How To Build Product Roadmaps In 2022?

Product-led growth
September 21, 2022
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Whenever you are heading to an unknown destination, you need a map to guide your footsteps. Without a map, you may be circling the same route without a sign of progress, or worse, get lost without a way out. The same thing applies to the process of product development. You cannot arbitrarily plan a product and depend on your intuition to guide you. In a fiercely competitive market, you need a full-proof strategy and a visual tool for reference when you decide to build a product.

This is where the concept of a product roadmap comes in. It is a dynamic, ever-evolving visual tool and a backbone for every development process. With a product roadmap in place, you know exactly where an initiative begins and ends,  who is responsible for which activity, and when a particular feature will be out for delivery.

Unlike a traditional map, a product roadmap is highly adaptive to changes and evolves frequently to fit in the crucial updates. We are going to discuss everything you need to know about the product roadmap process.

What is a Product Roadmap?

A product roadmap is a visual guide of all the essential components and initiatives during the product development process. It is a strategic representation of timelines, teams, divisions, goals, objectives, and all other activities for a successful product development process. The product manager is at the helm of the product development process and oversees the activities of the roadmap.

A product roadmap is like a reference tool and guide by directing the actions of the product team for all kinds of scenarios. It is a combination of feature requests, internal inputs, timeframes, customer ideas, and various other components. The roadmap is typically built after the product strategy is developed.

A product roadmap is  -

  • Simple, clear, and easy-to-understand communication tool.
  • A high-level overview of prioritized initiatives or themes built upon strategies to achieve business goals.
  • Dynamic, flexible, and evolving over time.

Why Do You Need a Product Roadmap?

Roadmaps are a great tool for maintaining alignment with all the stakeholders involved in the process of product development. Additionally, a product roadmap helps to -

To structure your vision

Roadmaps empower project managers and their teams to coordinate activities and work on achieving a common vision. It provides clarity of purpose so that all activities are developed to complement the vision of the product.

Creation of a solid action plan

The beauty of roadmaps lies in their details. These details can be used to create a high-impact action plan that is transparent and comprehensible for all stakeholders.

Team activities alignment and coordination

As the roadmap is transparent, visible, and available to all team players, it ensures that the activities of different departments align and coordinate with each other. With a roadmap in effect, no party can stray from their commitments and are answerable to each other.

Tool for idea generation and scenario planning

Since roadmaps are detailed and extensive, it always has a scope for sparking new ideas. If at any point, the product manager faces any dearth of ideas, they can always go back to the roadmap and take inspiration.

Communication of future goals and steps

A roadmap does not operate in isolation. It is available for the team to comment, discuss and give feedback. That is why roadmaps are referred to as powerful communication tools that have the ability to generate discussions about future goals while directing immediate steps.

Reference tool for the product development process

Whenever there is a lag in the creative development process, the product managers and the team can use the roadmap as a reference tool.  They can take inspiration from the details in the roadmap to generate future activities and plans.

What should you Include in a Product Roadmap?

Here are the things you should include for building an ideal product roadmap.

Themes

Themes are built around a specific set of related features or stories. It is usually a broad category for achieving a specific goal of your product. Each theme will include epics and epics will include stories or features. Structuring a roadmap into themes can put you in a position of strategic advantage. Your themes can be areas of concern or anything that you want to work on. They can be based on-

  • Any major problems you want to address for the users.
  • Any initiatives for increasing revenue like the expansion of marketing channels.
  • Any strategy to identify voids and loopholes in the product.
  • Any major shift or addition in product features.

Epics

Epics are similar to themes but one level below. Each theme will include an epic or several epics that are related to each other in support of the main theme. For example, let’s say one of the themes of the roadmap is to increase app trial users. To support the theme you can develop epics like simplifying the download process and simplifying the installation process. Under the epics, there will again be a set of stories that will further the objectives of the theme.

