Product School

Unlocking the Power of Product Roadmaps

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Author: Summer Reeves

September 19, 2023 - 8 min read

Updated: January 24, 2024 - 8 min read

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Product roadmaps are indispensable tools for product managers, helping to align teams, communicate strategy, and guide the development and evolution of products. However, crafting a successful product roadmap requires careful planning, effective communication, and a deep understanding of your audience's needs. So, let’s explore key strategies and best practices to help you create impactful and successful product roadmaps.

Have a clear vision and product strategy

Because a good product roadmap is a visualization of an existing strategy, that means to have a good roadmap, you have to have a clear vision and plan for where you’re wanting to go, what you’re looking to accomplish, how you’ll accomplish it, and why it’s important to do so.  

Successful organizations ensure cross-functional teams work in close collaboration and have the market, user, and business data needed to make good decisions related to product strategy. This information is analyzed and brought into cadenced (typically quarterly and/or yearly) strategic planning sessions where leaders align on setting objectives that will drive value for the company.  

Many companies use an OKR (Objectives and Key Results) framework to not only set their objectives but also define the measurable results they expect from accomplishing an objective. This allows product teams to take this direction and turn it into actionable initiatives and features that will deliver on the vision that has been set. This becomes the bedrock for everything we do around product roadmapping because it ensures that what we put into our plan has purpose and will drive value.  

You need the tools to make smarter, data-driven decisions

But data and insight don’t stop there. To deliver on these expectations, the product team must also take a data-driven approach to how they prioritize their backlog and select features for development. There are 3 core elements that product teams should be considering as they weigh each area of opportunity, the voice of the customer, the voice of the product team, and the voice of the business.

Voice of the Customer

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The voice of the customer (VOC) is where you bring in what customers are telling you about what they want and need out of the product. This information is typically spread across different tools and platforms such as review sites, customer support systems, sales systems, forums, and more.  

The process for gathering this information and analyzing it can be time-consuming and typically ends with trusting that a product manager has a good grasp of VOC and has processed everything about what they’ve seen and heard to make recommendations. However, with new product management tools, such as Productboard, you now have a way to not only funnel these insights into a single platform but connect them to features in your backlog in a way that provides quantitative ratings for what’s most important to your customers.  

Voice of the Product Team

Many product teams have a fairly 2-dimensional view of prioritizing and planning work: The value they believe a feature will bring vs. the effort and technical ordering needed to effectively deliver. Historically, this is done through conversations and grooming sessions to discuss and plan for upcoming releases and sprints, however, there are often more elements that product teams either should be considering, are being subconsciously influenced by, or explicitly know and are juggling mentally as they make decisions.  

Using a product management tool like Productboard, you can turn mental gymnastics into a documented view of what the product team is prioritizing and why. With the ability to create custom drivers and scores, then rate each feature independently, you can step back and see where your features actually fall and gain another data-driven view for evaluation. 

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Voice of the Business

Lastly, consider the voice of the business. To do this, bring in and align features to the objectives that were already set by the business for your product strategy, and consider how much value each feature might contribute to achieving objectives. 

Another lens to consider is what markets, industries, customer segments, etc. you might be targeting for growth. As you consider your longer-term product roadmap, you want to ensure you not only support your core but also target where your organization is looking to grow. With Productboard, you can see what feedback you’re receiving based on customer segments, prioritize how important each feature is to a segment, and visualize how your features align and drive value towards meeting business objectives.

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Having a tool that allows you to weigh these three voices in a data-driven way makes it easier to not only do your job as a product team, but be more successful in outcomes and communication to both leadership and the broader organization as to why you made the decisions you did. 

Design for your audience

Now that you have a vision for where you are going and confidence that you are going in the right direction, you now need to communicate that direction both internally and externally where appropriate. 

One of the issues I often see in product teams is that they try to build the “everything, everywhere, all-at-once” style of roadmap or the “one roadmap to rule them all”. This can result in either a product roadmap that is too detailed, or too vague.  

The problem with this is that different audiences across an organization, or externally, have different motivators and needs. And I get it! When you’re having to manually create product roadmaps, most product teams don’t want to create the first one, much less different versions that they have to keep track of and keep up-to-date. 

This is where having a product management tool again helps teams do more with less. Using Productboard, you can visualize planned releases in different ways and with different levels of information. Productboard allows you to: 

  • Set up your product roadmaps once and keep them evergreen with minimal effort.  

  • Provide links directly to the product roadmaps for teams to self-service or embed them into places where internal teams and customers already are.

  • Record videos and attach them to the product roadmap to provide deep context about the “why” behind what you are doing.

This allows you to easily provide an objectives-based view to leadership, a high-level release-plan view for customer-facing teams, detailed program increment and/or sprint planning views to product teams, high-level kanban/status-based views to customers, and targeted integration plans for partners. 

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Integrate your product roadmaps into process and culture

Creating your product roadmaps is just the first step and here is where I see many product teams and organizations get very frustrated. They’ve put in so much work to create a vision, create a plan to accomplish that vision, and developed all of the materials to share this plan but receive minimal response and/or use out of what they’ve developed. The product roadmaps quickly become dated, because “why would we spend more time on something no one is using?” And everyone goes back to working the way they did before.  

This is because no one planned or put effort into how they would integrate this new way of working into the product development process or into creating consistent channels of communication and feedback across internal teams and customers. Here are some key steps to integrate your new way of working into the product development process:

  • Step 1: Document your existing product development process (PDP)

    • How do features flow through your funnel from New Idea to Released?  

    • What meetings and/or ceremonies do you currently have that push features through the funnel?  

    • What data do you need in those ceremonies that will help you drive better data-driven decisions?

  • Step 2: Integrate your product management tool into your process

    • Use your product tool during planning, prep, and ceremonies. 

    • Make updates directly in the system as your team makes decisions.  

    • Create a single source of truth so that all information related to the product is stored or referenced in the product management tool.

  • Step 3: Set new meetings/ceremonies for communicating & collaborating with internal teams

    • Set cadenced all-hands meetings where your team can communicate the latest information related to your product vision and plan to your organization.  

    • Record these meetings so people who couldn’t attend have the option to catch up. 

    • Set cadenced checkpoints with key internal teams to answer questions and hear their direct feedback on opportunities and get a direct pulse on what they are seeing/hearing from customers.

  • Step 4: Create easy channels for product feedback

    • Minimize large, complicated forms and requirements for providing feedback.

    • Provide options where possible for submitting feedback.

    • Meet your internal teams and customers where they are so that providing feedback is easy and frictionless for them.

  • Step 5: Celebrate great work to encourage continual engagement

    • Showcase the wins and outcomes you’re seeing in what has been released using data where possible.

    • Highlight individuals and teams that are providing great feedback and collaboration with product.

    • Show customers how their feedback is being listened to and being incorporated into the product roadmap.

By taking the time to operationalize product roadmaps into your product development process and across your organization, you can foster alignment and shared understanding creating a one team culture where everyone feels like part of the process. The success from this leads to better, smoother outcomes overall. 

Ready to unlock the power of Product Roadmaps?

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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Updated: January 24, 2024

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