How to build a roadmap for a new product
A product launch is exciting. And in many ways, it is a privilege. It is not that often that you get to be part of building something entirely new. The energy and the pressure will be high. And as a product manager, you will be pulled in all directions. You need to review market data, write positioning statements and user stories, and outline the customer journey. But there is one area of focus that demands your full attention — the product roadmap.
Product launches contain many deliverables and dependencies from cross-functional teams. You need to account for design and development, testing, refinement, marketing, sales and support training, and customer communications. Your roadmap gives teams a timeline to rally around so everyone can meet deadlines and achieve business goals.
After the product launch, you will continue to deliver new features and enhancements. You will need to make hard decisions about what to build next. If you take a goal-first approach from the start and prioritize lovability, you can drive better decision-making into the future.
Start with strategy
You need to understand the market that you are serving and the customer problems you will solve. Revisit your product vision — the north star that you will vet product decisions against. Make sure that you have defined specific, measurable, and time-bound goals and initiatives. If any of these elements of your plan are shaky, reexamine:
Who are your customers and user personas?
Which customer problems does your product solve?
What alternate solutions exist in the marketplace?
What are the key areas you need to invest in long-term to bring value to customers?
What do you need to achieve in the first six months after launch? Within a year?
Aim for love
With a firm grasp of the strategy behind your product, you need to know what is required for customers to love your product. Focus on building a Minimum Lovable Product (MLP) — the minimum that is needed for customers to adore your product, rather than merely tolerate it. Starting with an MLP mindset helps differentiate your product in the marketplace and leads to long-term business growth.
What goes on the product roadmap?
To figure out the work that needs to be completed and when, work back from the product launch date. Use your product strategy and a prioritization framework to make trade-off decisions about which features are needed to launch.
Throughout the planning process, you will likely identify new features that are not launch-critical. These can be included in your post-launch and longer-term roadmap. To start, you want to capture the most essential details:
Goals are measurable and time-bound — specific to your product and users. Product goals are typically aligned with one or more business-level goals.
Initiatives are themes of work that will help you achieve product goals.
A release corresponds with the date on which you are ready to deliver the product or new experience to customers.
Features include new functionality that will be delivered as part of a release.
The timeline — days, weeks, months, or quarters — demonstrates when you plan to deliver new features, updates, and enhancements.
Status indicators illustrate progress against planned work. They can be used for the status of goals, initiatives, releases, and features.
Of course, you also need to do the detailed work of defining feature requirements and prioritizing what goes into current and upcoming releases. This requires deep analysis and collaboration with the engineering team to determine timing and capacity. But you do not need to include all of this detail on your roadmap.
Build different roadmaps for different audiences to highlight the information they will care about most. For example, a roadmap for executives might include a high-level view of key initiatives and major bodies of work. A roadmap for the engineering team might zoom in on the product features that need to be ready by launch.
Some product managers build separate roadmaps for internal teams and external stakeholders like customers and advisory boards. Maintaining your roadmap is an ongoing process. Be purposeful about the roadmap views that you commit to, so you can keep them up-to-date and ensure teams always have the most current information.
What goes on the go-to-market roadmap?
Your new product launch involves more than shipping bits of code. What about other cross-functional work needed to bring the product to market? Product managers are responsible for keeping all teams informed, in sync, and on schedule. A go-to-market roadmap can help you coordinate launch activities.
Here is a short list of the teams and activities that you might consider adding to a go-to-market roadmap:
Website, blog, or social media
Support ticket processes
Your go-to-market plans will vary depending on your product, market, and organization. If you do not build a go-to-market roadmap, you may find it useful to create a product launch checklist instead. Aim to create a standard checklist that you can reuse for subsequent releases. Releases are incredibly complex so any opportunity to add consistency and repeatability will be welcomed by the team.
What comes next?
Take time to celebrate and recognize the team's accomplishments. After all, the hard work is just beginning. The early months that follow your product launch are a critical time to establish momentum and drive success.
Be ready to collect feedback from customers, partners, stakeholders, and teammates — their ideas are the fuel that will move your product forward. Invest in a defined idea management process so you will be able to sort through requests, prioritize the best ones, and create a backlog of enhancements that align with your goals.
A product launch is thrilling. But it is the work that comes next that ultimately determines your success.
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