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The Ultimate Guide to Product Roadmaps

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Last updated on
05th Aug, 2021
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05th Aug, 2021
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The Ultimate Guide to Product Roadmaps

Before starting any project, be it Agile, waterfall or even non-IT projects, it is important for the people involved in the product to understand what it is they are building. In other words, it is important to understand the vision and mission of the project and the product being built and how it aligns with the values of the organization.

This feature that outlines the strategic path to be followed for developing a particular product is called the product roadmap. The product roadmap is more of a communication tool and helps to communicate the high-level purpose of the product’s strategy and its alignment with organizational business objectives.

What is a Product Roadmap?

A product roadmap is a plan of action for how a product or solution will evolve over time--Atlassian 

In other words, a product roadmap is a plan of action that defines the short- and long-term goals of the product to be built. The product roadmap is used not just in waterfall projects but is crucial for Agile projects too and is often used by the Product Owner to outline how the product will shape up, its functionality, new releases and so forth.

The roadmap also outlines the features that need to be prioritized for delivery and is an important reference—not just for the developers, but for all those involved in the product development lifecycle.  For Agile teams, the product roadmap outlines the estimates of day-to-day tasks and is an important feature of the Agile product development lifecycle as it helps to follow the Agile values of early and continuous delivery of valuable software by helping the teams focus on priorities.

How to Create a Product Roadmap

Building the product roadmap is one of the steps of the product development plan. Once the product vision is created after understanding the requirements of the stakeholders, market research and analysis, the product management team gets on with creating the product roadmap.  

Building a product roadmap involves five main stages: 

  • Defining the strategy: As the name suggests, the strategy must define the overall goal of the project, the vision and how it aligns to the overall business objectives. The strategy outlines how the team or the company is going to go about achieving the goal or the project mission. 
  • Reviewing and managing ideas: There may be several requests from the user, but how do you prioritise these ideas? Ideas may even come from your development team and often such ideas can lead to better and more innovative products. How would you prioritise ideas on the product roadmap? By ranking and assigning values to each idea. Once you find out the value that each idea brings in by considering estimated cost, effort and value it is easy to rank each on the product roadmap. This will help you understand which ideas are to be prioritized and will help you manage better.   
  • Defining features and requirements: Once your strategy is fixed you can identify the features that best support your strategy. You can further split these requirements into user stories that the development teams can use to determine their day-to-day tasks.  
  • Organizing releases and setting timeframes: Once the requirements are set, the development team can define epics and sprints and determine the dates of releases. Releases can be grouped.  
  • Choosing a view that suits your audience: Now that your roadmap and all the elements under it have been defined, you must share it with the others on the team including the stakeholders and the management. For this you would need to choose the view for the roadmap or decide which elements you would want to display and to what detail. You must consider certain considerations while creating a view for your roadmap such as: 
    • The purpose of the roadmap 
    • The audience for the roadmap 
    • The information that will appear 
    • The time frame that the roadmap should cover

Best Practices for Creating an Effective Product Roadmap

While creating the roadmap depends on the project and the organization, there are certain best practices that teams need to follow while creating product roadmaps to ensure effectiveness and value addition. 

  • The most important prep work, before the creation roadmap, is to ensure that you have your purpose, vision and strategy right. This sets the base for everything that follows. 
  • Your roadmaps are tools that you use for communicating the objectives and milestones with different teams and parties. Keeping this in mind ensure that you create different roadmaps for different audiences. 
  • The items of your roadmap should focus more on outcomes rather than on features. 
  • Keep reviewing and updating your roadmap at the right frequency. The product roadmap should always be current and be transparent to the teams. 
  • Make sure that your roadmaps are communicated in the right way. 
  • Make sure your roadmap conveys the right timelines; timelines should be flexible while at the same time realistic to ensure accountability. 
  • Do not use your roadmap as your product backlog. 
  • Remember that the roadmap is a high-level overview of the product strategy or goal and does not need to include everyday tasks like bug fixing user support research etc into it. 
  • Make sure you have all the right data to back up the items on your roadmap. You may need this in case you are asked to justify something on the roadmap by the stakeholder, investor, or even the team members.  

