article, we cover: 

  • What a Product Roadmap is

  • Product Roadmap planning: What to ask before you get started

  • Best practices for building Roadmaps

  • Examples of different types of Roadmaps

  • Roadmapping tools

  • Tips for getting the most out of your Product Roadmap

Think of the following guide as the compass that helps you use your Roadmap to get where you want to go. Let’s get started!

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What Is a Product Roadmap?

To answer this question, we consulted Johnny Chang, Senior Product Manager at Google who had an excellent response to share based on his impressive experience. Here's what he said: 

My own experience is all of us have different interpretations. It could be from slightest difference in just how we communicate it, or it could actually be even based on totally different understanding of what a Product Roadmap is. The thing is, chances are all of them are correct. 

It’s helpful to understand what’s behind the differences, and ultimately come up with your own interpretation. So here’s my definition:

A Product Roadmap is the manifestation of your strategy and the guide to its execution.

A Roadmap is a visualization of the process where:

  • You craft a product vision after carefully understanding the problem space

  • You create a product strategy for how you play the game and take the product toward that vision

  • You build a detailed plan guided by the vision and strategy

  • You execute the plan with prioritization, deadlines, status updates, and success criteria

Vision is an ideal end state, and strategy is quite high level. It doesn’t get tangible enough until you define exactly what to build and when to build it in a document known as a roadmap. Execution will follow—that’s the role a roadmap plays.

Blog image 2: Roadmap vs Strategy

Now to answer some of the related questions often heard of: Is a product roadmap the strategy? Is it a document, a list, a visualization, or a process? Does it include prioritization, goals, and success metrics? The short answer is: It can be any or all of them. As long as it manifests your strategy and guides your execution. 

Product Strategy Template

The higher you go up on the Product career ladder, the more strategic skills matter. This template helps you define the why and how of product development and launch, allowing you to make better decisions for your users, team, and company.

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Card: Product Strategy Template

Before the Roadmap: 30 Questions to Guide Product Roadmap Planning

A Product Roadmap’s job is to answer important questions related to the vision, strategy, and execution of a product. We wanted to define these questions in a way that made sense for Product Manager roadmaps, so we asked another expert to help us develop a list. Jim Semick, Co-founder of ProductPlan, was kind enough to help out: 

Why are we doing this?

Far too many product roadmaps put all their emphasis on what they’re going to build and when it will be ready. But without a solid understanding of why the product is being built, those implementation details are irrelevant.

Answer these fundamental questions before proceeding with roadmapping and get stakeholder alignment on these points. Executives and product team members are best positioned to answer these key questions:

  • What is the product vision?

  • What value does the product offer?

  • How will our product improve things for our customers?

  • Why are we well-positioned to deliver this value?

Who are we building this for?

Figuring out who your target customers are is another piece of the puzzle. Don’t settle for broad generalizations; you need to narrow down the potential market to a realistic cohort of potential buyers.

Since you can’t make something that will delight everyone, you must determine what will have the biggest impact on the likeliest customer segments. For new products lacking an existing user base, those personas must be unpacked to assess their needs and motivations better.

Product marketing, product management, and sales are all good sources for answering the following:

  • Who will use our product?

  • Who will pay for our product (not always the same people)?

  • What do they care about?

  • Why will they choose our solution?

What equals success?

Your company has goals, and so should your product. Without setting some agreed-upon objectives, there’s no way to measure how the product is performing and if your moves are paying off.

Although they’ll seldom be at odds with each other, corporate goals and those for your product may not always be the same. It is particularly the case when a company has multiple products or also gets a significant portion of its revenue from services or other channels. 

In these cases, the product team must work backward; if the company is trying to achieve something, how can the product help the cause? Some products are loss leaders; others intend to broaden the company’s reach, while a few are the cash cows that fund the rest of the operation.

As a product matures, the definition of success also evolves. Judge how the product’s goals will change over time, from adoption to growth to profitability to preventing and delaying churn and decline. 