Stories 

Stories are self-contained units of the product roadmap more granular than epics to accomplish a specific product goal. Stories help the users to visually map out the theme and epics and break it down into parts. Carrying on with the above example about increasing app trial users, the stories of epis can be shortening sign up form, auto-detecting details for installation.

Features

The features will be based on the themes, epics, and stories that you developed. Features will come at the bottom of the hierarchy, providing the appropriate context for the activities of the roadmap.

Timeframes

Timeframes will help to structure the roadmap better. Each initiative should be set around a timeframe. The need for including timeframes can be many. For example, if you want to launch a new feature ahead of your competitors, setting strict deadlines will allow your team members to complete the work on time. Or in another case, if the company executives ask for a tentative date for feature delivery, you know what to answer.

Color codes

According to science, color enhances memory performance and retains the attention of the human mind. Color-coordinating your roadmap not only enhances the visual appeal but contributes to enhanced productivity. It allows the users to identify initiatives and activities with a quick glance. It is easy on the eyes and helps to identify various components of the project better. 

How to Build a Product Roadmap?

The strength of a roadmap lies in its structure. The way you organize and arrange the different components of the roadmap will reflect your product strategy, so you want to do it in the most strategic way. Building product roadmaps require a lot of planning and brainstorming. We are going to take you through the process step by step.

Identify business goals and finalize the ones you want to achieve

We can start by identifying what you want to achieve in the first place i.e. what are your business goals. Is it increasing revenue? Is it product expansion? Is it enhancing brand reputation? Let’s find out how you can identify business goals and initiate the product roadmap process.

Speaking to the different stakeholders 

The first step in building product roadmaps includes collecting inputs from the stakeholders. They can be anyone who has an interest in the development and sales of the product. This will include collecting data, feedback, and insights from sales, customer success, support, marketing, growth, and revenue teams. 

Speaking with your teammates and the product org

Your internal stakeholders from the engineering, development, design and sales teams are also vital contributors to identifying loopholes and product solutions or goals. Team members store a lot of vision in themselves, all they need is a little push and encouragement to share those.  Ensure to give your team members a judgment-free space to feel comfortable sharing ideas that could enhance the product appeal. 

Identify key results you need to achieve, and problems you need to solve for achieving this goal. 

Now that you have spoken to the different stakeholders, you have a fair idea of the problems you want to address and the features you want to work on. For that, you have to first examine your current product and how you can influence user behavior to take you closer to your goal. This can be in terms of enhancing existing product features or adding new features that address customers’ needs. Here are some ways you can identify problems in your existing products and work towards achieving your final goal -

Product backlogs

Backlogs are a huge source of product ideas and innovation. They already store a  lot of tasks, issues, and problems to solve. So whenever you are in the process of building product roadmaps never skip analyzing the product backlogs. They can serve as the right tool for product innovation.

Customer feedback analysis

You build the product for the customers, so there is no way you can address your goals without considering their feedback. Customers’ needs and desires are the centers of your product innovation. From software listing sites, and social media to your product feedback portal, you can easily gather insights about your product and identify areas you want to work on. 

Data and product analytics

There is a reason why you involve data and product analytics to measure your product performance. They tell you what customers don’t. Analytics are powerful tools to identify product problems, barriers, and friction points that you can solve. They offer a solid data-backed scenario you can potentially work on.

Competitor analysis

Competitor analysis is a great way to examine your position in the marketplace.  It helps you to keep a track of competitor activities and take inspiration for developing your next product initiatives to reach your final goals.

Discovery workshops and idea generation sessions

Discovery workshops are a great start to gathering ideas for building the roadmap. This is one of the most preliminary interactions between all the stakeholders and important players in the process of product development. It involves mutual exploration of ideas and scope for a product. This is a great way to filter down your business goals and start initiating the product road-mapping process.

Curate and organize the results into high-level themes

At this point, you have a list of all the -

  • Desired outcomes are based on business needs and all insights gathered from the stakeholders. 
  •  Problems to solve that will influence user behaviors.
  • Impact metrics to track the progress and examine your performance.

