Product Roadmap Best Practices – Zeda.io

Product Management
September 22, 2022
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A product cannot be created in one night, day, or even week. It necessitates concentrated efforts.The planning for developing a new product or feature is called the product roadmap.

Remember, no matter the business, product roadmaps are an invaluable asset for any business and its team members whether internal or public. Product roadmaps are the only source of information for all product planners. 

Since they play such an important role, this article compiles a list of best practices for product roadmaps. So, without further ado, here are the 18 best practices for product roadmaps that you should be aware of. 

Keep it simple, clear and easy to understand

There's no point in aiming for something you can't articulate in terms of what you want and why. To put your vision and strategy into action, create a product roadmap that is simple, clear, and easy to understand. To effectively plan and track your progress, you must have a goal.

So, first things first: Before you can design successful product roadmaps, you must have a crystal-clear understanding of your overall goals and vision and pay attention to the fine print.

Know what to include and what not to include

Your product roadmap's information will be influenced by several things, including who will be reading it, your plan for the roadmap, your company's culture, and more. 

More tactical information can be incorporated into the roadmap as well. When creating a product roadmap, start with the big picture and work down to the nitty-gritty details of your product's story. 

Include – themes, epics, stories,

But NOT features.

Themes

A theme is a high-level objective built on connected stories or features. In the context of your product, a theme is a broad strategic goal that you can easily articulate. Your stakeholders will be able to tell, based on the themes, what issues you want to address and by when. 

Epics

An epic is a collection of stories or features having a strategic goal. An epic is a degree of detail below a theme; a theme may consist of numerous epics. If one of your product roadmap's themes is compliance, you may separate that into numerous epics, each tackling a distinct federal rule. 

Stories 

In the product development process, a story serves as a stand-alone component. Continuing with the compliance example, your product plan may include upgrading your encryption mechanisms for transporting customers' data from SSL to TLS. More advanced data-in-transit encryption increases compliance with many federal rules. By adding increasing levels of detail to your product roadmap, each related to the level above, you can use it to illustrate the "why" behind each product endeavour. 

NO features

In your product roadmap, you should include themes and epics, stories, goals and timeframes, but not a list of features. You generate development issues when you treat your roadmap as a feature list. 

Capture the "why"

The strategic questions like why putting so much emphasis on some specific features for the customers must be asked of yourself and your team at the start of any new product development or upgrade to an existing product. If you can't answer these questions, you can't justify spending time or money on the product itself. 

Product roadmap is not your backlog

The product roadmap and product backlog are essential, but they serve different functions. These tools (product roadmap and product backlog) should be used together, not interchangeably. Without a high-level overview of your product's strategic plan and aims, you can't prioritize its duties.

You won't be able to use your product roadmap to guide the development of your product until you can turn the big-picture ideas and goals in it into a list of specific tasks, called the backlog. The product roadmap reveals high-level strategic objectives and priorities, delivering a longer-term tale about its future growth. 

Keeping your development team focused on the correct tasks at the right time requires an organized and intelligently prioritized product backlog. This is another reason why you shouldn't combine these two tools.

Keep it visually appealing

Product roadmaps should be clear and appealing. Excellent product roadmaps use visual components to communicate quickly and clearly. 

Using timeframe, hierarchy, progress, colors, and symbols may make your product roadmap look attractive. 

Time frame

Schedule upcoming work via relevant timeframes. A year-long timeframe may not make sense if you focus on the next three months. For easy interpretation, timelines are presented as horizontal bars on each chart. 

Hierarchy

Organize your work logically and break down complex projects. You can display information by start/end dates, status, or priority. 

Progress

Show work status and target progress. Shaded bars, colors (green/red), and check marks denote status. 

Colors

Differentiate work components with color. Each objective (and associated initiatives) can have a color, or you can assign colors by team or owner. 

Symbols

Shapes, arrows, and other notations can add detail. You can circle critical dates or milestones or add arrows to demonstrate dependencies. Customize your roadmap, but be consistent so your audience can comprehend the symbols. 

Involve and align stakeholders at the early stages of roadmap planning

Each stakeholder has unique incentives and perspectives regarding what is essential for the product. Determining business value and identifying user needs are the two key necessary reasons to involve and align early stakeholders at the early stage of the roadmap.

Determining business value

Without an awareness of the larger business environment in which a product functions, you risk unwittingly developing something that could harm the organization's bottom line. A product manager must understand a positive return on investment (ROI) and work with stakeholders to figure out how a new feature or product fits with the organization's goals or helps the business. 

To aid in defining business value, consider the product life cycle stage.

