Product Roadmap: What it Is, Why You Need it, How to Create One + Examples

Two people working on a product roadmap on a board.

successful product takes a great deal of effort to develop and maintain. This process involves balancing the product’s strategic aims with the needs of its end users and internal stakeholders.

Juggling these tasks successfully requires a product roadmap.

Product roadmaps are effective tools for product managers to outline the development of a project. In addition to providing oversight of an ongoing project, a product roadmap helps allocate time, budget, and resources.

You can design a great product, but the design is only the first step. A product roadmap converts your product vision and strategy into tangible projects and tasks that your team can work on daily. In addition to explaining what you are building, a product roadmap also explains why you are doing so (otherwise known as your strategic vision).

Unlike strategy documents, which focus on the granular tasks required during product development, product roadmaps are comparatively high-level. A practical product roadmap addresses all questions that might arise during product development. It should, however, be flexible enough to adapt to changes along the way to ensure the product’s success.

This article will discuss the different types of product roadmaps, why you should have one, how to create one, and examples of good product roadmaps.

Why do you need a product roadmap?

There are several reasons why product roadmaps are essential:

  • A product roadmap ensures everyone works toward a common goal. It’s primarily a communication tool. For anyone uncertain about the direction and priorities of your product, product roadmaps are the primary source of truth;
  • Teams can focus on the most critical aspects of the project. A roadmap enables you to identify the essential steps needed to achieve your goals without getting lost in the details;
  • Product managers can prioritize features, tasks, and release dates;
  • Stakeholders are kept up to date on progress because a product roadmap changes as product development proceeds. Transparency in a product roadmap can inspire trust and confidence in your organization’s business plan from the top down;
  • It promotes discussions and scenario planning. A roadmap is a discussion, not a rule. It allows everyone to ask questions, voice concerns, and give feedback.

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The main components of a product roadmap

Here are the core components of most product roadmaps:

Products. A product may refer to an item, service, or method that meets the customer’s current needs or demands. This is characterized by a combination of tangible and intangible attributes (benefits, features, functions, or applications).

Goals. This pertains to measurable, time-bound objectives supported by clearly defined success metrics. Product roadmaps include goals to illustrate the critical accomplishments required to make the product vision a reality.

Releases. Releases typically involve introducing new products and features that provide value to customers. Multiple features, sometimes known as epics, are delivered simultaneously in a release.

Epic. The term epic refers to a significant user story that cannot be fulfilled within one release. The work is often broken down into more minor features or user stories that can be delivered incrementally.

Features. The term feature refers to a new or improved function that provides value to users. A feature provides more detailed information about the new functionality.

Minimum Viable Product (MVP). An MVP is a development technique in which a new product is created with only a few core features that will allow it to function. MVPs are designed to quickly gather customer feedback and improve the product without wasting time or money.

User Stories. A user story describes a new software feature from the end user’s perspective, typically highlighting their wants and needs. The terms “features” and “user stories” are often used interchangeably.

Timeline. Typically, product roadmaps include dates for the completion and release of new products and updates to existing products.

Types of product roadmaps

Agile and waterfall are two of the most popular approaches to product management.

Waterfall product roadmaps communicate a commitment to building specific features over an extended period.

By contrast, agile roadmaps are designed to accommodate inevitable changes while committing to accomplishing meaningful work. Agile roadmaps communicate a short-term plan for achieving product goals that’s flexible to adjust as customer needs change.

Product roadmaps are available for various audiences, activities, and projects.

Most of these are designed for internal audiences, such as executive, product development, marketing, and sales teams. Others are used for external communications, such as notifying consumers about upcoming releases.

Here are a few examples you may come across:

Strategy roadmap

A strategy roadmap outlines what’s coming up for an organization.

Unlike a product roadmap, a strategy roadmap focuses on a broader range of activities. In addition to changes to the products and services of an organization, it may also include changes to its structure and processes.

Product release roadmap

Product release roadmaps provide an overview of upcoming software releases. They serve as internal guides to keep stakeholders informed of the project’s progress.

Typically, release dates are included for each release and can be arranged by date, product, or project. A description of each feature is also provided, along with information regarding whether it is in development, testing, or has been released.

Marketing roadmaps

Product-related marketing activities are described in a marketing roadmap, which serves as a guide for engineering, project, development, and sales teams. Marketing teams and product managers generally create marketing roadmaps, but they also help keep wider teams informed of their contribution to the marketing process.

