Product Roadmaps vs. Gantt Charts
August 7, 2020

Product Roadmaps vs. Gantt Charts

by Ron Yang

Gantt charts get a bad rap. Particularly among agile enthusiasts who think dates and dependencies stifle creativity and innovation. This might be true if your team works in a very linear way and each phase cannot be started until the previous is finished. Even though most teams do not work this way today, I do get where the skepticism comes from.

Gantt charts are seen as relics of very slow and inflexible work styles.

A product does not have a clear start and end date. And you need to move quickly in order to keep up with your customers’ needs. So it is natural to favor flexibility over structure. Building a successful product requires an environment that fosters creativity, innovation, and moving fast.

Product managers need a clear vision and a roadmap informed by product strategy. And you need a high-level timeline for developing the features you have planned. Beyond that, the structure for how you visualize it all can be as loose as you want. Roadmaps give you that adaptability.

But at some point, meaningful teams need to manage cross-functional efforts with clear due dates.

Think of any big launch or release. Without a detailed plan, things can get messy — fast. You might have dependencies such as internal training or documentation that must be completed before the next phase can begin. Gantt charts are an ideal tool for managing this type of work. This is why the Gantt chart is one of the more popular views in Aha!

You could say that roadmaps capture strategy while Gantt charts go deep into the timing. But there is more to it than that. Here are the main differences between roadmaps and Gantt charts:

Purpose

Roadmaps visualize a set of business objectives and the work required to achieve them. They provide big-picture direction and timing for everyday work. Roadmaps are most often used for strategic product planning, but some organizations use them to visualize the strategy for the overall business or major marketing efforts.

Gantt charts visualize a timeline for work that must be completed linearly by a fixed deadline. Usually this work is also shown on your roadmap at a high-level, but a Gantt chart has every detail to keep the broader cross-functional team on schedule. Often these are complex efforts that impact most of the organization, such as product releases.

Components

Roadmaps define the “why,” the “when,” and the “what” behind your work. The “why” includes a vision, initiatives, and measurable goals for your product. The “when” is the high-level time frame for achieving your strategy. And “what” includes the features that will be developed within each release.

Gantt charts define the “when” and the "what" — but on a much deeper level. While a roadmap may show the general end date for and work included in a release, Gantt charts include all the phases of work required from all teams involved to meet that deadline. They also include milestones and dependencies between work items that could impact your delivery date.

Updates

Roadmaps are typically updated anywhere from every few weeks to once per quarter. Since roadmaps provide a high-level framework for strategy, timing, and work, they do not need to be updated as frequently as Gantt charts. Roadmaps are updated when goals change or big milestones shift — not in response to small changes to day-to-day work and timing.

Gantt charts are constantly refreshed as work progresses and dependencies change. Because the work is linear, deadlines for future phases must shift if one is missed — each one must be closely monitored. Real-time updates keep the entire cross-functional team informed on exactly when they need to contribute their part to the overarching project.

Your roadmap visualizes your strategic plan and Gantt charts provide the detail you need to bring it to life.

You only have one product roadmap. But that roadmap will contain many releases and hopefully some major launches that will drive real value for the business. So you will need a Gantt as well. Choosing the right tool for a successful delivery is just as important as what you have planned.

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Ron Yang

About Ron Yang

Ron builds lovable products. He is the VP of Product Management at Aha! — Ron has more than 15 years of experience in entrepreneurship and leading product teams. Previously, Ron founded and sold his own company and has been on the founding team of multiple venture-backed companies.

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