Web-based Tools to Create a Product Roadmap

Your product roadmap is a great communication tool. This said, it also must be visually appealing and tell a story to those who are accessing and viewing it. Gone are the days when people used Excel and PowerPoint to display their roadmaps. Compared to cloud-based tools, creating roadmaps on old technologies is cumbersome and difficult to update. There are several tools available in the market to help you with creating the appropriate roadmap for your needs. Product roadmap examples available include:  

  • Monday.com 
  • Productboard 
  • Roadmunk 
  • Trello 
  • StoriesOnBoard and more 

Types of audience for a product roadmap

Your roadmap is a mirror to your project and sharing it will help you maintain transparency and trust with all those involved in the project. You will have to share your roadmap with several people including:

  • Management or leadership: 

The C-suite of your company may want to know how the project you build aligns to the goals and business objectives of the organization.  

  • Engineering team: 

The roadmap is a bible for the engineering team as they will know the scope, goal and shape the project needs to take based on the product roadmap. They will know how to go about the development by understanding the releases, features and requirements outlined in the product roadmap.  

  • Marketing team:

The marketing team will use the product roadmap to understand the product strategy and goals along with the benefits that each release or feature will bring to the customer.  

  • Sales team:

The sales team must sell the product, which is why they would need to know the benefits the product will bring into the customers. The product roadmap will be referenced by them for this purpose.

The importance of tailoring your roadmap to the right audience

You can have different views for your roadmap based on who you are going to show it to and what information you want to communicate. Your audience is primarily of two types: 

  • Internal: Members who are part of your team and organization including team members, executives, sales team etc. Each team should be given a roadmap that is specific to their requirements. The executive or managerial team for example would need data that is more strategic and to know how the product aligns with the organizational objectives. The product roadmap for the sales team would concentrate on the product value; that will help the sales team understand the value the product will bring in for the user. The development team would see a roadmap that shows them key technical aspects and deadlines for these. 
  • External: members who are not part of the internal team such as customers, investors etc form the external members. The product roadmap shown to external customers often does not include information such as deadlines or any internal process flows. It concentrates more on the advantages that the product would give the end-user. It is less strategic and more visually appealing and easy to understand.

Product roadmap types and examples

There are several types of roadmaps that are used for different projects. These roadmaps may be tailored in terms of looks and content to suit the needs of your project. Some common product roadmap types are: 

  • Strategic roadmap: 

As the name suggests, this roadmap communicates the strategy and the long-term initiatives that align to the organizational mission. This roadmap focuses on long term objectives, timelines and deadlines.  

Strategic roadmap

  • Now-next-later roadmap:

 As the name suggests, this approach breaks down the roadmap into three parts. Now-which lists the initiatives that are being worked on now; Next-that lists the initiatives that will be taken up next and finally Later that lists the initiatives that will be tackled at a later stage. This product map gives the stakeholders and the team a bird’s eye view of the roadmap and makes it easier to suggest changes or differentiate priorities.

Now-next-later roadmap

  • Kanban roadmap

This is an excellent roadmap for development teams who want to communicate their plans without committing to exact timelines or dates. It helps teams to group activities into buckets such as what is in the backlog, what is planned and what is in progress. 

Kanban roadmap

Sourceproductboard.com

  • Release plan roadmap

This is typically used as an external roadmap for customers and stakeholders. It displays initiatives such as planned releases etc and does not have much technical detail.

Release plan roadmap

Source: productboard.com

  • Agile/Sprint Roadmap Example  

Agile is all about flexibility, better responses to customer requirements and fast releases. Agile projects can benefit a lot from creating a product roadmap that communicates the long-term objectives of the project and helps establish a balance between short term and long-term goals. The agile roadmap is a great tool for providing direction to the team to carry out their everyday tasks. There are several tools available to create product plans for agile teams that help promote agility and implement agile values.  

Agile/Sprint Roadmap

Source: Atlassian.com

This is an example of an Agile product roadmap for an Agile product team. The initiatives are in blue, and timelines are indicated by the milestone-markers in red. 

Conclusion  

The Product roadmap is crucial not just in understanding long term goals and objectives but also to set context to everyday tasks and make sure that the product is responsive to competition and changing business requirements. The product roadmap works across industries, organizations and teams and is a must for projects of any size. It’s a tool that can be utilised by product owners and the product development team to ensure successful projects and value delivery.  

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