How do product managers visualize data on a roadmap?

Product roadmaps represent the future of your product. Roadmaps can help you communicate strategy, future plans, and even the timing of individual features. A compelling visualization is critical — it allows you to showcase your product plans in a way that is informative, compelling, and inspiring. And because our brains process visuals faster than words, visual cues help create "stickiness" in the minds of your audience.

But as powerful as your roadmap can be for engaging colleagues, customers, and stakeholders, it is just a visualization. A compelling roadmap is typically the outcome of deep thinking and strategic prioritization. You need to know who you are presenting to and what insights matter most to the audience in order to determine how to visualize the data. Here is an overview of how to effectively visualize a product roadmap:

  1. Know your audience

  2. Determine the key information and format

  3. Use visual elements

  4. Keep it up-to-date

Know your audience

There are many potential audiences for your roadmap. The visualization you choose will depend on who your audience is and what information they care about most. For example, leadership will want to see high-level strategy and the progress toward product goals and initiatives. The engineering team may be more focused on upcoming releases and feature prioritization. Customers will want to hear about upcoming enhancements and functionality. By reflecting on your audience, you can create a roadmap that speaks to their concerns.

Determine the key information and format

With your audience in mind, you can consider how you want to group and display key information — such as initiatives, releases, milestones, epics, and features. For instance, consider a strategy roadmap that you are showing to your leadership team. In some scenarios, it may be important to zero in on one strategic initiative at a time and show the planned features that will support it. In other cases, it will be more powerful to show the entire portfolio of products and the impact to business-level goals.

The same thing goes for the roadmap you are presenting to engineering. Highlighting one release in isolation may make sense in a planning meeting, for example. But if you want to connect releases to strategy and show the long-term direction, you will need to display multiple releases and their relationships to goals and initiatives.

With a tool like Aha! Roadmaps you can customize the information you want to display and use filters to select and omit details depending on your objectives. Be mindful that the information and format you choose can either support or obscure the story you are trying to tell about the product.

Use visual elements

Now let's turn this roadmap into a beautiful visualization that brings your data to life. The following visual elements underpin an effective roadmap:

  • Time frame

  • Groupings

  • Colors

  • Progress and status

  • Customizations

Time frame

Choose the right time frame — for example, three months, six months, or a year — so you can zoom in or out on what is most important to highlight. Dates matter but that does not mean you always want to show exact dates, particularly if you are presenting the roadmap to customers. On a high-level roadmap, you might consider showing information by quarter. On a tactical roadmap, you might zoom in on more granular time frames and deadlines.

Groupings

It might seem like common sense to present your roadmap details logically. But it can actually be quite challenging when you have a lot of information to display. Consider the audience and the hierarchy of information that they care about.

For example, if your roadmap includes releases across a product portfolio, you may want to order your data by release date to show planned launches. Or if you are displaying features within a release, you may choose to order them by priority to communicate the progress of high-priority items. Priority, start date, end date, status, or alphabetical order are just some of the options to consider for sorting the information on your roadmap.

In the example below, product initiatives on the left side are listed in order by product line (e.g., Fredwin Cycling, Fredwin Running, Fredwin Swimming, and Fredwin Software).

Colors

Perhaps the most common way to lend visual interest is by adding color. When showing multiple types of information on your roadmap, colors provide separation and differentiation. You might assign specific colors to different products, teams, or owners.

Progress and status

Progress and status indicators are a core component of roadmaps. Progress can be visualized through partial shading of bars on the roadmap. Status can be communicated using color too. For an at-a-glance view, apply green to on-track items and red to those at risk.

Extra attributes

Of course, there are lots of other details you can include on your roadmap to emphasize key information — such as milestones, dependencies, and assignees. In the roadmap below, release milestones are represented by diamond-shaped markers and features within a release are labeled by assignee.

Keep it up-to-date

Product plans are dynamic. As details and timing change, adjust your roadmap to keep it in sync with reality. This helps team members stay aligned on all the work and ensures stakeholders are in-the-know on any changes.

Cloud-based roadmapping tools stay in sync for you — enter product data once and use it everywhere. To get access to roadmapping templates and build your own, try Aha! Roadmaps for free for 30 days.

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