Any business owner knows that getting ready to launch a product, service, or new feature involves a lot of work. You have to keep an eye on company goals, internal stakeholders, sales teams, and product features.
Getting to the finish line with a new product is a huge accomplishment. And if your product team is launching multiple products at once, the amount of information to keep track of can be overwhelming.
Rather than losing track of all the details, many businesses choose to create a product roadmap as part of their strategic planning process. With this roadmap in place, managers can better ensure that every step toward the product launch is on track to meet its deadline.
Read on to learn all about how to create product roadmaps—how to get started, what to include, and how to balance product goals with the needs of your internal team and external stakeholders.
What is a product roadmap?
A product roadmap is a high-level visual summary that outlines a product's vision, goals, and strategic direction. It's a communication tool that helps stakeholders understand how a product will evolve and how it fits into an organization's overall strategy.
Product roadmaps aren't always just about major releases of new products. They can also be used to manage new functionality, relaunch legacy products, or focus on just one aspect of a product's development process or evolution. A product roadmap consolidates all of the important information about timelines, workflow, and the roles of every team involved.
Product roadmaps are similar to Gantt charts, which also help track workflow but are more linear and detailed, focusing on specific tasks without the high-level strategic vision of a roadmap.
Why are product roadmaps important?
Product roadmaps are essential for effective product management. They help ensure that everyone on a product team is working toward the same goals and that the product is developed strategically and efficiently.
A product roadmap communicates both an overall vision and more detailed information like due dates and customer needs, so getting everyone on board—from product managers to website programmers—is important.
See the big picture
The product roadmap presents information visually, allowing everyone to understand the flow of work and how different elements and teams need to coordinate and communicate with each other.
For example, knowing that your marketing team is waiting for design specs in order to move forward keeps everyone on track and helps the product manager know where additional support might be helpful.
Get on the same page
Although the product roadmap is usually the responsibility of the product manager, it's also useful across your organization. Product releases go more smoothly when there's a shared vision and direction.
A good product roadmap can help align relevant stakeholders including product managers, developers, marketers, and executives, as well as external stakeholders such as suppliers and creditors.
Furthermore, a clear and well-designed product roadmap will reduce misunderstandings and conflicts, thereby helping to avoid scope creep or work that veers away from strategic goals and priorities.
A product roadmap helps track the progress of your product goals, including key milestones and deliverables. This allows internal teams to adjust their plans and priorities as needed, making sure that key steps are on track to meet deadlines and release dates.
Types of product roadmaps
There are many types of product roadmaps and each can be customized for your particular strategic initiatives and goals. Some of them include:
- Release roadmap: Focuses on the timeline and key milestones for the release of a product, service, or software application.
- Feature roadmap: Focuses on the features or functionalities of a product, when they will be added, and how they fit into the overall product strategy.
- Customer-facing roadmap: Keeps customers informed about the product's development as well as future updates and enhancements. It builds trust and loyalty by showing customers that the company is committed to delivering value to them over the long term. At the same time, the company can gather feedback from customers about their needs and preferences, which is invaluable in helping them stay ahead of the curve.
Product roadmaps fall into two broad categories: waterfall and agile roadmaps.
Waterfall product roadmap
As the name suggests, in a waterfall roadmap each step of the project happens more or less sequentially, with a fixed plan and timeline for each stage of the process. Because the workflow is more certain ahead of time, this type of roadmap tends to be more detailed, usually including exact dates and steps.
A waterfall roadmap is a good choice if the product is unlikely to change in scope during the development process and if you don't anticipate incorporating feedback from product teams, external stakeholders, or customers.
Agile product roadmap
While waterfall roadmaps are more linear, agile roadmaps are more flexible, with wiggle room for further planning, development, and testing and the resulting adjustments that may need to be made as plans change.
An agile product roadmap is more focused on high-level goals and features, many of which may be in development simultaneously in multiple departments.
Responding to feedback and incorporating changes quickly is important in today's fast-based business environment. An agile roadmap allows more responsiveness to input from sales, marketing, and other teams.
What should a product roadmap include?
Before you create a product roadmap, put some thought into all the elements you'll want to cover.
You'd never start out on a road trip without a clear idea of where you're going. The same thing applies to your product roadmap. Setting out with a coherent and concise statement of the product vision provides a framework for the roadmap's overall direction, which will keep the product manager and all team members on the same path.
This is the overarching plan explaining what your business aims to achieve. It's about the set of choices you need to achieve your product vision and includes how you plan to create the product, how it will impact buyers, and how it helps achieve your business goals. It guides the ideation, creation, and launch of your product.
Product development process
This is the heart of the product roadmap. The product development process is an essential part of bringing a product to market. Make sure you think about all the necessary steps to create a successful product when you build a product roadmap.
Goals and objectives
Including goals and objectives in a product roadmap is essential to provide focus, ensure that the product meets user needs, facilitate prioritization and decision-making, and measure progress and success. It helps get everyone heading in the same direction.
A timeline keeps everyone aligned about key dates and allows stakeholders to know when they can expect each stage of the project to be completed.
Many roadmaps include key performance indicators, which are used to measure the success of the product. Some of these might be user engagement, revenue, or retention rate.