  • Company objective
  • Stakeholder input

Identifying user needs

Analyzing the user's requirement and the value added by a new feature or product is essential. As product professionals, you should work with the teams to figure out who to talk to, when to talk to them, and how to talk to them in a way that will get you the data you need. Strategy here plays a key role so utilize it accurately.

Utilize the following techniques to extract user value: 

  • Collect observational data.
  • Work together with users.
  • Include the entire production crew as well as the end user.
  • Consider alternate contexts. 

Keep it outcome-based, not feature-based

An outcome-driven roadmap provides context for roadmap items and their priority while communicating and pursuing product strategy. Everything has a clear purpose and measurable aim.

A feature you're working on implementing is of little interest to most stakeholders. Instead, they want to learn about the issues that the team is attempting to address through its work.

For instance, "Improve our 1-week app retention rate by 5%" could be a goal of a product team. After that, it's up to the team to determine how to make it happen and specify the work that needs to be accomplished.

Stakeholders, executives, and team members all benefit from this strategy, and while it's not something you'll want to share with customers all the time, that's alright, too. Sometimes, delivering brief information about what's coming is all that's necessary.

Product roadmaps are communication tools, not your to-do list

Product roadmaps provide a high-level overview of goals and simple-to-understand tools for expressing your product strategy. However, these roadmaps aren't an Excel spreadsheet with to-do lists.

A roadmap, as opposed to a big to-do list or a disorganized backlog, clearly defines what has to be done next and why. According to your development methodology, the level of detail you offer in your product roadmap will vary.

The product roadmap is the holy grail of product planning for traditional teams. You must have every step leading up to the launch thoroughly planned and arranged before you begin creating. A plan helps you stay organized and focused on the tasks. 

Keep customers at the centre of roadmap planning

Creating a customer-centric culture is the key to delivering what customers want. The best organization solves this with feature prioritization frameworks that keep the client in mind. Product managers must know precisely what they need to put up in their roadmap to improve customer experiences by keeping the consumer at the heart of product planning and develop strategies accordingly.

Customer experience is crucial. Why? Because customers are influential. Product managers must reframe a product roadmap to meet consumer expectations because in the end a product is a relationship between company and client, not just the technology or service. 

Here are a few guidelines for product managers that want to create product roadmaps that are centered on client needs: 

Create personas 

Consult with customer-facing personnel to acquire their viewpoint on the client's desires and needs. Create consumer personas using research findings as a guide. You can then associate a new concept or feature request with the persona. This allows you to identify patterns or holes in your road map. 

Share the product roadmap plan

You need internal stakeholders to produce a likable product. Using a customer-driven roadmap can help you express your strategic goal and demonstrate how your approach will improve customer experience. When presenting the roadmap, emphasize how it pertains to their needs. Support may want a comprehensive picture of the features their team requested, while executives may want a high-level view of the product strategy and timescales. Showing the actual facts to the relevant people helps boost plan and product buy-in. 

Define strategic initiatives

Initiatives are your roadmap's high-level investment themes. They're timed to illustrate when you'll finish. Focus on your clients' challenges and business objectives to make your initiatives effective. Say consumers abandon a software trial before discovering all features. Improve the customer onboarding process in order to attract new clients. 

Get customer input

Give customers direct input to stay on track.  Open feedback loops let customers know if you're solving their problems. Customers can suggest new features and functions through an online ideas portal. Think through all of these feedbacks and choose the ones that will help you achieve your product's goals. 

Keep refining

There is always a learning opportunity and learn from everything available around that impacts your plan from customers, colleagues with customer insights, or your own market research.  Whatever the source, be adaptable — and do not hesitate to change your roadmap as needed.  A product roadmap is an ongoing activity throughout the product's life cycle; it represents what you aim to do and when. The one thing that is constant is the focus on customers as they are a company's biggest asset.

Customize your roadmap to suit your audience

How do you know what data to include on your roadmap, especially when sharing it with various audiences? 

You can adjust how it is shown depending on who will look at your roadmap. A high-level perspective of the company's goals and a long-term timeframe are shown to executives. At the same time, a more comprehensive view of the tactical tasks is presented to your coworkers. 

Each customized product roadmap helps to clarify the organization's aims, values, and actions to its own team and its stakeholders through its deliberateness and focus. The roadmap will be guided by your vision and strategy, which will help you to make informed decisions.

Below are a few suggestions to consider while creating a product roadmap for your targeted audience: 

  • Strategize your product plan – make a case plan for your each customized product roadmap
  • Find out what is needed
  • Give your projects a wide range of due dates.
  • Adapt your roadmap to the needs of your stakeholders
  • Share the roadmap for your product

Customizing the roadmap as per the audience suitability focuses on the needs of the audience, thus preventing confusion, the deployment of pet projects, and the waste of resources on less critical activities. Specifications in the roadmap helps the audience understand what they are looking for or what they need to be acknowledged with.

