Introduction to product roadmaps
You have a bold vision for your product. Your high-level strategic planning is done and the groundwork is laid for what you want to deliver and when. This is a big moment — you are at the start of a thrilling journey to deliver new value to your customers. Now it is time to build a product roadmap to chart your path forward.
A product roadmap is a tool for communicating your product vision and putting product plans in action. Your roadmap is underpinned by your product's strategic direction — helping the broader product team focus on the work that matters most. It should lay out your high-level goals and initiatives, show the efforts required to achieve them, and visualize a timeline for implementing all of the work.
A lot goes into a product roadmap. Customer ideas, feature requests, internal input, and backlogs of work all inform the various components. What gets included in your roadmap should be closely aligned with the strategy that you have already defined. These choices are made after careful review and consideration from a cross-functional product team with the product manager at the helm — steering the rudder so that any roadmap decisions support your overall vision.
Product managers depend on roadmaps for all kinds of scenarios. You could use a product roadmap to manage the launch of a new product, major enhancements to an existing one, or even updates to an internal application for the organization. If you need a reliable tool to help see your product plans through and reach your goals, a product roadmap is the way to go.
But reliable does not mean static — product roadmaps evolve. You should continuously adjust your roadmap throughout the lifecycle of your product based on shifting customer needs and market demand. Forward-thinking product managers see a product roadmap as a dynamic compass.
If you are ready to see your product plans come to life, read on to discover why product roadmaps matter, the five steps to building one, and tips for getting started.
Why are product roadmaps important?
Creating and delivering a product is a herculean effort. It takes a serious commitment to your goals across the organization to pull it off well — from product management and product marketing to engineering. Your product roadmap is the best representation of this commitment. It is a promise to your team and your customers that you will be accountable to the most meaningful work.
Roadmapping is an essential part of your strategic planning process. The exercise of building a product roadmap can be the impetus for conversations about where you will invest your efforts and why. When you connect your product strategy to implementation, you will always be able to trace the impact of your work with clarity.
Who is responsible for the product roadmap?
Product managers own the product roadmap. As a product manager, you lead the charge in collecting research, ideas, and feedback, translating and prioritizing these materials into features, and ultimately building the roadmap itself. Once it is built, you will share the roadmap and any progress with stakeholders. You also identify the right roadmaps to build for your team and when.
That said, the best product roadmaps involve cross-functional collaboration. Your work as a product manager impacts other groups, and you need their input and participation to deliver a Complete Product Experience (CPE). The roadmap is a central place to come together around your CPE — the visibility into what is coming next helps the entire organization prioritize and plan for the new experience you will deliver.
And the more inclusive your roadmapping process is, the greater organizational alignment and support you will have when you release that new experience. When you rally other teams around your product roadmap along the way, your product's success is a collective celebration.
How product roadmaps are used by other teams
Outside of product management, other teams rely on product roadmaps for transparency, visualization, and communication. Here are a few examples of what different internal teams need to know about your plans:
The customer support team needs to be aware of the critical features or enhancements you are planning to deliver. This helps them keep customers informed and set better expectations.
Engineers need to understand the high-level strategy (the "why") along with the specifics of your releases, features, and requirements (the “when” and “what”). This helps them formulate the "how" — the development work required to build each feature.
Leadership teams and board members want to understand how your product plans align with the company vision, strategy, goals, and high-level business metrics.
The marketing team will want to see everything from your goals down to features — with an emphasis on overall benefits to customers. This helps them prepare for more impactful go-to-market campaigns.
The sales team will be interested in any impact on customers — functionality details, timing, and why they should care about it. This helps to craft the right message for prospective customers.
Types of product roadmaps
As we outlined in the table above, different teams will look for different things on your product roadmap. Depending on your audience, you may choose from a few types of product roadmaps to clearly present the most relevant view. Each roadmap type shows similar information presented in a slightly different way — usually with varying degrees of specificity.
Here are five common types of product roadmaps and what makes each of them useful:
Helps you plan and organize upcoming work by grouping related features together. An epics roadmap is useful for visualizing work delivered across multiple releases, communicating key focus areas, and making prioritization decisions.
Shows the timeline for when new features will be delivered. Features roadmaps are perfect for communicating the details of what is coming and when to customers and other teams.
Shows planned releases across multiple products in a single view. Portfolio roadmaps are useful for providing a strategic overview of your plan to leadership and a broad view of how multiple product teams work together.
Communicates the activities that must happen before you can bring releases to market — what needs to be done when and who is responsible for delivery. Release roadmaps are helpful for coordinating release activities with other cross-functional teams, such as marketing, sales, and customer support.
Displays the high-level efforts that you plan to invest in to achieve your product goals. A strategy roadmap is great for presenting progress on initiatives to leadership and keeping cross-functional teams aligned on overarching business strategy.
Related: Examples of compelling roadmaps
How to build a product roadmap
Building a product roadmap starts with strategy — you must establish the product goals and initiatives that your efforts will support. Once those are defined, you can decide which releases and features are best aligned with your strategy and then visualize it all on a timeline.