It’s also key to remember each stakeholder has their own set of motivations and interests. Therefore their definitions of success may not be the same as their peers. You must, therefore, assess which stakeholders (and their preferred metrics) truly matter most.

Success metrics should really come from the C-suite, if not directly, then at least with their general guidance. Product teams should work with executive stakeholders to coalesce around a product vision and what are the markers that it’s proceeding according to plan:

  • What is the North Star metric or KPIs the organization values?

  • How can our product help with those metrics?

  • How do we define success?

  • Which product metrics can be used to track and measure success over time?

How will this fit into the market landscape?

Your product planning process can’t ignore externalities any more than it can ignore corporate strategy. Every product competes with something else.

Sometimes the competition is pretty obvious. Pepsi employees don’t wake up every morning wondering who else is trying to sell soda. But even a tightly defined market still must factor in other elements.

Pepsi’s not just competing with Coca-Cola. They’re competing with private label and boutique soda brands. Fruit juice and sports drinks are angling for larger pieces of the pie. Seltzer and bottled water companies also have their eyes on getting to people’s lips. 

The same dynamics apply to every product. That’s why the team must understand who else is offering similar, comparable, and alternative solutions to the problems they’re trying to solve. It can drive feature prioritization, timing, pricing, and other aspects of the product roadmap.

Product marketing, sales, marketing, and the product team can all chip in to address these questions:

  • Are there other solutions to the problem we’re trying to solve?

  • How are we superior to those existing solutions?

  • Is the value we offer worth the purchase/switching costs to use our solution?

  • What about our offering is unique and defensible?

What is the level of effort?

The level of effort estimates is a critical part of the product roadmapping journey. Product teams need rough ideas of how long and how many resources each potential initiative might take, not to mention any major dependencies.

Every item must consider its own ROI calculation when prioritizing and ordering things for the product roadmap. This ingredient in the decision-making process also prevents product roadmaps from being overly aggressive in their assumptions about what can actually get done in a particular time frame. 

Beyond that, product teams also should know if certain projects require highly specialized or limited resources. It helps avoid “double booking” those folks and disrupting the expected sequence of events.

Engineering, UX, and project management can offer answers to these questions:

  • What is the expected available bandwidth for the implementation team?

  • How much time and resources will each initiative take to implement?

  • Are there any time pressures to release particular initiatives?

  • Does the implementation plan make the best use of available resources?

How will we position and sell this?

No matter how great a product may be, it’s pretty hard to be successful if no one knows about it. That’s why product teams can’t ignore the go-to-market aspects of the product when creating the product roadmap.

Understanding how the product will be marketed and sold needs to be accounted for on the roadmap, particularly if certain solutions must be in place to support and measure those efforts. For instance, this includes websites, e-commerce, and analytics projects related to the product.

Once again, sales, marketing, and product marketing are the subject matter experts to tap for these answers, although operations and customer service may also want to chime in:

  • What is our unique value proposition?

  • What does our product need to have to make good on that promise?

  • How can we ensure that value is obvious and easily experienced?

  • What must be in place to monetize our offering?

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How to Build a Product Roadmap: Examples of Different Roadmaps

As discussed above, there are nearly as many types of roadmaps as there are Product Managers. That said, most can be grouped into one of the following categories: 

  • Feature Roadmap

  • Outcome-based Roadmap

  • Agile Roadmap

  • Now-Next-Later (a combination of Outcome-based and Agile)

  • Visual Roadmap

Feature Roadmap

A feature roadmap is a strategic planning tool that outlines the development and release schedule of product features over time, helping teams and stakeholders visualize and align on upcoming work. It’s the Minimum Viable Product Roadmap, if you will. It doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles, but it gets the job done. 

Blog image: Example feature roadmap - svg

To build a Feature Roadmap: 

Define clear objectives:

  • Align with Product Vision: Ensure each feature supports the overall product vision and user needs.