A customized product roadmap offers: 

  • Alignment and enthusiasm for a product strategy
  • Advantageous visibility
  • Team collaboration 
  • Clarify company priorities
  • Line of communication

Have multiple product roadmaps

Using a multiple product roadmap enables you to manage, monitor more effectively, and communicate each product's strategic plans. You don't want to put up multiple products onto a single roadmap to save time. Always customize your roadmap presentation to the unique audience you're addressing. 

For instance – You might not want to put two products on the same roadmap if they go after different markets or have different ways to measure success. To get the most value, you should group products that have similar strategic business goals and aspirations. 

Do not imitate the competition

Keep an eye on what your competitors are up to. However, make sure that you do not include a new feature that your competitors recently added to their product. The lack of a product strategy and the reliance on the work of other companies to build your product roadmap is not an ideal long-term strategy.  

Brands should prioritize developing a company-wide strategic product roadmap that is unique and customer-centric. 

Use the right roadmap tools

A specialized roadmap tool is a critical component of a successful product roadmap.

The framework provided by Zeda.io makes it simple to create and communicate product strategy. In a single platform, you can set goals and projects; collaborate on product planning; prioritize features, and generate visual timelines for diverse audiences. It's easier for the team to track progress toward your plan when each new release and feature is tied to a specific effort or objective.

Zeda.io tool, built for developing product roadmaps, lets you make changes on the fly and produces more than a single static file is required. 

Keep it flexible and hold the ability to improvise

The primary goal of a product roadmap is to unite all of the product's components into one cohesive whole (including customers). 

Your product roadmap can help your team better prepare for the future by accurately projecting your company's growth and resource requirements. A flexible product roadmap has numerous advantages, including saving valuable time of product owners.

Maintain and update it in regular intervals

Consider consulting with various stakeholders to ensure that the ideas in your product roadmap are aligned with the overall corporate objectives. 

As a best practice, several product roadmap tool websites and online publications recommend that you "update often". A constant stream of information might lead to a lack of coordination in the workplace. 

The ideal practice is to pre-define on a frequency for product roadmap updates. It may be appropriate for your team to do it monthly, quarterly or yearly. The aim is to create a targeted product roadmap that addresses company objectives and changing industry trends. 

Share and ask for feedback from team members

Reaching out to everyone on the team, even if they aren't directly participating in product planning, may yield new insights or questions that you can use to improve the final product roadmap. 

A great way to put these new understandings into action is by creating a visual roadmap. A visual roadmap lets product managers focus on outcomes and objectives rather than specific capabilities due to user feedback.

All employees will be more aligned and enthusiastic about the future if they can appreciate the importance of these projects. 

Set your timelines appropriately

Even for seasoned product managers, picking the right timeline for a product roadmap can be challenging. A 10-year product roadmap would give you a better idea of how helpful today's products are compared to what they will be in the future. The information provided here is not helpful, is it?

Here's an example of the inverse. What if the product's roadmap was limited to the next two weeks' plans? Moreover, it's not a very useful strategy guide, isn't it?

As a result, there must be a strategic sweet spot for product roadmap timescales. A timescale is neither too short-term nor too long-term so that you can see what's to come, but not so long that the long-term elements become irrelevant. As a result, it is vital to plan your roadmaps and assign them appropriate time frames thoroughly. 

Adopt Agile Methodologies

Creating an agile product roadmap can be beneficial regardless of your agile methodology or how tightly your team adheres to it. As a product manager, use your roadmap as a guide to ensure that you're putting your money where your vision is. Your customers will benefit from an agile roadmap since the focus is always on the customer, and making the best tradeoffs is easier when you have a guide.

Regarding agile methodologies, the planning horizon can range from a few months to many quarters. Sprint velocity or team size can allocate resources, allowing for unlimited flexibility. As a result, there is cross-functional and concurrent collaboration. On the other hand, traditional methods are far more strict, producing a more inflexible product roadmap approach. 

Conclusion

At the same time, a great product plan is both pragmatic and idealistic. Roadmaps can be extremely useful. But in reality, our intentions rarely come to fruition. Where do you begin your search for new ideas when creating a product roadmap?

Using Zeda.io, you can design and maintain product roadmaps that are always accurate, configurable, and tailored to your organisation's specific needs. Projects can be mapped out using Zeda.io roadmaps, which provides an overview of your team's most important software projects. With customisable views, you can make your roadmaps fit the needs of the target audience and give everyone involved in the project a unique viewpoint on the overall project.

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