How do product managers build the right roadmap?
Roadmaps are an essential tool for product managers. You can use these visual product plans to communicate why you are building, when you will deliver, and what will be included. Product roadmaps map out where you will invest your efforts and serve as a timeline for making your product vision a reality.
Product roadmaps should answer common questions about what is coming and when, such as:
What big themes are we working against?
What is planned to be delivered and when?
What is the status of the team’s work?
Today, many product teams use purpose-built roadmapping software to visualize their plans. Roadmapping software allows you to create different roadmaps for your different audiences — and you will only have to enter your information once.
Executives, customers, internal teams, and partners are just a few of the different audiences who will want to see your roadmap. With each one wanting their own unique questions answered, many product managers create and maintain different roadmap variations, such as:
An executive roadmap for quarterly review
A roadmap for the customer advisory board
A roadmap for the sales team outlining upcoming releases
It is important to consider that you will likely need to maintain different roadmaps for different purposes. You need to know who you are creating each roadmap for and what they need to know — so you can communicate the most salient points quickly and concisely. To do this, ask yourself the following questions:
Who is this roadmap for?
Defining your audience first will help you decide what should be included on your roadmap. For example, executives will likely want a high-level view — a roadmap that shows product vision, key initiatives, and timelines for major bodies of work. Executives will also want to see how your product aligns with the overall business goals. For this audience, you will want to present your roadmap in a way that is both thorough and concise.
What is the purpose of this roadmap?
Before adding details to the roadmap, it is important to consider your intended outcome. Why does this particular audience need this information? What do you want them to come away with? Many product managers need to communicate high-level themes that will help guide investment decisions for the business. Another example is the need to visualize the timing of new functionality so the development team can allocate capacity. Focus on your main purpose to help guide which type of roadmap to build.
What needs to be shown?
Product managers understand that the details that matter to one team do not always matter to another. As an example, ask yourself, “Does my customer success team care about a behind-the-scenes infrastructure upgrade?” In most cases, they probably do not. Now ask yourself, “Do they need to know when the new product functionality that is planned and when it will be available so they can answer customer questions?” Absolutely. Asking these key questions will guide you to determine what to include — such as in-progress features, release dates, or statuses.
What is the time frame?
Product managers rely heavily on dates because this work requires managing a lot of moving parts. Think about the key dates and dependencies in your plan and how they should be presented. The time frame you pick on your roadmap depends on the level of detail required and can range from days and weeks to months, quarters, and sometimes even years.
Building the right roadmap
If you are new to creating product roadmaps, it is important to remember that there is no universal format that works for all scenarios. Your job is to assess what you will need to share by asking the questions above. Then, you can create a visual representation of your product plans in a way that captures and communicates your overall direction to the intended audience.
There are many different roadmap types. Understanding the audience and what you are trying to communicate will ensure that you will build the right one, for the right people, at the right time.
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