What is a Product Roadmap?
A product roadmap is a strategic plan that outlines the vision, direction, and progression of a product over time. It showcases priorities, milestones, and deliverables, guiding teams in aligning efforts to achieve product goals.
Roadmaps for Product Managers
What’s the purpose of a Product roadmap?
Product roadmaps map out the path to achieving a vision. Imagine trying to build a house without a blueprint. Or building IKEA furniture without instructions. Or what about going on a jungle expedition without a map? That’s exactly what product development with no roadmap would feel like – stressful and unachievable!
Aside from being key to plotting out the path to achieving your vision, roadmaps are crucial for product managers because they:
Help you to operationalize workstreams with a large team, ensuring coordinated efforts towards common goals. This is particularly important in cross-functional remote teams to keep everybody on the same page.
Establish rough timelines. While the role of a roadmap isn’t to create a checklist with specific completion dates, they do give you a good indication of what you can expect to happen now, soon, later, and much later
Identify gaps in the plan and execution process, pinpointing areas that require attention or assistance.
Perhaps most importantly, product roadmaps offer a mechanism to track and communicate progress efficiently, keeping stakeholders informed and aligned.
What should a Product roadmap include?
There’s no one-size fits all product roadmap and how they look will differ greatly depending on a team’s goals and needs. However, there are some general features product managers commonly include in a product roadmap. These include:
Product Vision and Goals: This is the high-level strategic plan for your product. It outlines the 'why' behind what you're building, setting the overall direction and the objectives you want to achieve.
Product Initiatives: These are the big efforts or projects that will help you achieve your goals. Initiatives often span multiple teams and are broken down into epics or user stories.
Features and Enhancements: These are the specific functionalities and improvements that you plan to build into your product. Each feature should align with an initiative and ultimately with the product goals.
A Rough timeline: This is an estimate of when each feature or initiative will be completed. Some roadmaps might have specific dates, but many others will use broad timeframes like Q1, Q2, etc.
Status Updates: This includes progress updates on the initiatives and features. This helps stakeholders understand how things are progressing and where there might be delays or changes.
Key Metrics: Define how you will measure success. This could be in the form of KPIs or specific targets that you want to reach with your initiatives.
Stakeholders: Identify the key stakeholders involved. This could be teams within the organization, customers, or even external partners.
How you go about creating a roadmap will depend to a large extent on the size of your company. A small company may need a roadmap that spans 3-6 months with some very agile companies having an even shorter one. In contrast, a larger company may need a roadmap that plans for 6-12 months or even 2 years ahead.
Other factors to consider include the type of company and product. For example, a company developing a complex product such as hardware is likely to need a longer roadmap than a company developing a more simple product like soap.
How do you create a roadmap?
The first step is to identify your goals. For example, if your product is a subscription-based streaming service like Netflix, your goal may be to increase the number of Monthly Active Users (MAU) by 20%.
Next, you need to write down all the tasks you need to complete to achieve that goal. This will include identifying who will take ownership of each task and estimating how much time tasks will take to complete. Clearly, you’ll need to involve all relevant teams to understand what a realistic timeline looks like.
After all, roadmaps aren’t just for engineering tasks! Most likely there are several design, legal, and marketing tasks that also need to be completed to ensure product success, so don’t forget to involve all relevant teams.
There are multiple tools you can use to create a product roadmap including Miro, Aha!, Roadmunk, ProductPlan, Keynote, Excel, Pivotal Tracker, Asana, and Product School’s free Product Roadmap template. Ultimately, the best tool is the one the team feels most comfortable with.
Once you’ve created your product roadmap, remember to consult it regularly and update it to reflect the progress you’ve made and identify any areas where you’ve stalled. A product roadmap should be a living document that evolves as your understanding of the market, your users, and your product grows. This makes regular updates and reviews crucial to keep it relevant and useful.
A good product roadmap is comprehensive, shows the collaboration of cross-functional teams, and includes clear owners and deadlines.
Who owns the roadmap within a development team?
Product Managers own, maintain, update, and share the roadmap. But 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. After all, how can you know where to add a new feature to the timeline, without asking the engineers how long it will take to build? And how will you know when the UX designers can begin work unless you know when they expect to finish 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 they’ll appreciate being involved in its creation.
Product Roadmap in action
“After consulting the Product roadmap we realized we were going to fall far behind schedule unless we picked up the pace.”