Introduction to product plans

What will you build? How will it support the business goals? And when will you deliver? Product planning is the process of answering these critical questions. The outcome is a product plan.

Your product plan outlines how you will support business objectives — the goals and initiatives set in your company and product strategy. Explaining the strategic direction of your product or product line ensures that everyone understands the "why" behind your plans.

After setting a high-level product plan, many teams create a detailed product roadmap to visualize the timeline for specific releases and features. A roadmap is a useful tool for showing how work aligns with strategy and communicating progress.

When does product planning happen?

Strategy is typically set annually at the company level. This company strategy then informs the product strategy, which the VP of product or other senior product leaders set on an annual basis.

The actual timelines depend on the type of organization and level of detail required. For example, some companies look one, three, or even five years ahead. A one-year plan will likely be more detailed than a three-year plan because the delivery date is nearer.

Sound product planning requires adapting to shifts in the market and evolving customer needs too. This is why many companies do a quarterly business review to adjust and refine their product plans throughout the year.

No matter what planning horizon you use, the overall process is the same — start with the high-level business goals, initiatives, and areas of investment. You can add more detail about key features as you create a specific release plan or roadmap view.

What are the different approaches to building product plans?

Your organization's workflow and development methodologies will also affect how you approach product planning. And of course, whatever it is that you are building factors in as well. A software product is more easily changed midstream than a hardware product, for example. Your product plans will reflect that.

Some teams take a more waterfall approach — planning is done upfront, work is done serially, and change is uncommon. You typically see this in companies with longer service or manufacturing lead times. A market requirements document (MRD) and product requirements document (PRD) are examples of documents these teams might create to capture the market needs of customers and gather and define requirements upfront before the work begins.

This contrasts with agile teams who take a more adaptive and iterative approach to planning. These teams capture customer needs on an ongoing basis in the form of user stories, then they prioritize based on business objectives. This approach allows them to quickly assess product viability before investing significant time into the work. It also enables them to be more responsive to changing customer needs.

Start building your own product plans

Product plans guide the entire team towards delivering meaningful results that support business and product initiatives. They provide transparency into the work and align the organization behind what you are building and why it matters.

The articles in this section of the product management guide will introduce you to core concepts that will help inform your own product planning. Having this knowledge will empower you to create strategic product plans that make a meaningful impact and deliver on the business goals.

You can set product strategy, gather customer feedback, and report on roadmap progress — all in one place. Try Aha! Roadmaps free for 30 days.

Product development dictionary