With all the three vital elements in place, you have to plan the visualization and the flow of initiatives in the form of themes. Let’s understand this with the help of an example, suppose some of the problems you identified for your music application on the basis of customer feedback include-

  • No high-speed internet outside.
  • Users are unable to share a playlist.
  • Users want to know what friends are listening to.

To address these problems you can develop themes like music download functionality,  playlist creation, share playlist with friends and group each of the problems under the appropriate theme. 

Break down each theme into initiatives 

Now it is time to break down each theme into granular units, consisting of features and releases. The features should ideally  be based on

  • Feasibility, desirability, and viability-

Can you afford to build the features? Do you have the right technical and monetary resources to build them? Do consumers really desire these features or are you letting your intuition take control?  Are these features in line with your product vision and strategy?

  • Effort and impact scale

With the help of the effort and impact scale, you can score features based on the effort it will take to build them and the potential impact they will have on the users. It will help you weigh a feature's importance over the others.

  • RICE Method

The RICE scoring model is a popular prioritization tool for helping product managers determine the priority of a feature while building product roadmaps. It stands for Reach, Impact, Confidence, and Effort where you can rank and assign scores to features to determine their urgency for a product.

Prioritize your initiatives, rank and stack them

Now you have multiple sets of ideas out on the table. Which one do you pick first? This is where the product prioritization frameworks help. Organizations use multiple frameworks to determine the urgency of the features, here are a few of the commonly used ones-

  • Kano Model

This model allows product managers to evaluate features from the customer’s point of view and expectations. Items are categorized into 3 primary categories- basic expectations that cover the minimum requirements, satisfiers that target to fulfill the wants of the customers, and delighters which go above and beyond customer expectations.

  • MosCow Analysis

It is the acronym for must-have, should-have, could-have, and won’t-have allows product managers to categorize features into priority themes.

  • Impact mapping

It is all about examining the impact of a product based on the features. Will the product have any impact? If yes, how much? Who will be impacted the most?

Assign a broad time frame to your initiatives

Now that you almost have a list of prioritized features and themes, you would want to make a tentative timeline to complete those. The timeline of each initiative should be determined on the basis of the complexity and availability of the team members. It is best to set the timeline after taking into consideration the concerned members' inputs about their individual capabilities to avoid any unrealistic expectations.

Set impact metrics to track and review monthly or quarterly

Impact metrics are like internal test reports to ensure you are progressing appropriately. Without any metrics to track your performance, there would be a huge risk of crashing down before reaching your final goal. Whatever you are doing today should be able to contribute to the larger goal, and impact metrics make sure you are doing just that.  There are multiple ways to identify impact metrics. Some of them include-

  •  Product usage is the data that represents how your customers are using your product.
  •  Customer retention rate is the percentage of existing customers who still remain your customers after a given period.
  • Percentage of users responding to a specific action like sign up or trail, etc.

Communicate your roadmap

Once you have structured the roadmap strategically, you can start communicating it with all the stakeholders. It should be available to internal and external stakeholders so they can discuss and give their input. Some companies also make their roadmap public so that they are available to consumers. It reflects transparency and makes the consumers feel valued. Here is an image of Slack’s API product roadmap.

Maintain and update your roadmap regularly

The beauty of a roadmap lies in its dynamicity. It is never stagnant but always evolving, adapting to changing needs and requirements. The frequency of updating your roadmaps usually depends on the stage of your business and the lifecycle of your product. For example, the early startups can update their roadmap every 2 weeks or every month since they are in the initial and experimenting phase. On the other hand, larger companies can be slow in the process since they are far more experienced and agile in their product development approaches.

How Do You Visualize a Product Roadmap?

Roadmaps are tailored to fit the specific needs of the organization. An organization can have 

several roadmaps, each for one department or for specific users. Each roadmap contributes differently to achieving the ultimate goal of an organization. Here are examples of different roadmaps to identify the best one for your requirements.

