What is a Product Roadmap?
A product roadmap is an action plan for how a product will evolve over the course of time. Product managers use roadmaps to define the future functionality and when new features will be released. In agile environments, the product roadmap helps add context for the team’s everyday work, but it should be flexible enough to accommodate changing priorities.
Essentially, a product roadmap communicates how short-term efforts will translate to long-term organizational goals. By understanding the importance of a roadmap and learning how to create a good one, you can keep everyone in the team aligned to the bigger goal.
Why build a product roadmap?
Here are some good reasons why a product roadmap is necessary:
- Pre-planning – Product roadmaps help product and development teams to adequately plan for their resources and capabilities in advance. This helps improve the efficiency.
- Finding gaps – Teams can easily spot gaps in product and development strategy with the help of a roadmap, thus enabling them to focus on issues early on.
- Prioritize investment – With a product roadmap, it is easy to identify investment drives and prioritize investment in advance. Funds can be mobilized for resources on the basis of the user needs and technology requirements.
- Set milestones – Without a roadmap, it becomes difficult to set a realistic timeline. Product roadmaps also help set performance targets against industry benchmarks.
- Risk mitigation – As product roadmaps are structured and provide a direction, they also help to mitigate risks. Furthermore, roadmaps also enable risk and contingency planning.
- Increase visibility – Product roadmap brings visibility of the product to all the stakeholders. Stakeholders can share feedback and also pitch in for direction setting.
Best practices in creating an effective Product Roadmap
There are some good practices to keep in mind while creating and maintaining your product roadmap. If you are too focused on hitting dates and milestones, you are restricting your product roadmap from reaching its full potential. It can be quite challenging to prepare a robust roadmap from scratch. Here are some best practices to prepare a good product roadmap.
1. Define your product strategy
First and foremost step in creating a product roadmap is to define specific goals related to the product. A good product strategy should have five elements. This is simplified by the SMART framework which stands for goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely. The product strategy will also act as the guiding framework throughout the entire product-life-cycle. The product strategy should help answer these questions:
- Who are the end-users?
- What problems would the product solve?
- How is it different from competition?
2. Prioritize key activities
A roadmap is basically a high-level representation of your product. It’s good to prioritize the key activities in the product roadmap. There are various prioritization frameworks which will help you prioritize what’s important with ease. This way, you can highlight the key features and activities to the stakeholders and get them onboard.
3. Assign milestones and timeline
A good product roadmap should have milestones and timeline against each key item. The timeline defined should be achievable and also align with the company’s overall strategy. Following are the best practices for assigning timeline:
- Have short-term weekly and monthly milestones for clarity.
- Medium-term milestones for quarterly and yearly.
- Long-term futuristic timelines.
4. Keep it visual
A visual roadmap helps to understand entire product cycle easily. Make sure the visual representation of roadmap is available to all the stakeholders. This helps them track the progress and share insights about it.
5. Keep it the point
It’s better not to add too many details to your roadmap. Keep it easy to interpret. Sometimes, people confuse product roadmaps with release plans and epics. Create high-level roadmap that describes key aspects of the product, milestones you want to achieve, current and future goals of the product etc.
6. Leave out the dates
Avoiding dates from the product roadmap will help you focus on the bigger picture with more flexibility. However, some experts recommend showing dates in the roadmap. Possible solution is to leave dates and still have definite short, medium and long-term tasks listed.
7. Continuous analysis
Most product organizations that follow Agile methodologies will continue to change and evolve requirements eventually. Make sure you review and measure the success of the roadmap regularly.
8. Focus on themes, not features
Listing out multiple features of the product is not the right way to go about this. It’s recommended to focus on themes, not features. Themes focus on solving customer problem and conveys a big picture effectively.
Product Roadmap Examples
Product managers should use roadmaps to outline future product functionality and when new features will be released. When used in agile methodology, a roadmap provides important context for the team’s work and shifts in the competitive landscape. A product roadmap is the easiest way to communicate product vision internally and externally.
It not only helps you gouge the development effort, but also acts as the foundation for the product’s future. It’s best to be realistic, accurate and holistic while creating your product roadmap.