The product roadmapping process
Step 1: Craft a compelling vision
Your product vision should be aligned with your company's overall strategy and goals. It should articulate what you're trying to achieve with your product and why it's important.
Step 2: Determine your goals
Here are things you might want to consider when setting the goals that will keep the project on track:
Define your business objectives
Make sure you're clear on what you're trying to do with your product. Is it increasing revenue, improving customer satisfaction, or expanding into new markets? Your product roadmap should align with these objectives and help you achieve them.
Identify your target customers
Once you know your customers' needs, preferences, and pain points, your product roadmap should include features and functionality that meet these needs and provide value.
Conduct a competitor analysis
Understand your competitors' strengths and weaknesses. You want to include specific features and functionality that differentiate your product from the competition and provide unique value.
Your product roadmap should include a clear prioritization framework and criteria for evaluating new features and functionality.
Set realistic timelines
Include a realistic timeline that takes into account technical dependencies, resource availability, and other constraints.
Step 3: Define features and requirements
Creating a product roadmap can be a complex project. Before jumping into the drafting process, be clear on what you need.
Don't forget about future considerations like technical debt—the additional work that must be done in the future as a result of taking shortcuts or making compromises in the development of a software product.
Sometimes compromises are necessary to meet deadlines and product goals, but you should incorporate these tasks into the product roadmap, allocating resources and time to address them and other miscellaneous items.
Step 4: Create a preliminary roadmap
Once you know what specific features need to be included, create a preliminary roadmap draft, spending time to make sure it includes everything you need and is in line with your company vision.
Find a product roadmap template
When selecting a product roadmap template, look for one that is clear, concise, and easy to understand. Customize the product roadmap template to fit your specific product and brand and be sure to update it regularly as your product evolves.
Here are a few options online for finding a product roadmap template:
- Template libraries: You can search for product roadmap templates by keyword or browse through the library to find one that suits your needs.
- Product management tools: Many product management tools offer built-in product roadmap templates. These templates are customizable and designed to help you create professional-looking roadmaps more quickly and easily.
- Microsoft Office templates: Microsoft Office offers a variety of templates for different types of documents, including product roadmaps.
- Online marketplaces: Roadmap templates created by designers and product managers come in different styles and formats, so you can choose one that fits your brand and design preferences.
Use visual elements
Product roadmaps can be very complex. They often include information and tasks for many teams across the entire organization. Keeping all of those details organized and easy to access is one of the primary benefits of using a roadmap.
There are multiple visual elements that you may want to consider for your roadmap:
- Themes: Broad areas or categories of features, capabilities, or improvements that are related to a specific goal or objective. Themes help organize and group related elements together, providing a high-level view of the product's direction and priorities.
- Lanes: Sections of the roadmap that represent different categories or aspects of the product such as user experience, performance, or marketing. Lanes help clarify which team is responsible for which elements.
- Bars: Visual representations of the multiple features or initiatives that will be included in the product. Bars may be color-coded to indicate dependencies and sometimes include a "progress meter" so it's easy to see at a glance how much of that element has been done.
- Legend: A key or explanatory guide that helps people understand the various elements of the roadmap. It provides context and clarity and makes it easier for viewers to interpret the information.
Step 5: Get your team involved
Once your roadmap is finalized, it will be the central reference point for everyone working on the project. So before you launch your plan, it's a good idea to seek input from everyone whose work will be affected. With so many details, it's easy to miss things—for example, a step that your sales team will need or that the schedule jumps ahead to bug fixes before the coding team has even completed their first draft of code.
Asking for feedback on your roadmap draft will make sure that everyone is working together toward your goals, no important tasks have been missed, and there's buy-in across all the teams involved.
Step 6: Share your roadmap with key stakeholders
Once you have your roadmap completed, share it with all stakeholders, including other teams like Development, Sales, and Support and executive staff. Ensure that everyone understands the goals, objectives, and timelines.
Five product roadmapping software options
Because creating a product roadmap can be a complex process, consider a software program to help you craft a roadmap to meet your needs. These products include templates and product roadmap examples to make the process clear.
Monday.com's roadmaps can include task lists, milestones, major deadlines, automated stakeholder communications, dependencies, and priority status on each feature.
Trello follows the Kanban system, a visual workflow management tool that helps teams visualize and manage their work by using cards, columns, and boards. It's a flexible and visual approach to product roadmapping, allowing teams to easily track progress, prioritize tasks, and collaborate effectively.
Dragonboat is cloud-based product management software. It offers a user-friendly interface and roadmaps based on customizable templates, and it takes an outcome-focused approach that uses the context of the product as a whole to prioritize individual items.
Airfocus places a strong emphasis on prioritization, with features such as the Priority Poker app, which helps teams to collaboratively score and rank their ideas and initiatives. This keeps focus on the most important tasks and features, leading to better decision-making and more efficient use of resources.
Aha! emphasizes strategy with goal and initiative tracking and strategic themes. This helps product managers and teams align their product roadmap with the broader company strategy and helps them ensure they're focused on achieving the most important goals.
If you're planning a new product, new features, or important updates, a product roadmap can keep everyone focused on the same destination—a successful final product.
We hope that you can use the resources gathered here to find a product roadmap template, build a product roadmap, and take off on your product journey!