There is typically a brief description of the product, a target market, and a schedule of marketing activities and objectives. It may include, for example, a timeline of digital campaigns and their goals.

Technology roadmaps

A technology roadmap outlines the major technological milestones that must be met to release a new product. Technology roadmaps are typically targeted at production and development teams.

An organization may set milestones based on external objectives, such as providing particular features to customers. Alternatively, these can feature internal purposes, such as implementing an organization’s tech strategy.

Portfolio roadmaps

Individual projects always have their roadmap, but a portfolio roadmap captures the strategy and objectives for a broader range of products. When used as a framework for making decisions, it can assist in determining what products to invest in and how to prioritize them.

Although product roadmaps should be reviewed and updated regularly, portfolio roadmaps require even more special attention. This is because they carry complex projects containing multiple dependencies and product management teams.

By maintaining a roadmap, each of these teams, which may otherwise work in isolation, will be able to coordinate their planning processes better.

How to build the perfect product roadmap

Structure is essential to the development of a robust product roadmap. The four phases of the project life cycle are an ideal starting point. Consider the following steps as you create your roadmap:

  • Initiation phase. This is the phase in which you conduct research and build context around the product you are developing.
  • Planning phase. During this phase, you determine the desired outcomes, identify problems to be resolved, and prioritize related features.
  • Execution phase. During this stage, you break down big epics into validated tasks, balance short- and long-term goals, and present your roadmap to your team and stakeholders.
  • Ongoing monitoring stage. The purpose of this step is to measure success and to update your roadmap as necessary.

Let’s look at each step in more detail.

1. Research and context-building

The purpose of product roadmaps is twofold. First, they communicate your goals and priorities to others. Second, they develop company-wide support for your plan.

The first step is to determine who your roadmap is intended for. For example, your engineering team’s internal roadmap will cover different topics than those designed for your end customers.

Who is reviewing this content, and what are they expecting? It’s beneficial to clearly define your audience before presenting your roadmap.

Next, consider how your business is currently performing. As your company grows, your product roadmap will also mature and change. Developing an MVP for a startup differs significantly from balancing multiple products across multiple markets for a more mature organization.

2. Identify the desired outcome based on business requirements

Building a product roadmap requires a clear understanding of your objectives.

What is the purpose of the project? Is it to develop a new product or to redesign an existing one?

When you develop a new product, you must begin with the ideation phase and define the minimum viable product for people to use and test its functionality. MVPs are integral to product roadmaps, and their priorities must be clearly defined.

For example, if you create a login page for users to access your platform, entering their email ID and password will be crucial. However, MVPs such as the ‘Forget Password’ feature can be kept at a lower priority and added later.

Identify a few key components and brainstorm them with your teammates and key stakeholders:

Desired outcome

What is the business need you are trying to address? For example, “become the top t-shirt printing e-commerce store in North America.”

Impact metrics

Which metrics indicate that you are solving a problem most effectively? For example, your business could increase the average order size to five products per customer.

Behavior metrics

What user behaviors need to be changed to achieve your goals?

For instance, to increase revenue, your strategy could start focusing on top-of-funnel users, upselling existing customers, or even reactivating churned customers to increase revenue.

Consider revising your strategy and vision to identify areas of impact.

In addition, you may wish to investigate other resources such as market researchcompetitor analysis, internal requests from stakeholders, external requests from users, or even existing tasks on your product backlog.

3. Solve the correct problems

It is time to examine how to improve your product and change user behavior to achieve your goals.

How can you solve user problems to impact your metrics and business needs?

You can identify problems that relate to your desired outcomes in several ways:

Customer feedback

The best way to uncover user problems is to conduct user interviews. However, if you cannot speak with customers directly or wish to gather more data sources, seek feedback from your marketing team, and pay attention to social listening, sales, customer service, and other departments that directly impact users.

Collect and analyze usage data

Your customers may not always tell you what they want. Consider how your customers are using your product. What problem are they trying to solve when buying your product?

Product backlog

There is likely an extensive list of tasks, issues, and problems that require your attention. Keep your backlog up to date as you identify problems. Assess each component to determine if it provides value, has an owner, and still fits within the overall strategy for the product.

Researching competitors and the market

Wherever your brand might sit in the industry, it is still critical to remain aware of the problems your competitors are solving or how the market is changing.

As soon as you have decided on your goal, you can begin to map out user stories. Using the user-driven approach, you can identify requirements from the user’s point of view.

