What is roadmap software? Key features of roadmap tools
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 your goals. A roadmap helps your 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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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.
Yes, at Aha! we build roadmapping software and we are talking about the importance of using roadmapping software. Admittedly, we are biased. But whether or not you choose Aha! Roadmaps, the value of a product roadmapping tool is still there. Bottom line — manual spreadsheets have got to go.
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What is product roadmapping software?
Product roadmapping software helps product teams refine ideas and add structure to them — through releases, features, and requirements. Using a roadmap tool to visualize your product plans helps you quickly communicate to stakeholders and cross-functional teams when you will deliver new functionality to customers.
Roadmapping software is one of several tools within a larger product development software category. Each stage of product development — from ideation to build to launch — requires deep thinking, prioritizing, and refining what is created. That is why product development teams often use a variety of software solutions to fuel the entire process.
Key features of roadmapping tools include:
Workflow boards that house features and requirements
Visual release timelines and Gantt charts
Roadmap builder and templates
User story mapping
Purpose and benefits of using a product roadmap tool
Some product managers are still creating roadmaps using spreadsheets and text documents. But these are singular endeavors that fill a need for a specific audience, at a specific time. They are disconnected from your daily work, largely because it takes so much effort to keep something static updated. This struggle is nothing new. According to a survey by McKinsey, 75% of product managers shared that their organization's product management functions are subpar or nonexistent. Tools are not a panacea, but the right roadmapping software and disciplined practices to go along with it can help change that.
Strategy underpins your product roadmap. Leveraging a tool to build and maintain your roadmap helps you connect your strategy to action — ensuring product and cross-functional teams stay aligned on the work that needs to get done and why.
Key benefits of using a product roadmap tool include:
Strategic alignment Link product strategy to your business goals — prioritizing features and initiatives based on the value they will bring
Centralized and accessible information Store all your product plans, features, and timelines within one platform
Enhanced collaboration and visualization Create shareable visuals that allow stakeholders to better understand plans, contribute ideas, and provide feedback
Streamlined execution Gain efficiency and productivity as you operate against a real plan
Flexibility Change timelines, priorities, and features once — then watch them automatically update throughout your plan
Tracked progress Increase accountability and visibility into feature status, helping you identify blockers early on and report on progress in real time
The right roadmap tool can help connect your company's "why" to its "what" and "when," placing business strategy, goals, and initiatives front and center.
Who is responsible for choosing a product roadmapping tool?
Generally, product management chooses which tool will serve their needs best. Product managers are responsible for developing and implementing the product strategy, as well as maintaining the product roadmap. When it comes to selecting the right tool, you take the lead as you tend to understand the specific features and functionalities that are the most important.
Product managers consider several factors including their team's size, collaboration needs, integration capabilities, budget, and how the tool fits within existing processes. While the decision ultimately lies with product management, it is important to consult with cross-functional teammates from engineering, UX, customer success, and marketing. Everyone will be using the roadmap to stay aligned on the product vision and prioritize features — so getting buy-in from the beginning is essential.
What to look for in a product 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 (e.g., Asana, monday.com, and Trello) — 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. We often get asked how Aha! software compares to other roadmapping tools in market. Aha! Roadmaps is a 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:
Align the team on the strategic goals and initiatives
Link strategy to detailed work and decide what to build next
Capture and score requests and ideas from customers
Manage your product backlog and prioritize features
Create visual roadmaps for unique audiences
Report on progress and analyze delivery metrics
Integrate with your design and development tools
Key questions to ask when choosing roadmap software
Choosing a product roadmap tool can be challenging. You may feel pressure from all angles — leadership wants you to show results now and cross-functional teams may be hesitant to adopt new software. But based on the time and financial investment required, you want to be sure you are making an informed and confident decision. Here are some questions to help guide this process:
What are your specific needs and goals?
Identify your top reasons for seeking out a roadmapping tool. Perhaps you are looking to save time, build connected roadmaps, improve team workflows, or integrate with the software tools you already use.
Is the tool user-friendly and intuitive?
Consider the tool's navigation and overall user experience. Is it easy to get started? Can the team continue to use it as you grow? Take the time to trial different tools to get a feel for the software.
Will the tool have the capabilities you need as your product and team mature?