Release plan

Release plans are designed to capture and execute all the features planned for an upcoming release. It provides a high-level overview of all the initiatives for the upcoming product releases and is accessible to all stakeholders including senior executives, internal teams, shareholders, and even customers.

Portfolio roadmap

A portfolio roadmap provides an overview of an organization’s product line strategy. It empowers executives and product managers to visualize how individual products evolve and how different products relate to each other. It offers visualization of multiple product plans on a single roadmap. With a portfolio roadmap, you can link strategy across products and up to the different product lines and divisions.

Kanban roadmap

Kanban comes from a Japanese word meaning ‘card you can see’ , ‘‘visual sign, or simply ‘card’. A Kanban roadmap helps product managers group initiatives into clearly marked buckets such as ‘planned’, ‘ongoing’, ‘completed’, ‘review’. It is a useful tool for the product team to visualize the product strategy in a sequence providing long-term context.

Sprint plan roadmap

A sprint plan roadmap is a delivery-focused roadmap including the crucial elements of releases, initiatives, and user stories along with features, and timelines. Product teams use the map to coordinate and align activities across teams. It is a powerful navigation tool directing teams forward and preventing them to lose focus. 

Features timeline roadmap

A feature timeline map allows you to set timeframes for each feature ensuring the output delivery of different features is never compromised. It is a straightforward and transparent way to communicate product growth. These roadmaps are time bound and ideal for companies that work under strict timelines. 

Who is Responsible for Creating the Product Roadmap?

Building product roadmaps is a strategic process that requires a lot of planning and coordination with multiple departments and stakeholders. Let us learn who are the major participants in building product roadmaps.

Product Manager

The product manager is at the helm of all product roadmap initiatives. They occupy the driving seat of the product road-mapping process. Here is how they play their role -

  • Strategic leader of the product roadmap process.
  • Gather opinions, and ideas from various sources and bring them together to lead the planning and discussions.
  • Plan all the discussion sessions.
  • Invite discussions from stakeholders and coordinate the roadmap planning discussions.
  • Communicate the outcome of any meeting to all the participants and internal members.
  • Organize and lead the scoring discussion where members rank and score features to weigh priority over the others.
  • Update the roadmap from time to time as required.

Product Owner

The product owner’s responsibility is to liaison between the strategic plan and the development team’s action plan. Here are some of their major roles and responsibilities-

  • Translate and communicate the roadmap’s themes, epics, and stories to the development team so they can work on it.
  • Develop an understanding of each theme's strategic perspective so that they are able to guide the development team appropriately.

Development Representative

It could mean one person or persons from the development team. The representative could be the development manager or the head of the department. There is generally one representative but the numbers could vary if more people with diverse skillsets are required to present their views. Their responsibilities include-

  • Helping the team identify and elect participants for discussions.
  • Giving their expert advice to determine things product resources, timelines, and inputs on various features the team is considering building.
  • Identifying people with specific skillsets and assign activities.
  • Evaluating if resources are enough to build a specific feature

Executive stakeholders

The executive stakeholders take responsibility for approving some of the new aspects of the roadmap, which is mostly required in the initial stage of roadmap planning for a new product. Their roles and responsibilities include-

  • Approving initiatives and activities to progress through the product roadmap plan.
  • Sanctioning a budget to help the product team advance their activities.
  • Reviewing and approving the strategic updates of the roadmap from time to time.

Create your Product Roadmap with Zeda

Zeda.io is a complete product management suite for building high-appeal products for your customers. It allows product managers to experiment, and explore the different realms of product management by making the process exciting. Zeda.io is user-friendly, has an intuitive and interactive interface, and offers multiple built-in templates. It also allows integrations to multiple third-party apps to drive productivity while ensuring effortless coordination between teams. 

With the use of Zeda.io, you can customize your product roadmap, attend to feedback from various internal and external stakeholders, build user-specific roadmaps, integrate with third-party applications, and more. And the best part? You get to test our claims with a 30-day free trial!

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