Product roadmaps — what are they and how to build one

A professional creating a product roadmap

Taking a new product from concept to completion isn’t easy, but a product roadmap can help. With a product roadmap, you can share your strategic vision with stakeholders and chart each step needed to bring a product from the drawing board to your audience. A product roadmap can streamline product development efforts by centralizing information and facilitating cross-functional team collaboration. It can generate excitement among your customers and inspire trust in your vision with outside stakeholders.

However, you might not know how to make one or if it’s the solution you need right now. This post will help you decide if you need to create a product roadmap and show you how to get started.

What is a product roadmap?

A product roadmap is an illustration of a product’s expected development over time. It serves as a shared source of truth that captures the vision behind a product and outlines the process of completing it.

A product roadmap example

A product roadmap can serve as a blueprint for individual departments and stakeholders so that everyone has the details they need to focus on their specific goals and understand overall priorities. Not only will a product roadmap direct the creation process, it will also communicate the intention behind the product. This will help your sales team engage with users and get them excited about the product’s features and benefits, as well as what to expect as it develops.

Why you need a product roadmap

A well-constructed product roadmap is a valuable tool for product managers. It can deliver numerous tangible and intangible benefits and help leaders achieve several goals.

Types of product roadmaps

Product roadmaps can be divided into three distinct types. Each type uses a specific layout design and visual elements to share information.

Status-oriented product roadmap

Status-orients product roadmap

A status-oriented product roadmap divides a project into three phases — now, next, and later. It’s designed to give a quick and simple overview of a product’s development progress. Each deliverable in the roadmap relates to key metrics and strategic goals. A status-oriented roadmap may provide information about the expected release of a single feature or a portfolio of products.

Theme-oriented product roadmap

Theme-oriented product roadmap

A theme-oriented product roadmap highlights the value a team will create but not specific deliverables. It provides strategic focus and direction by describing a single or related set of challenges that must be resolved. Each theme typically lasts for one quarter and features epics related to the overall strategy.

Outcome-oriented product roadmap

Outcome-oriented product roadmap

An outcome-oriented product roadmap describes the results you seek to achieve at each product development or project stage. These roadmaps set expectations for your team and other stakeholders with a clear definition of success at each stage. They also leave considerable leeway for your team to devise solutions to achieve the desired results.

How different teams use product roadmaps

Each team in your organization will use product roadmaps in different ways. Breaking down each department's responsibilities will help them focus on their unique role in the product roadmap.

Product development teams

Product development teams use product roadmaps to track their progress. The roadmap should include information about what work is currently in progress and when it should be completed. This product roadmap typically includes deadlines, milestones, and workloads assigned to each team member. It may also include higher-level project information that guides the team’s work, such as the targeted customer value.

Executive teams

The executive team will use product roadmaps to set organizational strategies. They will want to see how current projects support each other in a broader effort to reach the company’s goals. To do so, they may include high-level information about the purpose of a product and what its successful completion means for the company.

The executive team will also want to monitor progress toward its goals. To do so, they will divide a product roadmap into periods. Each week, month, or quarter will have milestones and metrics that the executive team can use to define success.

Sales teams

Sales teams use a product roadmap as a reference for driving conversions. To be useful, the roadmap should include any information you can offer about new features, benefits, perks, or other changes to a product or service that will get a customer’s attention.

However, this roadmap should avoid providing firm deadlines for the rollout of new products or features. These can create unrealistic customer expectations and put undue pressure on product development teams.

Customer support teams

Customer support teams use product roadmaps to improve customer experience and retention. They will want to know what product features benefit customers and when they will become available. They can use specific information about new product features to set customer expectations and maintain their interest in your product.

Marketing teams

Your marketing team’s main goal is to use your product roadmap to generate excitement with customers and other outside stakeholders. Unlike other teams, the marketing team will want to see every aspect of your product roadmap. Any information you can give them could be useful for marketing purposes, from your strategy and timeline to specific goals. They’ll be especially interested in how new product features and functionalities can benefit customers.

Software engineering teams

To use your product roadmap, software engineers need to understand the who, what, and why behind your product. They need to grasp the high-level strategy and the decision making that informed it. They’ll also need to understand the functionality you’re trying to achieve with specific features. With this information, they can handle the development tasks necessary to achieve your goals.