  • Prioritize features: Rank features based on their potential impact, feasibility, and strategic importance.

Organize features:

  • Categorize by themes: Group related features into themes to provide structure and focus on specific user needs or technical improvements.

  • Timeline and releases: Establish a timeline with specific release dates or phases (e.g., alpha, beta, full launch) to manage feature rollout.

Collaborate with stakeholders:

  • Gather feedback: Involve key stakeholders and users early in the planning process to gather input and refine feature priorities.

  • Regular syncs: Hold regular meetings with stakeholders to provide updates and align on any changes.

Use Roadmapping Tools:

  • Select appropriate tools: Utilize roadmap tools like a template or roadmap software to create an easy-to-use feature roadmap. See our recommended tools below. 

  • Enhance visual clarity: Implement color coding, icons, and labels to make the roadmap easily understandable and highlight important features.

Monitor and Adapt:

  • Track development: Continuously monitor the progress of feature development and adjust timelines as necessary.

  • Stay flexible: Be prepared to reprioritize or adapt features based on new information, user feedback, and market changes.

Product Development Roadmap 

A Product Development Roadmap provides a high-level overview of the entire product development process, encompassing all stages from initial concept to final launch and beyond. It includes strategic planning and outlines the long-term vision for the product. Product development has its own specific challenges, so it requires a specific roadmapping approach. 

What to Include a Product Development Roadmap:

Discovery Phase:

  • User Research: In your Product Development Roadmap, plan how you’ll conduct user interviews, surveys, and usability tests to understand user needs, pain points, and preferences.

  • Market Analysis: Include analysis of market trends, competitors, and industry standards to identify opportunities and threats.

  • Idea Generation: Brainstorm and gather ideas from cross-functional teams, stakeholders, and user feedback to include in the roadmap.

Planning and Prioritization:

  • Higher-order planning: Develop a high-level roadmap outlining key milestones, phases, and deliverables.

  • Set Priorities: Prioritize features and tasks based on impact, user needs, and strategic alignment.

Break Down the Development Process:

  • Sprint Planning: Break down the roadmap into sprints or development cycles, assigning tasks to teams.

  • Agile Development: Implement agile methodologies to iteratively develop, test, and refine the product.

  • Continuous Integration: Use continuous integration practices to ensure frequent testing and integration of new code.

Testing and Quality Assurance

  • Create Prototypes: Develop low-fidelity prototypes or mockups to visualize and test initial concepts.

  • Automated Testing: Implement automated testing to quickly identify and fix issues.

  • User Testing: Conduct extensive user testing to gather feedback and ensure the product meets user needs.

  • Bug Fixes and Improvements: Continuously address bugs and make improvements based on testing results.

Launch and Post-Launch

  • Prepare for Launch: Develop a launch plan, including marketing, communication, and support strategies.

  • Monitor Performance: Track key metrics and user feedback to assess the product’s performance and adoption.

  • Iterate and Improve: Use post-launch data to inform future development cycles and make necessary improvements.

Outcome-based Roadmap

The most effective product roadmaps forgo listing out every single item and release date in favor of a more flexible and strategic approach. Instead, group upcoming initiatives into themes and tie them to specific outcomes, goals, and key metrics.

Jim Semick, Co-founder of ProductPlan

Blog image: outcome-based roadmap

How to create an outcome-based roadmap 

Group initiatives into themes that support the Product Vision

  • Identify core themes: Begin by identifying core themes that align with your product vision. These could be user experience improvements, technical debt reduction, or market expansion.

  • Categorize initiatives: Group upcoming initiatives under these themes. For example, features improving user onboarding fall under "User Experience."

Tie Themes to Specific Outcomes

  • Define desired outcomes: For each theme, define clear, desired outcomes. What change do you expect to see? Example: "Increase user retention by 15%."