A few considerations will shape your roadmapping process. One is your audience — what you show on your roadmap depends on your intended viewers. In the table above, you saw how different types of roadmaps help to highlight different elements. As you build and customize your product roadmap, you can make additional decisions about which details to include (and which to leave out) so that the information portrayed is relevant to whoever is viewing it.
For example, the leadership team will want to understand the strategic importance of what you will deliver, conveyed through roll-up relationships between major releases and associated goals and initiatives. Your product marketing team, on the other hand, will be more concerned with the details and dependencies — so they can track and visualize moving pieces leading up to a product launch and coordinate all go-to-market plans accordingly.
You might share a version of your roadmap with customers too. Customers will want to see what is upcoming — especially any critical functionality they need. On a customer-facing roadmap, you might choose to show a broader release time frame instead of an exact date so that you have flexibility to shift if necessary.
Your product roadmap will also reflect the development methodology that your organization follows. For example, an agile team will create a product roadmap that is incremental and flexible to accommodate changes in customer needs and the market. But product roadmaps for organizations following a traditional waterfall approach will be more fixed — conveying a long-term commitment to building specific features within a given time frame.
Components of a product roadmap
The details and context may vary, but all product roadmaps should include a few key elements. Here is a quick overview of the main components you need:
Goals: Measurable, time-bound objectives with clearly defined success metrics. Goals represent the critical accomplishments needed to deliver your product.
Initiatives: High-level themes of work describing how your efforts will contribute to your goals. On a roadmap, initiatives show how specific releases and features relate to your strategy.
Releases: A launch of new product functionality represented on a timeline. Releases often contain multiple features that get delivered at the same time.
Epics: Larger bodies of work (like categories) that typically span multiple releases. Epics break down into smaller features that are delivered incrementally.
Features: A specific piece of new or improved functionality that results in value to users. Features can be related to capabilities, components, appearance, and performance.
Timeline: A visualization of when product releases will occur over time. The time scale can range anywhere from days to quarters or years depending on the amount of work and level of detail involved in a particular release.
With these components and considerations in mind, here are the five main steps to building a product roadmap:
1. Define your product strategy
As mentioned above, setting strategic product goals and initiatives is an important first step in building a roadmap. Strategy is the "why" behind your product — it explains how your efforts will support the overall business. You will also need a strong product vision — capturing who your customers are, what they need, and how you will go to market with your offering. Together, the elements of your product strategy will inform everything that goes on your roadmap.
An example of how to think about your strategic product goals from Aha! Roadmaps.
2. Review and manage ideas
Most product teams have a constant influx of product ideas from customers and customer-facing internal teams. When these ideas are organized and prioritized, they are valuable input for deciding what to put on your roadmap. For an objective method of idea evaluation, try scoring ideas based on metrics that reflect your strategy.
An example of how to manage and rank product ideas in Aha! Ideas.
3. Define features and requirements
This is when your product roadmap starts to take shape. With your goals, initiatives, and prioritized ideas to guide you, identify the specific product features that you want to deliver. Use a template or tool to put your features into words, add the necessary details in the requirements, and group related ones into epics (if needed). Anything valuable that does not fit on the first iteration of your product roadmap can be saved for later in your product backlog.
At this stage, you can also translate your features into user stories to describe the benefit from the customer's perspective. User stories give your engineering team the context they need to implement the best solutions.
An example list of features organized into epics in Aha! Roadmaps.
Related: User stories vs. requirements
4. Organize into releases
Up to this point, you have focused on defining the "why" and the "what" for your product roadmap — next, you will think about the "when." Once your features are prioritized and sorted, you can plot out your delivery timeline with releases. Releases are often organized by product launch but some teams prefer to arrange their roadmaps based on development capacity.
An example view of product releases organized in a Gantt chart view in Aha! Roadmaps.
5. Choose roadmap views
To get your product roadmap up and running, the final step is to visualize everything you have defined up to this point. Try roadmap templates or a roadmapping software tool to experiment with different roadmap views. Consider the following questions to help you decide what to include:
Who needs to see this product roadmap?
What is the most important information I want to convey?
Does my audience care more about the big picture or details?
Does my audience need to know general timing or exact dates?
An example of a visual product roadmap built in Aha! Roadmaps.
Related guide: How to build a brilliant product roadmap
Tools and tips for getting started with product roadmaps
Now that you know the basics, here are some extra tips and tools to help you build your best product roadmap.
Start by looking at some excellent examples for inspiration.
Explore best practices for product roadmapping to help frame your approach and make your roadmap visually appealing.
Experiment with different product roadmap styles using PowerPoint and Excel templates.
Try purpose-built product roadmapping software to build a custom roadmap that is dynamic and collaborative.
When your roadmap is ready, show it off. Create a product roadmap presentation to keep your stakeholders in the loop on progress and timing.
Building a roadmap is a commendable stride toward product greatness. Moving forward, your product roadmap will be the best reflection of your progress and impact. Keep planning, collaborating, and updating your roadmap so that your work is always in motion and up-to-date.
Many product teams use roadmapping software to visualize their plans — this is the best way to keep everyone aligned and your product roadmap automatically updated. If you are interested in trying it for yourself, this video shows how to get started with Aha! Roadmaps.
Get started with a free 30 day trial of Aha! Roadmaps — our purpose-built roadmapping tool.