Introduction to Product Roadmaps
Creating a product roadmap helps communicate direction and progress to internal teams and external stakeholders. It is a document showing the high-level initiatives and the plan for executing the work that aligns with the product strategy. The roadmap is an evolving document and should be separate from other materials, such as a list of ideas and feature requests, a backlog of work, or bug reports.
Creating a product roadmap should be a continuous process throughout the lifecycle of a product. You should collect requirements and features from a variety of sources, including customers, partners, sales, support, management, engineering, operations, and product management.
It is up to the product management team to prioritize incoming ideas to make sure the roadmap aligns against the business goals.
What is a product roadmap?
A product roadmap is a plan for how your product is going to meet a set of business objectives. The roadmap details the direction of your product and the work that is required to get there. It is used to communicate the product direction and progress to internal teams and external stakeholders. Roadmaps also allow product teams to assess new requests for functionality against planned work. Roadmapping is the exercise of building a product roadmap.
Product managers typically lead the roadmapping process but seek cross-functional input from engineering, sales, marketing, and the executive team to ensure that the plan will deliver against the high-level business objectives. Developing a roadmap has four significant benefits:
- Drives organizational consensus for overall product direction
- Provides a mechanism to determine what level of development investment is needed to deliver the features and functionality specified in the roadmap
- Provides a framework for the entire organization to plan for the future of the product
- Offers a low-cost and low-risk way for the organization to capture customer and market feedback on future product plans
A great roadmap starts with understanding the product vision and having a clear strategy that is customer- and market-driven. Establishing a plan before you begin roadmapping aligns the organization and keeps everyone focused on the work that matters the most. It tells the team the direction the product is going and what needs to be done to get there.
What should be included in a product roadmap?
Different audiences require different types of roadmaps. And each type typically has a unique set of components. When considering which kind of roadmap to build, it is important to think about who the roadmap is for and how it will get used. Knowing this will help you determine the right structure and information to use for your product roadmap.
The following components are often used in product roadmaps:
A product can be an item (hardware or software), service, idea, method, or information that satisfies a need or a want. It has a combination of tangible and intangible attributes (benefits, features, functions, uses) that a seller offers a buyer for purchase.
Goals are measurable, time-bound objectives that have clearly defined success metrics associated with them. They are included in a product roadmap to show the critical accomplishments required to make the product vision a reality.
Strategic initiatives represent high-level efforts or big themes of work that need to be completed to achieve the goals. You can overlay initiatives in a roadmap to show how specific releases and features relate to the strategy.
A release is typically the launch of new functionality for a product that provides value to customers. Releases often contain epics or multiple features that get delivered at the same time.
An epic is a large user story that cannot get delivered as defined within a single release. It is often broken down into small features or user stories that can get delivered incrementally.
A feature represents new or improved functionality that delivers value to users. Features provide more detailed information about new functionality.
- User stories
A user story defines a new software feature from an end-user perspective — including what the user wants and why. You can use the words “features” and “user stories” interchangeably.
Product roadmaps typically include dates to show when new products and updates to existing ones will be completed and released. The time scale used depends on the level of detail required and can range from days and weeks to months, quarters, and sometimes even years.
Product roadmaps are even more useful when they clearly explain how the team is progressing against planned work. Status indicators for goals, initiatives, releases, epics, and features are a great way to highlight the current state of a plan.
Product roadmap templates and examples
Excel and PowerPoint roadmap templates make it easy to capture and communicate product plans. They can save you a lot of time and can be a great starting point. You can choose from a wide range of examples and tailor each roadmap template to your specific needs.
If you want to collaborate with colleagues on your roadmaps in real time, you can give Aha! a try. Our free 30-day trial includes hundreds of additional strategy and roadmap views.
A few examples of roadmaps created in Aha! are listed below:
- Portfolio roadmap
A portfolio roadmap is perfect for displaying your planned releases for multiple products in a single view. They are useful, for example, when you need to provide a strategic overview of your plan to executives or advisory boards. They also help internal teams understand how their specific projects relate to the plans of other teams.
- Strategy roadmap
A strategy roadmap represents your strategic product initiatives. They are great for displaying the high-level efforts that you need to complete to achieve your goals. Use them when you need to present your planned initiatives to executives and other stakeholders and to provide progress updates. They also help internal teams understand how releases contribute to the overall business strategy and drive the product forward.
- Releases roadmap
A releases roadmap is used to plan your product releases. They are perfect for displaying the key activities, such as phases and tasks that need to happen to bring your release to market. They are also great for communicating the delivery of critical features. Use them when you need to coordinate release activities with other teams, such as marketing, sales, and customer support. They align everyone around what is coming, what needs to be done, and when.
- Features roadmap
A features roadmap shows the timeline for delivering new features. They are great for displaying the features of strategic importance that will be completed in the next three to four months. They are useful when you need to provide more details about what is coming to internal teams, such as marketing, sales, and customer support. For organizations that follow a continuous deployment approach, they are helpful for communicating near-term product plans.
How should you build a product roadmap?
To build a product roadmap, you must know what your key business goals are and the initiatives that you are going to invest in to get there. Then you can decide which features are best aligned with your goals.
Below are steps to determine which features to add to your roadmap based on what will have the most significant impact on the business:
- Define your strategy
Product managers must establish a “goal first” approach and true north for where their product direction. This vision defines your outlook for the product, where it is going, and what your team should build.
A strong product vision contains details of who its customers are, what customers need, and a go-to-market plan. It captures the essence of what you want to achieve — the crucial information your team must understand to develop and maintain a winning product.
- Show release details
Select which features to highlight and choose whether to present internal or external data on each release. Your external release date can be different than your internal release date. It can also be rounded to a broader timeframe to be less precise (e.g., show releases by quarter).
For customer views, you can show the theme of the release and critical features in which they will be interested. Internal stakeholders will want to understand the strategic importance, conveyed through goals and initiatives. You can also create different views for specific customers, allowing your audience to see roadmaps that are relevant to their particular business objectives.
- Prioritize features
As a product manager, you have likely attended many meetings where everyone argued over which customer requests should get prioritized. The best way to consider customer requests is to design a goal-first roadmap that ranks customer requests against your goals. You can do this by scoring ideas comprised of metrics that reflect your strategy. Scoring takes subjectivity out of the equation and allows the ideas that have the most significant impact on ranking higher in priority.
- Share your roadmap
Communication and transparency are essential to building great products. They're also a must for keeping entire organizations aligned with your strategy. Various stakeholders in the organization are going to require different levels of information in the product roadmap. When you have the roadmap view you want, save it or share it with key stakeholders.
Consider the following to keep key stakeholders in your organization informed:
- Engineering: The engineering team will require the high-level strategy, goals, and vision (the ”why”) with every detail for releases, features, and requirements (the “when” and “what”).
- Marketing: The marketing team will need to know the detailed strategy, goals, and vision — with more emphasis on the overall benefits to the customer by releases and features.
- IT: Companies utilize various technologies to support their employees. And because the collection of technologies are often complex and resource-intensive, the overall infrastructure must be planned and implemented in an organized manner. Your IT or technology team will need to be informed of the key technology initiatives that will support the needs of the organization.
- Sales: The sales organization is going to be mostly interested in what functionality the customer is going to receive, by when, and why they should care (what is in it for them). They will want to know when they can inform their customers that the new functionality is coming as well.
- Management and the board: The management team and board members will want to understand how the product plan aligns with the vision, strategy, goals, and high-level corporate metrics. They are going to want to know how releases impact the business.
Now it is time to build the perfect roadmap, share your plans with the team, and build what matters.