  • Outcome alignment: Ensure each initiative within a theme directly contributes to achieving the defined outcome. This ensures all efforts are focused and coherent.

Align with Outcomes with Key Metrics

  • Set clear goals: Establish measurable goals that support your product vision. These goals should be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound).

  • Link to key metrics: Identify key metrics that will track progress towards these goals. For example, for a goal of "Improve customer satisfaction," a key metric might be Net Promoter Score (NPS).

Product OKR Template

Use this Product OKR template to set and track your OKRs (Objectives and Key Results). Align your team’s daily tasks with product and company strategy!

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Card: OKR Template

Continuous Review and Adaptation

  • Regularly review Roadmap: Periodically review and adjust the roadmap based on performance data and changing market conditions. Ensure it remains aligned with strategic goals.

  • Stakeholder feedback: Incorporate feedback from stakeholders to refine themes and outcomes, ensuring they remain relevant and impactful.

Agile Roadmap

An agile roadmap is a flexible, iterative plan that outlines the strategic direction and prioritized work for a product, allowing for frequent adjustments based on feedback and changing priorities. Unlike feature or outcome-based roadmaps, which focus on delivering specific features or achieving defined outcomes, an agile roadmap emphasizes adaptability and continuous improvement through incremental delivery and stakeholder collaboration.

blog image: agile roadmap example

Best practices for implementing Agile Roadmaps 

Embracing flexibility

  • Iterative Planning: Plan in short, iterative cycles (sprints). This allows for frequent reassessment and adjustment based on feedback and changing priorities.

  • Prioritization: Regularly prioritize initiatives based on value, risk, and dependencies. Use prioritization frameworks like MoSCoW (Must have, Should have, Could have, Won't have) to manage scope.

Defining themes and epics

  • Group by Themes: Organize initiatives into broad themes that align with strategic goals, such as "Customer Feedback" or "Performance Optimization."

  • Break Down into Epics: Further break down themes into epics, large bodies of work that can be divided into smaller, manageable tasks.

Aligning with Goals and Metrics

  • Set Agile Goals: Define goals that are achievable within a sprint or release cycle. Ensure these goals are aligned with the overall product vision and strategy.

  • Track Key Metrics: Use agile metrics like velocity, burn-down charts, and cycle time to monitor progress and inform decision-making.

Continuous feedback, improvement, and collaboration

  • Frequent Reviews: Conduct regular sprint reviews and retrospectives to gather feedback and identify areas for improvement.

  • Adapt Based on Feedback: Be ready to pivot or adjust the roadmap based on stakeholder feedback, market changes, and performance data.

Incremental delivery

  • Focus on Deliverables: Aim for incremental delivery of features and improvements. This approach helps in getting early feedback and iterating quickly.

  • MVP Approach: Start with a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and build iteratively, adding functionality based on user feedback and evolving priorities.

Now-Next-Later Roadmap

The Now-Next-Later Roadmap combines the strategic focus of Outcome-based Roadmaps with the flexibility of Agile Roadmaps, allowing for quick adjustments. Unlike feature or outcome-based roadmaps, the Now-Next-Later roadmap emphasizes timing and prioritization of initiatives by categorizing all features into immediate, near-term, and future initiatives.

Best practices 

Define and categorize initiatives

  • Identify Key Initiatives: Determine the key initiatives or features that need to be addressed.

  • Categorize: Sort these initiatives into three categories: Now, Next, and Later.

Organize the Roadmap

  • Now: Focus on the most immediate, high-priority tasks that are currently being worked on.

  • Next: Plan the upcoming initiatives that are scheduled for the near term, after current tasks are completed.

  • Later: Outline longer-term initiatives that are important but not immediately actionable.

Align with strategic outcomes

  • Set clear goals: Ensure each initiative is tied to specific, measurable outcomes that support strategic goals.

  • Prioritize based on impact: Prioritize initiatives based on their potential impact and alignment with overall product strategy. Use a prioritization method that considers impact such as Weighted Shortest Job First (WSJF). 

