How do product roadmap tools work?

A great roadmap starts with a clear product vision and a canvas explaining customer and market forces that will shape the product's direction. Historically, roadmaps were built using tools like Excel and Powerpoint.

But these tools tend to disconnect product managers from their strategy, and can be painful to update -- especially when other product stakeholders all want to see the same information presented in their own unique way.

Product managers today have access to better tools that allow them to work more efficiently. These tools allow them to:

  • Build visual roadmaps

  • Link strategy through the roadmapping process

  • Capture and score ideas

  • Collaborate with everyone (including customers and non-technical colleagues)

  • Integrate with third party systems

If you understand the need for product roadmap tools, you might be wondering how to go about using them? It's quite different than the process you might have been doing your best to make work in Microsoft Excel or Powerpoint.

Building your first roadmap in a cloud-based tool is easier than you think. And the beauty is you only have to build it once, and then make minor updates depending on the audience who wants to see "their version" of your roadmap.

This video highlights the types of product roadmaps you can create using Aha! product roadmap software.

Here's a few tips to get you started using a product roadmap tool for the first time:

Enter your data

As experienced product managers know, it’s nearly impossible to map out and keep product roadmap information up-to-date in Excel and PowerPoint and a bug system. A product roadmap tool makes it easy to set your product vision, goals, and strategic initiatives and link them to your releases and features.

The first step in using a roadmap tool is to add all of your product information. Many tools allow you to do this by importing a CSV. You should import as many types of information as possible, including: products, initiatives, releases, ideas, features, and users. And whatever you are not able to import, you should be able to easily enter.

Choose what releases to display

Once your data is imported, it's time to begin building a roadmap. Within your product roadmap tool, select which releases to add to your roadmap. By default, most roadmapping software includes all of the releases you have imported. But you will likely only want to showcase a specific number of releases to your audience. Add or remove releases at this point to make sure you have the perfect view of your roadmap.

Selecting features to highlight

After you have the releases you need on your roadmap, you should also customize the features (or user stories) that are displayed. This is another method of filtering your roadmap that allows you to present that right information that is custom tailored to your audience.

Determine the release dates to communicate

Oftentimes, you need to communicate what's coming, but you can't commit to an exact date. Many roadmapping tools use internal or external dates to give you the ability to communicate a time frame of a day; week; month; quarter; half year; or year. When sharing your roadmap, you can then select whether your internal or external release dates are presented.

Customizing Releases and Features

Internal stakeholders will want to understand strategic importance, which is conveyed through goals and initiatives. To do so, customize the detail you show at the release and feature level using these options within your product roadmap tool. For customer views, you can show the theme of the release and key features of interest.

Every roadmapping tool is different, and there are many options to choose from. It's important that you find that right tool for your product to help you build what matters and be happy doing it.

Great product roadmap tools help you seamlessly present several views of your work -- without the need for extra hours of edits.

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