Product roadmap creation

Who is responsible for creating a product roadmap?

Depending on the structure of your organization, the product manager or the product management team will be responsible for creating and updating a product roadmap, as well as deciding what information is included. However, a product roadmap is ultimately a collaborative project and functions best with input from whomever is involved.

How to build your product roadmap

Regardless of its purpose, your product roadmap will probably consist of the following elements.

With the core elements of a product roadmap established, we’ll cover several key steps to creating your own. The finer details will vary depending on the specifics of your company and industry, but these should cover what you need to get started.

1. Create a product vision and strategy

In order to create a product roadmap, you’ll first need to understand the why behind the product — or the reason it will support the goals of the business. Formalizing the motivation for a product’s development will help you establish a product vision. To draft a product vision consider:

From a robust product vision you’re able to build a product strategy. Where the former addresses the why, a product strategy addresses the how. Begin by thinking about what resources you’ll need and the sequence of steps necessary to bring your product or service to market.

Product roadmap scheduling

2. Review and set goals

Once you’ve decided on the why behind your product strategy, map out your goals. They should be specific, measurable, and achievable within the limits of your resources. Part of this goal-setting process requires you to prioritize what problems you can solve with your product and which are beyond the scope of this project.

To create goals, segment your projected scope of work into periods. Focus on what needs to be accomplished in the next week, month, and quarter. It can be difficult to know what your team will be doing beyond that time. Setting goals for the short and medium-term reserves enough flexibility for you to meet any changes that arise in the future.

3. Align expectations for your internal stakeholders

Certain teams may know the purpose and goals of your product roadmap, but other teams or stakeholders may not. Set aside time to meet with them and anyone else who’ll be using your roadmap. Discuss the purpose of your product roadmap with them and what it will — and won’t — do for your organization. Set metrics and KPIs that define success and determine what happens once they are met or what the consequences will be if they are missed.

During these discussions, you may need to reassess some aspects of your product roadmap. Your customer-facing teams may identify some issues they face which are more pressing than the ones you identified. These team-building conversations can make it easier to work on the project over time, as every person involved knows what to expect.

4. Define product features and requirements

With your strategy in place, you can define product features and requirements. To determine which features your product will include and its performance requirements, you may try any of the following:

This information can help you design features that your target audience wants. You may organize features that will be rolled out across several releases into epics if they follow similar themes.

You can also create user stories to make it easier to decide which products and features to pursue. However, this will require consulting your client-facing teams for better insight into how customers will engage with your releases.

5. Set release dates

Once you’ve decided on a set of product features, you can decide when to release them. Consult with your production team to establish release dates. You don’t want to put them under unrealistic deadlines or set the wrong expectations for your audience.

6. Choose a roadmap format

Once you have the information you will include in your product roadmap, you need to choose a format to present it. To determine the correct format, you must first establish several criteria. Consider who'll see your roadmap, the type of information you intend to share, and whether your audience needs specific details or a big-picture overview.

There are three main formats for product roadmaps.

Product roadmap format

Getting started with product roadmap tools

A product roadmap can provide your team or outside audiences with a clear understanding of the vision behind a project. It also charts the work to support a project and the tasks that remain to be done. Ultimately, a project roadmap provides a clear example of what success looks like that can be used to generate excitement in a project and maintain confidence in it.

To start building a product roadmap, identify your project’s goals and the company’s overall strategy. This can be done on a new product or service as well as on existing ones. Either way, the goal is to ensure each team is on the same page. Once you have these preliminary steps ironed out, start looking into a software that will track, organize, and share the collaboration efforts of your product roadmap.

Adobe Workfront is an enterprise work management software that integrates data, process, and technology across multiple departments to create and manage product roadmaps. By optimizing and centralizing digital projects, teams can connect, collaborate, and complete deadlines from anywhere because they all have access to the same data and expectations. With Workfront you can manage the entire lifecycle of a product’s development from start to finish.

Watch an overview video or take a product tour to see how Adobe Workfront can help you design and optimize product roadmaps.