Does the tool support collaboration and communication?
Can multiple team members contribute to the roadmap? Does the tool allow for comments, discussions, or feedback? Look for features that facilitate collaboration.
What visualization options are available?
Does the tool integrate with other tools in your tech stack?
This may include project management software, issue tracking systems, or development tools. Seamless integration can streamline workflows and avoid duplicating efforts.
How does the tool handle data security and privacy?
Ensure the tool provides adequate data protection, encryption, and user access controls to safeguard your sensitive product information.
What is the pricing structure?
Assess whether it aligns with your budget and whether the tool provides value for the features and functionality it offers.
Does the tool offer customer support and documentation?
Is there access to documentation, tutorials, or a knowledge base? Determine the types of customer support available — such as email, chat, or phone support — and how quickly they respond.
Considering these questions will help you evaluate different product roadmap tools holistically — so you can select one that will serve your unique needs best.
Best practices for using a product roadmap tool like Aha! Roadmaps
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.
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.
An example of how to visualize what features your team is planning and when from Aha! Roadmaps.
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.
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It is worth mentioning that some folks prefer to use a whiteboard option to sketch out roadmap ideas quickly before moving to a more formal roadmap. We also offer Aha! Notebooks with lightweight roadmap templates. After building your roadmap on a whiteboard, you can convert items on the board into real features in Aha! Roadmaps.
Roadmapping advice from the Aha! team
Given that Aha! builds product development tools, people often ask us to share our roadmapping process. It helps that we use our own software to plan and manage what we build. (But it is not just our product management and UX team that use Aha! Roadmaps. Everyone in the company — including Customer Success, finance, and marketing — plans, tracks, and manages work using our suite of tools.)
Our approach to product roadmapping hinges on these key principles:
Start with goals: We set clear, measurable, time-bound objectives and link all of our detailed work back to these top-level goals. Some goals might surprise you — like lovability.
Listen to customers: We welcome customer feedback, review it quickly, and align our roadmap with customer needs.
Prioritize ruthlessly: We use the Aha! product value scorecard to prioritize features and enhancements based on impact and effort.
Learn and adjust: We regularly revisit and adjust the details of our release plans to stay on course.
You have a big job ahead to roadmap the future of your product. The right habits and exceptional roadmapping software can help you get there.
Frequently asked questions about roadmap software
Should I create and manage different types of roadmaps, such as product roadmaps, release roadmaps, and portfolio roadmaps?
In a tool like Aha! Roadmaps, a product roadmap is simply a visual representation of your product plans — the work you want to accomplish and when you will get there. It is not about creating "different" roadmaps but creating different roadmap views from the same data. Depending on which information you choose to display, you can build a portfolio roadmap of upcoming work across multiple products. Or you could narrow in on an individual product and its upcoming releases.
The idea is to create different views to tailor your roadmap to specific audiences. This allows you to convey only the information that is most pertinent to who is viewing it — such as executive leaders, product, sales, or customer support.
Does roadmap software integrate with other tools (e.g., Jira and Slack)?
Is it possible to export roadmaps to different file formats?
The answer here also depends on the roadmapping tool you select. Aha! Roadmaps provides many options for sharing roadmaps and reports. You can share your saved views as webpages, publish to an Aha! presentation, integrate with Confluence, or export to an image, PDF, Excel, or CSV.
Do I need roadmap software with reporting and analytics features?
We think it is wise to track roadmap progress and team performance, measure key performance indicators (KPIs), and make data-driven decisions. This is why we built the Aha! reporting engine. You can build countless reports with some basic filters and more advanced filters too. Data fields stored in your Aha! account can be transformed into compelling visualizations.
Can I set different access levels and permissions to control who can view and edit the roadmap?
Most roadmapping tools offer different access levels based on user type. For instance, there are four primary levels of user permissions in Aha! Roadmaps: owner, contributor, reviewer, and viewer. There are also three administrator access roles. Sophisticated user permissions allow you to set the level of access you need — administrators have the ability to align workflows across workspaces, contributors can fully engage with your roadmap, reviewers can provide insights, and viewers are able to follow along and stay informed.
Product development excellence is within reach. Start a free trial of Aha! Roadmaps today.
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