What is a product roadmap?

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You are an entrepreneur and recently came up with a great idea for a new product or app that you know is going to change the way people work and live. The problem is, you don’t know how to turn this wonderful concept into something tangible. That’s where a product roadmap comes in. It is a plan of action that establishes short- and long-term goals for a product or project, and how they will be achieved. All the elements on the roadmap should be linked to your product strategy, and your roadmap should be responsive to changes in customer feedback and in the competitive landscape.

A roadmap is a guiding strategic document as well as a plan for executing the product strategy and represents the journey from a high-level idea to a marketable product. This type of visual summary maps out the vision and direction of your product offering over time. It uses flowcharts, graphs, matrices, and other elements to illustrate the product’s journey, including market research, project status and requirements. 

To build an effective product roadmap to bring your idea to life, it is important to know what exactly you need to include and why. This guide will take you through the most critical pieces of a product roadmap and offer a step-by-step blueprint to build your own. By the end, you’ll know

The product roadmap has many goals including the following:

  • Describe the vision and strategy
  • Provide a guiding document for executing the strategy
  • Discuss the different options and make a plan
  • Help communicate with external stakeholders, including customers

Ideally, your product roadmap should include the strategic direction for your product. 

How to create a product roadmap

There is so much to include in a product roadmap and sometimes, can be hard to know where to start. The following steps can help you to develop an effective product roadmap.

Determine the “Why” for your product 

Why are you developing this product? Here you should answer the key strategic questions to develop a new product or to update an existing. If you cannot answer this question, you cannot justify spending any time and resources on the product at all.

Define your product strategy

In order for your company to invest in your product’s development, stakeholders need to know what your product will achieve. They also expect you to answer questions such as: Why customers will use the product? What problems will the product solve? Additionally, you should include the characteristics that make your product standing out from other similar products already on the market. 

Outline your requirements

By talking to your sales and customer support teams and getting feedback from your customers, you can obtain insights about your products features and limitations and can also get ideas for future releases. Additionally, you can use your own product knowledge. After all the time you have been analyzing it, you undoubtedly have a deep understanding of the product’s functionality, its features, and its limitations. 

Make a timeline

A simple project management timeline can be helpful to outline major events, in chronological order. You can even add a bit more detail to this type of project timeline by scaling each task by its duration. This provides a quick visual summary of the project from start to finish.

Assign a broad timeframe to your tasks

Your roadmap should leave room for innovation and agile responsiveness. Bear in mind that a key function of your product roadmap is providing guidance. So, rather than indicating specific dates, many product managers choose to plot initiatives at the monthly or quarterly level. 

Tailor your roadmap to your stakeholder(s)

A product’s success depends on the participation of other internal teams. Their support is essential during the product development, therefore, it is essential to persuade stakeholders by customizing and presenting a roadmap tailored to their particular interests. 

Choose a suitable format

The format you may choose can be more suitable for a specific audience. For example, a feature-based format is not suitable for the marketing department but it would be perfect for your engineering team. 

Choose the metrics and tailor them to the actual features

Depending on the purpose of your roadmap, you may choose metrics oriented to customer needs or business needs. As a source of relevant metrics, you may analyze the market and your competition or have recourse to an industry analyst. 

What goes into building a product roadmap?

When building a product roadmap, there are many inputs needed to help inform the process.

Company goals and priorities

Where does your company want to focus for the next year?  By getting the data from these inputs, you create top-level strategic goals that drive product themes From there, you will know what you need to achieve those goals.

Competitive benchmarks

What are your competitors planning? Where are they investing? Which products are they launching?

Internal capacity and capabilities

Here you need to include your company key strengths and weaknesses.

Client feedback

Getting some feedback on key priorities from your main customers/clients is essential.

Partnership input/priorities

What are some of the key priorities for partners/ what are they investing in and how might it affect your company?

User research

Do you understand your customers and client’s needs? Quality user research can help you to understand their needs and behavior and to identify opportunities and prioritization.

Benefits of using a product roadmap

Here we will go through some compelling reasons to design and use product roadmaps when you are developing new products.

Focus 

It is important to know where the journey goes and what is the main objective for each of your products. A roadmap helps you stay on the road and achieve your goals. For product development teams, this means that they must respond changes and challenges and plan the features and solutions they select for incoming user requests. A feature or component that is directly related to the product vision should be prioritized higher than something that is not.

Improved communication 

It does not matter if you want to communicate outward or inward, but it helps you easily share or present your vision, plans, and goals and get everyone on the same page. You can communicate your strategies across your entire organization or outside to users, partners and other stakeholders to share the company goals and vision. In product development, it can be very useful to create and coordinate teams and see what and why they will work on. It is also helpful to coordinate tasks and project within different departments.

Improved management of the overall product backlog

The roadmap planning process is a great opportunity to review items and ensure that they are still valid and to align the company process with your product strategy and vision. The product backlogs will help member of the other departments to understand what features are in the pipeline for each product.

Align strategies 

The best product roadmaps are aligned with the corporate strategy or goal. Everyone will go in the same direction and work for a successful product that helps your company to reach its’ vision. In the roadmap, you can easily view and analyze each item to see if it is still valid and still aligns with your company’s vision and strategies.

A product roadmap is the perfect tool if you want to create product strategy literacy across your organization and it is the perfect tool to show your stakeholders that you have a firm grasp on that strategic wheel. When your teams have a deep understanding of what matters to the business and to customers, their internal compass for making tactical decisions will be grounded in that high-level plan and direction.

Why is roadmapping important?

Roadmapping is an essential part of your strategic planning process. Connecting your product strategy to implementation drives alignment and keeps everyone focused on the work that matters most to achieving the vision. 

By using a product road map, you can visually communicate the direction of your product to internal teams and external partners. The best product roadmaps include cross-functional teams and factors. For example, marketing can prepare for more impactful launches and campaigns, IT can improve the overall technical infrastructure, and sales can better set customer expectations. The more inclusive your roadmapping process is, the greater organizational alignment and support you will have when you release that new product.

Product roadmaps are critical for your business success. Creating a great product without a roadmap is like going on a road trip without a map: if you are lucky, you might eventually get to your final destination, but you might also get lost somewhere else. You will also have to stop a bunch of times to ask for directions from people who had no idea what kind of trip you initially planned. Unlike road trips, product roadmaps are all about the destination. If you organize and plan your journey well, you and your company will get rewards.

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About the author

Sandra Melo
Sandra Melo

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