How to choose a product roadmap tool (and get started)

How do you build a successful product? It starts with a breakthrough idea to solve a real problem and a deep understanding of the customers you serve. Product managers define the product vision — why you are building the product and the direction you are headed. Then you set strategic goals and a detailed plan for achieving them.

Your product roadmap visualizes that plan — what will get built, when it will be done, and how the work will help you reach the goals. The roadmap helps the product team stay focused on the work that matters most and communicates strategy, new features, timing, and dependencies to the broader organization.

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Before purpose-built roadmapping tools, product managers created static roadmaps using spreadsheets and text documents. But these one-off roadmaps were disconnected from the daily work and required manual updates — which can be especially painful when stakeholders all want to see the same information presented in different ways. You wasted time updating roadmap versions and slides, hours that could have been spent solving real customer problems.

A complete product management software solution like Aha! Roadmaps provides a framework that makes it easy to set and share product strategy. You can create goals and initiatives, collaborate on product plans, prioritize features, and quickly build visual timelines for different audiences all in one tool. By linking every release and feature to the goals and initiatives it supports, the team can better understand how well you are delivering against your strategy.

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What to look for in a roadmap tool

Roadmapping software is an obvious improvement over disjointed documents and slide decks. And roadmap software is a real upgrade from project management tools — which may be sufficient for task-based work but break down when you need strategic cohesion across many divisions or product lines. The larger the team and business, the harder it becomes to plan and track all the work without a single source of truth.

Every roadmap tool is different and there are many options to choose from. Aha! Roadmaps is complete product management suite — you can set strategy, capture ideas, score features, and share visual plans. With robust integrations with development tools (including our own Aha! Develop), product teams and engineers are able to work from dynamic roadmaps and deliver more value to customers. No matter which tool you choose, look for software that helps you:

Getting started with a roadmap tool

Roadmapping tools offer varying levels of customization and functionality. It is important to find the right tool for your product so you can effectively collaborate and bring plans to life. Building your first roadmap using a cloud-based roadmapping tool might be easier than you think.

Step 1: Enter your data and set strategy

Gather existing data and product plans — from business models and positioning statements to planned initiatives and features — and enter it all in the roadmapping tool. Depending on the software, you may be able to create new records manually, import a CSV file, or connect via an API or integration.

The best roadmaps link goals and initiatives all the way down to the detailed features that support them, so spend time upfront creating these connections. A structured hierarchy could look like this:

  • Goals: Product objectives that have clearly defined success metrics and time frames.

    • Initiatives: High-level themes of delivery that contain epics and support the goals.

      • Epics: Large bodies of work that contain many features and help you deliver on the initiatives.

        • Features: Functional components of the product that support specific use cases.

When you create connections across the work and tie it all back to your goals, the value of what you are providing becomes clear to the organization. You can monitor success through the lens of customer and business value and better line up future work with product strategy.

Step 2: Select your roadmap view

Once you have entered product data and built out your strategy, you are ready to build your first roadmap. What you include on it will depend on to whom you are presenting. For instance, executives may want to see an overview of progress towards goals and initiatives and the time frames for delivery. The engineering team may want a more granular view, including upcoming releases, features, and requirements.

Best in class tools like Aha! Roadmaps provide roadmap templates to get you started. Here are a few examples:

  • Portfolio roadmap: Displays the plans for multiple products across a suite of products and solutions.

  • Strategy roadmap: Gives a high-level summary of progress towards goals and initiatives.

  • Features roadmap: Provides a detailed view of features and releases — including timing, status, assignee, and progress.

Step 3: Customize your roadmap

Adjust the information shown on your roadmap to highlight the story you want to tell. For instance, you might tailor your roadmap in the following ways:

Choose particular releases

Perhaps you want to highlight releases across products or just show releases for the upcoming quarter.

Zero in on features

You might choose to view features that support a particular initiative or compare features from one release to another. If presenting the roadmap to a small team, you could display the features assigned to those individuals.

Show internal vs. external dates

If your roadmap software allows, set both internal and external release dates. This gives you an opportunity to assign specific due dates internally while committing to a broader external release date — then you can display either date on the roadmap depending on the audience.

Of course, there are many other details you can adjust on your roadmap to emphasize the information that you choose. Try assigning unique colors to different products, teams, or types of work. Add status indicators to features and initiatives for a quick visual gauge of progress. For more ideas, see our guide with compelling roadmap examples.

Step 4: Share the roadmap with your team

The valuable work of creating a roadmap does not stop here — now it is time to share the roadmap and communicate your plans with colleagues, stakeholders, and customers. Look for a tool that allows you to share the roadmap in multiple ways — such as an image, PDF file, webpage, or embedded in a presentation.

Keeping the roadmap updated is critical so that the entire team can stay on track. You want to be able to instantly see changes to the roadmap when you adjust plans so that you do not have to double back and fix the roadmap every time a small detail changes.

Product roadmap templates

Ready to build your roadmap? If you have not selected a roadmapping tool yet, using Excel and PowerPoint roadmap templates can be a good starting point. There will be limitations, however, and the experience will not be as robust as using purpose-built roadmap software like Aha! Roadmaps. This is because your roadmap is constantly evolving and should be maintained to help the entire organization plan work.

Some folks prefer to use a whiteboard option such as Aha! Notebooks to sketch out roadmap ideas that can be quickly visualized on a timeline. If you start with a lightweight roadmap in Aha! Notebooks, you can convert sticky notes and items on the board into real features in Aha! Roadmaps.

Customize a lightweight roadmap in Aha! Notebooks. Sign up for a free trial.

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