Updated: April 14, 2023 - 8 min read
When you’re just getting started in product, or even just dipping your toes into the technology industry itself, there are a lot of questions that you’re afraid to ask. When everyone is talking about product roadmaps, do you find yourself just nodding like you understand, and then secretly searching ‘what is a product roadmap?‘ on your phone?
That’s how you found us right?
It’s a fair question, and one we’re going to answer so well that you’ll be flying through conversations with other product people like the expert you’re destined to be!
What is a product roadmap?
A product roadmap is a visualization of the life of your product. It’s the essential strategy document for all product managers, as it lays out your vision, and the stages between where you are now and the realization of that vision.
Some of the goals for a roadmap include gaining alignment with stakeholders, having a tool to communicate the vision with external stakeholders/customers, and as a jumping point for conversations about different aspects of development.
Particularly in the new age of remote working, it’s useful to have a roadmap as a centralized, collaborative document, where the game plan for development is clearly laid out for all to see.
One of the more common misuses of the roadmap is as a series of deadlines and nothing more. While having a timeline is an important feature of the roadmap, that’s not all it is. It answers fundamental questions like “what are we doing, where are we going, and how to we get there?”
Who uses them?
The product roadmap is a major vein in product development, and serves as something everyone in the team can refer back to, to understand where they’re at and how development will progress. It’s an important document, that everyone within a company can benefit from having access to it.
Companies who adopt transparency around important strategic decisions, (the roadmap being an important strategic document), earn more trust from their employees and find it easier to gain alignment. Teams need to work cohesively together in order to build great products, and having an accessible roadmap helps that happen.
When you share your roadmap with the rest of your teams, you gain an opportunity to gain valuable input from your multi-disciplinary colleagues.
Who owns the roadmap within a development team?
Product Managers own, maintain, update, and share the roadmap.
That doesn’t mean that Product Managers should work on it alone. The roadmap may be owned by the Product Manager, but it is still a highly collaborative document. How can you know where to add a new feature to the timeline, without asking the engineers how long it will take to build? You can’t know when the UX designers can begin work unless you know when they expect to be done with the first round of user research.
Getting input from these teams helps you to build a more realistic roadmap, and also helps to gain alignment. The roadmap affects everyone, so no one will appreciate if it feels like it’s being dictated to them.
Does my team even need one?
Imagine trying to build a house without a blueprint. Or opening a restaurant with just ingredients and no menu. What about having to run a marathon with no map.
That’s exactly what product development with no roadmap would feel like – stressful and unachievable!
Especially if you’re one of the many companies just learning how to go remote, you’re going to need all of the help you can get to keep communication between teammates clear, and not just gain, but maintain alignment.
When you have a roadmap, you have a kind of written agreement of how development is going to proceed, and what the strategic motivations are behind certain decisions. So if, at some point, communication breaks down, you have that agreement to go back to and refer to. You can point at it and say ‘look, this is what was agreed.’
Check out: Product Management Skills: Conflict Resolution
What to Include in Your Roadmap
The first and most important thing that must be included in any good roadmap is the product vision. On your roadmap, the vision is your destination. It’s what you want your product to be, how you want it to work, and how it’s going to improve the world for your users. It should go without saying, but the product vision should be built into everything you do, or else you risk veering off-course.
You also need to think about your goals, which should be concrete and measurable. This means choosing the right metrics, which will help make your goals data driven. And if you’re going to be measuring your goals, you need to include a timeline. But as we said before, a roadmap isn’t just a list of deadlines.
You’ll also need status markers, which helps to keep the whole team up to date on when certain actions can expect to be completed, and what’s currently being worked on. Another important part of the roadmap is the overall product strategy. This is something you’ll need to have alignment on across the board, and is a key feature of the roadmap.
Speaking of features…you need features on your roadmap as well! It’ll help stakeholders to understand which features are being prioritized for the current version, and which may be added later down the line.
You might also be interested in: Key Questions to Ask When Building Your Product Roadmap
The Principles of Building a Product Roadmap
Now you know what they are, and you know that you need one, it’s time to figure out how to make a product roadmap. When the time comes to put your very own roadmap together, there are a few key principles which are very important to keep in mind.
Be open to change: Product development is never a straight line from A to B, and agile teams are designed to move and flex in response to shifting markets, a change in business goals, or new data. For example, customer feedback from early tests may reveal that one of your primary features is utterly useless. Do you keep going down the same path just because you’ve already written it down on the roadmap. No! Create a product roadmap with the expectation that nothing is set in stone.
Communicate with all teams involved: In spite of what others may assume, a Product Manager doesn’t have all the answers. Cross functional communication is absolutely essential here, as it is with any part of building products.
Know when to say no: What gets added to the roadmap should be based on data, business goals, and vision. Not just the opinions of the person with the loudest voice. Saying no to something which clashes with the rest of the roadmap is a key Product Manager skill.
Public vs Internal Roadmaps
Something to take into consideration when building a roadmap is who your audience is. You’ll have many different versions of your roadmap depending on who needs it. You may have one for engineers, one for senior management, and other teams in the company. Some companies release a public roadmap which is tailored for their customers.
This allows them to build trust with users, and to help convert new visitors into paying customers, with promises of new features further down the road.
While there are certainly some advantages to having a customer-facing roadmap, there are some dangers. John Carter, a prominent technology and product consultant actually goes over this in his article, Know Your Audience: Getting The Most Out of Your Roadmaps:
”If you communicate product roadmaps to outside parties, make sure the discussion is covered under an NDA, and be very careful not to promise something at some date without confirmation from development.”
Tools and Templates
We’ve already put together a list of our favorite product roadmap tools, which you can find on Productverse. So rather than go through them all again here, it’d be more helpful to go through some things to consider when choosing the right tool for your team.
Price. A good roadmap tool costs money, but it’s something worth investing in. Many platforms will offer a free trial to let you test them out, which makes convincing management to invest much easier.
User-friendly. How many people in your team will be actively working on the roadmap? How many people need to access it? When testing a new tool, did too many people on the team have a lot of questions, and trouble picking it up? These are all things that will influence how good a fit your new tool will be.
Integrations. A great boost to productivity is when your tools integrate with each other, creating a perfect ecosystem. Check which integrations are offered by the new tool you are considering. Something that fits into your stack will be easier to adopt.
Do you already have a roadmap tool? If you’re using BI software, roadmapping may already be a feature.
If you’re ready to get started on building your next roadmap, check out the roadmap templates we developed. You will find there Feature Roadmap, Outcome-based, Aglie and Visual Roadmaps.
Updated: April 14, 2023