Maintain flexibility

  • Iterative Updates: Regularly update the roadmap to reflect changes in priorities, market conditions, and feedback.

  • Adapt to Feedback: Be prepared to move items between Now, Next, and Later categories as needed based on new information and stakeholder input.

Visual Roadmap

A visual roadmap is a graphical representation of a product's strategic plan, designed to clearly communicate timelines, priorities, and progress to stakeholders for better alignment and understanding.

blog image: visual roadmap example

Developing a Visual Product Roadmap

Identify Key Elements:

  • Goals and objectives: Start by clearly defining the goals and objectives of your product. This sets the direction for your roadmap.

  • Initiatives and features: Identify the major initiatives and features that will help achieve these goals.

  • Timeframes: Establish realistic timeframes for each initiative, considering dependencies and resource availability.

Design the Roadmap:

  • Choose a format: Decide on a format that best suits your needs, such as a timeline, Gantt chart, or Kanban board.

  • Use visual cues: Incorporate color-coding, icons, and labels to distinguish between different types of tasks, priorities, and statuses.

  • Keep It simple: Ensure the design is clear and easy to understand, avoiding unnecessary complexity.

Monitoring and Updating:

  • Feedback loop: Establish a feedback loop to gather input from team members and stakeholders, using this information to refine the roadmap.

  • Track progress: Monitor the progress of initiatives and adjust the roadmap as needed to stay on track with your goals.

Product Roadmapping Tools

Free Product Roadmap templates

Product School's easy-to-use roadmapping templates help you create your ideal Product Roadmap. This free downloadable tool includes all four types of Product Roadmaps: Feature, Outcome-based, Agile, and Visual. Available in Google Slides and PowerPoint, the templates are built in a live doc with real-time multi-user editing so you can always shift strategy and plan for the inevitable detours and bumps in the road.

Product Roadmap software

There are so many excellent roadmap software options that at Product School we dedicate an entire category to roadmapping at our annual Proddy Awards. When you’re ready to build your Product Roadmap, check out this year’s winners you take it to the next level:

  • airfocus' product roadmap software helps Product Teams focus on outcomes and share tailored roadmaps that communicate their product vision.

  • Productboard keeps you heading for milestones and tracking dependencies to avoid costly delays. 

  • creates tailored roadmaps that seamlessly connect strategy to features.  

  • Ignition’s AI-powered roadmaps ensure ROI by aligning roadmaps with sales efforts.

  • Dragonboat provides quarterly roadmaps that turn “wish lists” into “actionable plans.”

How to Use Roadmaps: 4 Tips for Product Managers

If you've made it this far, you understand the definition of a product roadmap, know what questions to ask before you build, have chosen the right type of roadmap for your Product Team, and even found the perfect tool to build it. 

Now comes the real work: implementing the roadmap in your day-to-day. For this important topic, we once again consulted experienced Google Product Leader Johnny Chang, who gave us the following advice: 

Tools don’t matter; substance does.

I’ve heard lots of questions and discussions about the best roadmapping tools out there for creating the best-in-class product roadmap. I’ve seen people getting caught up on tool selections rather than focusing on what’s on the roadmap. I’m just going to say it out loud: How good the tool is means nothing if what’s on your roadmap sucks. 

If what’s on your roadmap does not truthfully reflect your strategy, if it doesn’t communicate the vision, if it doesn’t guide execution and how to incrementally deliver what really matters to the business, then the roadmap sucks. A fancy, well-crafted roadmapping tool won’t change a thing.

To be clear, there are good roadmapping tools out there, designed for modern product teams. The right Product Rodamapping software makes things easier. I’m not only open-minded about tools, if someone I trust strongly recommends one, I’ll try it without hesitating. My point is, focus your energy (probably 99% of it) on the content of your roadmap. Then the tool selection can increase your (and your team’s) efficiency. 

