The Product Roadmap vs. the Platform Roadmap
November 2, 2021

The Product Roadmap vs. the Platform Roadmap

by Brian de Haaff

"Breaking free from the tyranny of urgency." This is what Aha! engineering and team lead Alex Bartlow said when I asked him about the advantages of creating a platform roadmap.

Alex leads our platform engineering team, so he is acutely aware of the importance of investing in performance, reliability, and infrastructure. Instead of fighting the latest fire, you need a strategy that will drive you forward and guide meaningful areas of focus. After all, the only way to achieve sustainable product success is to plan for what your application and infrastructure will need to support for customers and the business over the long term. This is why both a product roadmap and platform roadmap are so critical.

Product roadmaps and platform roadmaps look different, but their core purpose is the same — to capture how you will deliver value to customers.

And from a product management perspective — delivering new functionality to customers often relies on the core underlying infrastructure. It depends on the platform. So let's take a closer look at each type of roadmap. A product roadmap is a visualization of what the team must do in order to build and deliver winning products. It conveys the "why," "what," and "when" of the cross-functional product team's work. And it gives a high-level view of the product plans and how they connect to company and product strategy.

A platform roadmap considers how the underlying technology will support a broad set of capabilities, typically across multiple offerings. It captures the common infrastructure that product teams can leverage to deliver and improve upon their offerings. The platform itself is the base technology stack and any API connections the company has (or can use to extend its offerings to more customers). A well-designed platform makes it easier to scale and integrate with third parties.

Of course not every company or product is based around an underlying platform. Single or less complex products typically do not need major supporting or shared infrastructure.

But at organizations with multiple products or complex offerings, a platform roadmap is a vital tool for planning what teams need in order to get new functionality shipped. For example, this could include changes to core infrastructure like voice, video, authentication, analytics, or integrations.

Aha! itself has a robust and high performant underlying platform that supports our portfolio of products — Aha! Roadmaps, Ideas, Develop, and Academy. We also have a dedicated platform engineering team, which is responsible for supporting our developers by building tools such as dynamic staging environments. While the product team oversees customer-facing improvements, the platform team is responsible for the supporting infrastructure.

Brilliant product managers do more than oversee the product roadmap — they also deeply understand and contribute to the platform roadmap. If you are a product manager or aspiring platform product manager, you need a solid understanding of what a platform roadmap is and how it compares to a product roadmap. Here is an overview of the fundamental differences between these two roadmaps:

Purpose

A product roadmap communicates the direction of the product and how the team will work together to achieve the business goals. You can use a product roadmap to align internal teams, coordinate cross-functional activities, and show broad areas of investment.

A platform roadmap is a foundational document — showing the plans for the technical capabilities that are required for each product to function and work together with other products in the ecosystem. You can use a platform roadmap to convey the specific architecture, data services, performance, reliability, and technologies the product will rely on.

Components

A product roadmap typically includes the following components:

  • Product goals

  • Strategic initiatives

  • Releases, epics, and features

  • A timeline for completion

  • Statuses of work items

A platform roadmap typically includes these components:

  • Cross-product goals

  • Performance of the app

  • Reliability

  • Security

  • Major areas of investment for innovation or transformation efforts

  • Plans for updating components, systems, and processes

  • A timeline for delivery

  • Statuses of work items

Audience

You can customize a product roadmap for many different audiences, both internal and external. For example, product managers usually share the product roadmap with other teams (such as marketing, sales, and engineering) and present it to executives, partners, and customers.

The CTO or VP of engineering typically owns the platform roadmap, but it should incorporate input and participation from product, UX, finance or accounting, sales, and customer support. And in many companies product managers are assigned to help the platform engineering team set the right priorities. Many platform roadmaps provide a high-level blueprint for the engineering strategy — outlining what the development team will build and how they will deliver major capabilities in support of the product.

Timeline

A product roadmap usually shows a timescale of what the team will accomplish in the next six months to a year. But the time frame shown depends on industry, company, type of product, and the level of detail that the particular audience needs.

A platform roadmap usually takes a longer timescale, e.g., one to three years. Because the platform plans affect multiple products over several years, the platform roadmap must consider the major plans and growth trajectory of each product in the portfolio.

Product roadmaps and platform roadmaps must be aligned to achieve product success and delight your customers.

Great products result from intentional planning and careful consideration of the entire customer experience. When the product and platform roadmaps complement each other and support the overall business strategy, it is easier to deliver the best possible experience to your customers. So do not be afraid to be an active contributor to the platform roadmap. You have a key role to play as a product manager and the overall success of your product depends on it.

How do you use product roadmaps or platform roadmaps in your daily work?

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Brian de Haaff

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

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