Behind every great product, there’s a solid plan of action. And even if things don’t always go as expected, it helps to have a roadmap of the vision, free of distractions or uncertainties about where you’re going. That’s the idea behind the product roadmap.
Product roadmaps are used by professionals industry-wide to turn ideas into reality. Just as you wouldn’t start a road trip without a trusty GPS map (unless you’re feeling particularly reckless), you shouldn’t create and bring a product to market without a product roadmap.
Keep reading to learn why product roadmaps are so important, including what they entail and how to use them.
What Is a Product Roadmap?
A product roadmap is a visual guide laying out the plan, direction, and progress of a product. It displays an overview of the production process over a specific period, often 12 months (although it depends on the project).
The roadmap helps an organization keep track of short- and long-term project goals and how tasks will be completed. It includes milestones and gives a high-level view of what’s on the table for Q1-4.
A roadmap is often visually laid out like this:
- Milestones and task sections are often indicated on the left-hand side of the product roadmap.
- Quarters go along the top to track time goals.
- Bars for different steps or features of the product stretch across the roadmap horizontally.
For example, a milestone might be “Mobile” for the product’s mobile development. One of the bars could be for the iOS app, Android app, or Facebook integration. These details matter most to the development team, but other teams can view the steps when comparing their own progress.
Another section could be for the marketing team, including SEO research, customer outreach, and analytics bars.
However, the exact structure of a product roadmap will depend on a company’s chosen project management software and business processes.
Goals of a Product Roadmap
Generally, a product roadmap:
- Outlines the product vision
- Clarifies the product strategy
- Communicates plans and progress with stakeholders
- Helps the team adjust to alternative options or scenarios
Roadmaps Can Shift with Progress
The first draft of a product roadmap is a starting point that will likely change as the project advances. The first map is often based on stakeholders’ expectations or wishes, and it gives the company a jumping-off point to discuss details and make changes.
Also, it’s best to think of product roadmaps as living documents. Teams will make changes based on priorities, resources, and other shifting conditions.
The roadmap shows not only what is happening, but also why it’s happening as you build. Each direction should tie back into the company strategy behind the product.
Top 5 Benefits of a Product Roadmap
Here are key reasons to always use a product roadmap. The process benefits organizations in the following ways.
1. Aligning Everyone’s Goals and Vision
The roadmap helps everyone stay on the same page throughout the project:
- The development team can view a zoomed-out version of technical tasks and goals for the product to identify the most important steps, keeping things on track.
- The sales team can view product features in the context of how they’ll bring value to customers.
- Product managers can collaborate with all teams, track daily work, and communicate priorities and changing project trajectories.
- Company heads can track project status and understand developer tasks that would normally be too technical.
A product roadmap allows all workers and stakeholders to view the product strategy and how it aligns with the company’s vision and goals. This connection between departments and individuals is what creates game-changing products.
2. Keeping the Team Focused on Priorities (Eyes on the Prize)
There are many, many steps involved with launching a new product. If things aren’t organized, you can quickly lose sight of what should get done first and what should wait.
Product roadmaps allow teams to identify the tasks that will move the project ahead. At the same time, less important tasks can be rearranged and pushed to the backburner.
Efficiency becomes optimized so that everyone is making the best decisions, spending most of their time and resources on work that turns the product into a reality.
3. Collaborative Motivation and Inspiration
A product roadmap helps everyone involved follow the product’s strategy and stay in alignment with company goals. Shared ownership of the roadmaps allows each team member or contributor to feel invested in the outcome. The roadmap can also help alleviate any doubts or concerns from stakeholders about the process; they get a clear view of what’s happening.
4. Transparent Progress Tracking and Communication
Allowing everyone a bird’s eye view of the process makes it easy to request feedback and discuss the product’s path to implementation. Stakeholders can provide their thoughts on the current plan and how it impacts the bottom line. Team members can share updates and identify gaps or concerns about steps in their progress.
5. Monitoring Product Positioning: Is It Better?
Are you providing a better product than your competitors? Product positioning helps you answer that question.
Indeed defines product positioning as a product or service description that “explains how it fulfills a specific need, want, or desire missing from the target audience.” The goal is to know your audience, their needs, and how your product solves a problem better than others.
Roadmapping helps determine where a product fits in the marketplace. Through the high-level view of the roadmap, managers, product teams, and marketing teams can identify market opportunities to make the product more competitive.
The company can continually ensure they’re offering a product that customers will value — and with which stakeholders will stay on board.
How to Build a Product Roadmap
Roadmapping is critical to laying out an efficient, cohesive plan for a product. Steps involved in building the roadmap include:
- Determining the roadmap’s context, including specific company goals, the timeline, dependencies or constraints, and market trajectories. That includes identifying the roadmap’s main audience, such as organizational leaders versus the development team.
- Underlining the product’s desired outcome and metrics based on company goals and needs.
- Setting a timeline for the product based on the above points.
- Identifying problems you can solve, then setting high-level themes that solve those problems.
- Dividing features and tasks into the different themes in order of priority and in the context of your timeline. Setting milestones and quarterly goals to track the progress of each feature or task.
- Keeping all teams on the same page from the beginning. That includes having discussions about which goals and processes best align to benefit the entire organization.
Also, remember to plan for the less-than-exciting tasks. It’s easy to get caught up in exciting features and functions, but the tedious stuff (like cybersecurity) is critical.
Finally, a word to keep in mind when roadmapping is action. “Success is created by making plans for the future, then acting on that plan every day,” according to Entrepreneur. You can’t execute a plan without action. The roadmap sets the blueprint — and then everyone must get to work.
In Conclusion: Why You Need a Product Roadmap
In addition to the points made above, a crucial takeaway on product roadmapping is to keep it clean. Don’t let the mapping get bogged down by unnecessary items or flashy fluff. An effective roadmap should contain sufficient information to show what’s happening and why, but also be easy for key stakeholders and other audiences to understand.
Want to learn more? Check out our blog post Why Your Team Needs a Product Manager.