Make a fluffy Product Vision into a tangible reality.

Not just the vision. It’s important to start with the end goal in mind, but it’s also important to break it down into more granular step goals weighing where we are, practical next steps, and how to measure progress along the way. 

Your vision is usually fluffy, probably rightfully so because it’s meant to inspire. One of the key goals of a roadmap is to bring specificity and tangibility. And you can only accomplish it by demonstrating what we would accomplish every step of the way toward that long-term goal. 

It’s the same for any long-term, ambitious goal in life. You want to break into Product? Your intermediate goals could be: learning about the role -> assessing skills gaps -> filling those gaps ->  leaning into opportunities -> sharpening interview skills etc. Want to develop that dream beach body? Apply that logic to your Product Roadmap. What do you have to accomplish before you can reach your Product Vision?

Don’t only be open to change; proactively look for it.

As we all know, changes do happen (a lot), and it’s important to be flexible when they come and adjust your roadmap as needed. I’m advocating for a step further. If you know changes are happening all the time, why do you sit and wait for it? Be proactive in looking for changes. Always be looking around in the market and your customers, the competition, the context and the climate, the technologies, and look for signals that necessitate changes on your roadmap. 

If you want to get a step ahead of your challenges (or competition), this is it you have to do. 

Communicating the Roadmap is more important than building it.

Yes, the creation of the roadmap is important (or else you don’t have one in the first place). But I see more questions about how to develop a Product Roadmap than how to communicate and execute it. But let’s remember that success is not measured by how good the roadmap is. It’s measured by the impact of what you ultimately deliver. 

To deliver impact, you need to communicate well (to stakeholders and customers) and execute persistently and consistently. That’s why I’d like you to focus even more on how to communicate your roadmap better, and how to execute better with your teams. 

Unlock the Power of Product Roadmaps with a Free Course

Product School has partnered with Productboard to create a free micro-certification on how to build and maintain effective Roadmaps.  Whether you’re new to the field of Product Management or just getting started in your new role as a Product Manager, this free course will help you get a headstart on your product roadmapping journey! Find out more and become a roadmapping pro today.

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Product Roadmaps: Charting Your Path to Success

Creating a successful product roadmap is essential for any product manager aiming to guide their product from concept to market. A roadmap serves as a strategic blueprint, visualizing the journey from the initial idea through development and launch. By understanding what a product roadmap is, and utilizing the right tools and software, you can build a detailed plan that aligns with your product strategy and vision.

Remember, a roadmap is more than just a list of features; it’s a comprehensive guide. Effective roadmap planning involves setting clear objectives, prioritizing features, and continuously gathering feedback from stakeholders. Embrace the journey, stay curious, and let your passion for solving problems ignite the path forward. 

Every great product starts with a single idea, but it's the roadmap that transforms that idea into a game-changer. So, grab your compass, rally your crew, and set sail on the epic voyage of product development!

Product Roadmap Template

Download our easy-to-use template to help you create your Product Roadmap.

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Updated: July 5, 2024

Product Roadmapping FAQs

A product roadmap includes key initiatives, features, and milestones that align with the product's strategic goals, often categorized by timeframes or themes to provide a clear plan for development and delivery.

Design a product roadmap by defining clear objectives, prioritizing initiatives based on strategic value, organizing them into themes or timeframes, and using visual tools to communicate the plan effectively to stakeholders.

An agile product roadmap is a flexible, iterative plan that outlines the strategic direction and prioritized work for a product, allowing for frequent adjustments based on feedback, changing priorities, and ongoing learning.

Product Managers typically build the product roadmap, collaborating with stakeholders such as development teams, marketing, sales, and executive leadership to ensure alignment with strategic goals and user needs.

A product roadmap outlines the strategic vision and high-level plan for product development over time, while a project plan details the specific tasks, timelines, and resources needed to complete individual projects within that broader roadmap.

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