It is much more engaging to build a product backlog through user mapping rather than writing a dull and lengthy document of requirements.

4. Decide on a timeframe

A roadmap must have a destination. Establish a rough but realistic timeframe based on your desired outcome and the problems you have identified.

Does the problem appear to have a simple solution that can be tested within a few months? Do you intend to implement significant strategic changes that may take several years to complete?

Change takes time.

In any case, a product roadmap should indicate progress as early as possible so that you do not commit to blindly chasing outcomes for many years to come.

5. Create a high-level framework for organizing problems

You should now have a reverse funnel, going from a specific outcome to a few impact metrics and then a list of problems to solve (and possibly some existing backlog items that fit).

The process is likely to be messy. Despite this, it is important to visualize this flow from goal to potential solutions and note how many different paths can lead to the same result.

6. Ensure that your roadmap is concise and clear

As long as your team is aligned toward the same goal, product development will be much more efficient. This can only be accomplished if the entire team understands the product’s role in its development.

Keep your roadmap simple and easy to understand. A detailed game plan may seem like the best way to ensure your success, but it will only result in miscommunication and missed deadlines. Developing a clear and concise roadmap is key to keeping employees focused and motivated.

7. Divide tasks into epics

After determining the timeline, it is necessary to break the tasks into more minor, manageable epics.

Depending on the project’s complexity, the story map or timeline may consist of up to six levels.

For smaller projects, however, three levels are usually sufficient. You should evaluate the product in terms of its maturity and size.

8. Develop a vision board

As a next step, everything will be compiled on a vision board accessible to all stakeholders. By doing so, everyone involved can keep track of the progress of the product’s development.

In an agile approach to product road mapping, testing occurs at each epic level and does not have to wait until the entire product is complete. Using this method, you can determine how much time each task takes with the existing resources and if additional resources are necessary at any time.

If you are developing an agile roadmap, you must be adaptable to all unexpected changes that may arise and deal with them accordingly to achieve success.

9. Evaluate your product roadmap.

You should not expect your product roadmap to be perfect. Unexpected roadblocks will arise, and you will need to rally your team to ensure that deadlines are met. All of this is a necessary part of the process.

You can safeguard your roadmap by reviewing it whenever a problem arises.

  • Did you anticipate this problem?
  • Is there a short- and long-term solution available to you?
  • How will we resolve this issue? What resources will you need?

Your roadmap will not be perfect from the start, but you can fine-tune it to ensure that your product arrives exactly as you intended.

Product roadmap examples

Now-next-later

image credit: smartsheet.com

Simplicity is a hallmark of the now-next-later roadmap. Prioritizing tasks is made easier with it.

Maps of this type are intended to illustrate the relative importance of tasks, features, and sprints.

Every team member can benefit from understanding how their work is progressing through the now-next-later roadmap. Furthermore, this roadmap is both easy to understand and create.

For example, you can use it for presenting to customers or for meetings with a large audience. Here is a brief overview of the structure of this type of roadmap.

“Now” shows the team’s accomplishments within the next two to four weeks. Included are goals/issues that should be the team’s priority. It is usually not necessary to make any changes to this section.

“Next” refers to the team’s medium-term features, which they will focus on in a few weeks. It is possible to modify the features in this section.

“Later” indicates long-term plans, usually something the team plans to accomplish within the next few months. It is essential to understand that goals in this section will likely change over time. Therefore it is possible to plan them roughly.

Feature-based

The feature roadmap outlines the key features of a product and allows monitoring of its development and release. Clients and team members can use it to understand the next step.

Therefore, users will appreciate the product’s value, and the team will be able to see the direction in which it is evolving.

Implementing a feature-based roadmap enables you to prioritize the release of features and distribute resources within the company.

This type of map will need to be updated frequently due to technological advances and customer preferences, making it more challenging to maintain in the future.

Goal-oriented

image credit: webflow.com

Having a goal-oriented roadmap helps clarify your strategy and makes it easier to understand.

The goals explain the rationale behind each feature and help structure the information logically.

This type of map is ideal for showing to executives. This is because they are less concerned about the product’s specific features and are more concerned about the bigger picture.

A goal-oriented map will indicate whether the product can fulfill its promises.

Conclusion

Roadmaps can be powerful tools, but they must be flexible. A strong product roadmap will contribute to successful product development and help your small business or startup increase revenues and profits.

We regularly update this product roadmap guide. We most recently updated this guide on December 27, 2022.

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