Product roadmaps — what are they and how to build one
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?
- Why you need a product roadmap
- Types of product roadmaps
- How different teams use product roadmaps
- Who is responsible for creating a product roadmap?
- How to build your product roadmap
- Getting started with product roadmap tools
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 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.
- Align expectations. A product roadmap shows teams and stakeholders what changes, developments, and progress toward your overall strategy to expect. They will see the steps involved for your team to bring the strategy to fruition.
- Generate excitement. A good product roadmap excites internal stakeholders and outside audiences. It can list milestones your team will reach as they progress toward larger goals, specific deliverables, and their target completion dates.
- Inspire confidence. Internal teams and external audiences will be able to easily understand the vision behind a product, its purpose, and the intended audience. A thorough product roadmap inspires confidence in the product.
- Facilitate communication. A product roadmap facilitates ongoing, meaningful communication. As a shared source of truth about the development of a product, it can serve as a reference point for discussions.
- Enable collaboration. Identify key problems and prioritize the use of resources with a product roadmap. It also ensures that your team members know what work is expected of them.
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
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
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
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
- User stories are the narratives at the heart of a product roadmap. They provide the story and pain points that guide the roadmap’s underlying strategy.
- Timelines are used throughout a product roadmap to indicate when goals will be accomplished and when features will be released. Timelines ensure that a team working with a product roadmap makes consistent progress toward its goals.
- Goals are the building blocks of any product roadmap. They must be clearly-defined objectives to complete within a specific timeframe and according to defined metrics.
- Initiatives are composed of one or more goals that, when considered together, form a cohesive effort. The theme of an initiative should relate to and advance a product roadmap’s overall strategy.
- Features are new or improved aspects of a product or service that increases its value for users. The scope of a feature includes improved appearance, performance, capabilities, compatibility, and more.
- Releases are an opportunity for your team to demonstrate a new product or service. These are scheduled well in advance and appear as future dates on a product roadmap. They can include multiple feature sets delivered as a single package.
- Epics are categories of features that can be found in multiple releases. Epics can have a limited run or may potentially span the entirety of your product roadmap.
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:
- The problem your product attempts to solve
- Researching any similar products on the market
- What makes your product better than a competitor’s
- The reputation your business has with its customers and employees
- Any short-term, medium-term, and long-term business goals
- Sales targets
- What a successful roll-out of your product would look like
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.
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:
- Analyze the competition. Take a look at your competitors and the product they’re offering.
- Examine the customer experience. Take a careful look at how your customers interact with your product and others like it. You may need to make changes based on real-life feedback before a full rollout.
- Segment your markets. Identify the specific values that your target markets desire most. Then tailor your product and development process to maximize these values in different versions of your product.
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.
- A no-dates product roadmap format lets you present a rough outline of your expected progress but allows you to easily change information later.
- A hybrid product roadmap lets you present detailed information over the short-to-medium term, but leaves the future more open-ended.
- A timeline product roadmap provides a detailed, comprehensive overview of a project with firm, fixed deadlines that can stretch well over a year in advance.
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.