The Product Roadmap vs. the Marketing Roadmap
May 21, 2019

The Product Roadmap vs. the Marketing Roadmap

by Brian de Haaff

Roadmaps are for product managers. Right? This idea seems to be burned into so many people’s minds. Roadmaps are a “product thing.” But a roadmap is simply a visualization of a plan. And that is something any functional group can benefit from — particularly marketing teams at fast-moving technology companies.

After all, product management and marketing are after the same thing — bringing successful products to market.

Since these groups are headed in the same direction, they also need to roadmap together. This starts with actually working together. The best organizations do not have disparate product and marketing groups working siloed on the same product — but rather one cross-functional product team. This should include teammates representing all groups that impact a launch, from engineering, support, operations, and of course, product and marketing.

This structure lays the groundwork for transparent communication between product and marketing — giving access to each other’s roadmaps and meeting often to discuss them. It also encourages product and marketing to be deeply invested in each other’s future plans.

The journey should start with the strategic product roadmap. It should be built first and needs to map back to the overall corporate strategy.

Marketing should then put together its own roadmap, aligning activities with what product management has planned, as well as the customer acquisition objectives needed to grow the business. Simple enough? Of course, there is more to it than that.

For the two teams to roadmap together and collaborate on go-to-market activities in a healthy way, you need clarity on the core concepts that end up on most roadmaps: goals, initiatives, major efforts, everyday work, and timing. This takes commitment from leaders and individual contributors at every stage. Success is always the result of a team effort.

Here is a detailed breakdown of what goes on a product roadmap and what goes on a marketing roadmap:

Goals Goals will be similar, which is why it is so important for the two teams to work together. All goals should be measurable, time-bound objectives with clearly defined success metrics.

The product roadmap will be focused on how customers will interact with and benefit from using the product. For example, the goal could be to expand existing functionality or launch an entirely new feature set. These goals are included on the roadmap to show exactly what is required to make the product vision a reality.

The marketing roadmap will be focused on how potential customers learn about the product and ultimately purchase it. Examples might include creating an integrated campaign or driving a certain number of leads. These goals will reflect what marketing wants to achieve and the business value of the marketing efforts.

Initiatives Both teams need a way to connect those goals to areas of investment for the team, in terms of time and effort. This is where the initiatives come in — they are the buckets or themes of work needed to accomplish the goals. Each one should be completed within a specified period of time.

The product roadmap includes key product initiatives that tie back to the product goals. So, if the goal is to expand into a new international market, an initiative might include internationalization and localization efforts.

The marketing roadmap will follow a similar pattern, but marketing initiatives obviously need to tie back to the marketing goals. For example, a marketing goal to be recognized as a thought leader might be linked to initiatives like introducing a new content program.

Releases and programs A product release is similar to a marketing program. Both represent the launch of some new experience. These containers of work are used to track what needs to be done, including any dependencies with other teams.

Releases on a product roadmap capture the work that will be done to deliver functionality in a specific time frame — usually 30, 60, or 90 days. As changes to the roadmap happen, these releases will need to be updated as well. And since product is likely helping other teams (e.g. support, legal, finance) prepare for a launch, that work should also be detailed here.

Programs (some organizations refer to these as “campaigns”) are laid out on the marketing roadmap in a similar way — usually for the next six months to a year. These schedules detail the work across different marketing functions (digital, advertising, content, communications) and, most likely, sales — as marketing is often tasked with helping this team sell the product.

Features and activities I wrote earlier that releases and programs are “containers” for work. Between the two teams, you will have product features and marketing activities. Think of these as the actual work items that need to be delivered to complete the release or program.

A feature on a product roadmap represents the new or enhanced functionality that will deliver value to users. This will be specific and define details broken out into requirements.

An activity on a marketing roadmap represents a promotional effort that will help acquire, keep, and grow customers. These might include items like digital advertisements or media outreach.

Timeline This brings us to one of the most critical aspects of any roadmap — dates. Yes, even if your organization is agile-aspirational, time still exists and you need to set target dates. After all, both areas are responsible for reaching certain milestones and ensuring that they are on track to deliver what was promised.

At most technology companies, it is common for the product roadmap to represent six months to a year — covering annual strategic goals and initiatives. However, at companies where development takes longer, the timeline might be more like three to five years.

Depending on how the organization operates, the marketing roadmap could be created to represent a few months at a time or a full year. Some groups might be on a calendar-driven schedule — creating a roadmap at the beginning of each fiscal year — while others may build plans incrementally throughout the year.

Product and marketing should always be moving in the same direction — but they need different roadmaps to get there.

And those roadmaps should be aligned. Otherwise you would end up in two very different places. But the next time someone suggests that roadmaps are a “product thing,” you might want to correct them. Because every team needs a strategic roadmap.

What goes on your product and marketing roadmaps?

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Brian de Haaff

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the journey of pursuing a meaningful life.

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