Product Roadmap Definition

Product roadmaps are practical communication tools employed to bring executives, stakeholders, and employees on the same page regarding organizational strategies and objectives. A product roadmap summarizes a product’s vision, direction, and progress over time. Roadmaps detail the strategic reasoning – the why – that explains the goals and how to get there. Product roadmaps are the tools that empower teams to communicate strategies and plans of action readily.

Mapping product objectives and goals, mapping crucial deliverables and milestones, timeline indicating the schedule, identifying possible and current risks, reporting and pre-build, and custom mapping templates are the main features in any effective roadmap.

The implementation of a product roadmap within an organization brings many benefits. These benefits involve providing a clear vision and strategy for each development team, allowing stakeholders to keep up with the organization’s ongoing process of product development. Product roadmaps also bring alignment and help teams to keep progress on track as all members know what to do, when to do it, and why they must do it. 

Certain challenges also come with product roadmapping despite their overall benefits. Making the decisions that determine which upgrades or features to prioritize needs careful consideration. Product managers have to derive as much productivity as they can from limited resources and allocate them to tasks with the biggest impact. They achieve this by using time-efficient and quantitative frameworks such as weighted scoring models and prioritization models, which help focus on the most strategically urgent tasks.

There are types of product roadmaps which include goals roadmap, portfolio roadmap, strategic initiative roadmap, epics roadmap, features roadmap, and releases roadmap. 

Who Are Roadmaps for?

Product roadmaps serve a purpose across various levels, departments, and audiences of an organization.

  • Internal roadmaps for executives: Executives are typically provided with roadmaps showing how separate teams are working to support the company’s overall objectives. These roadmaps are generally broken down into quarterly or monthly progress reports that focus on the big picture more than the operational details of each team’s activities.
  • Internal roadmaps for development teams: Development teams often use Agile methodologies, and their roadmaps are usually organized into sprints that detail specific jobs plotted on a timeline. This might vary according to how your particular team works best, but they generally comprise customer value deliveries, milestones, and release dates.
  • External roadmaps: These roadmaps are created for customers to understand best what’s coming next in a visually pleasing and easy-to-understand format, highlighting new products and features. These roadmaps should also detail solutions to their previous complaints and create an optimistic projection for the future.
  • Internal roadmap for the sales department: These roadmaps focus on customer benefits and new features to support the sales department. Be careful not to set hard dates for your sales teams that might prove unrealistic.

When Do You Need a Product Roadmap?

Creating new products and managing their lifecycle is a complex process requiring different skillsets, careful allocation of resources and time, and an alignment between technical and non-technical stakeholders. This creates a dynamic environment, where product development teams need product roadmaps to:

  • Get critical stakeholders in alignment with competing organizational needs.
  • Make appropriate prioritization decisions.
  • Develop products against a backdrop of overarching company strategies.

Determining which features to prioritize and setting up a workable tempo of updates calls for astute planning and prioritization. Product roadmaps simplify these processes by maintaining a pipeline without necessarily assigning them to any particular release. This flexibility will make it easier to prioritize tasks while teams can still change the course of development in the face of new information or changing market conditions.

What Is the History of Product Roadmap?

The product roadmap, as we understand it today, is the result of decades of evolution. It has been in existence in one form or another since the advent of personal computing back in the 1980s. 

While the industrial revolution had made it possible for us to manufacture goods on a larger scale, our ability to manage complex supply chains and complex organizational systems would lag until personal computers made their appearance.

Computing power enabled executives to track technology chains of far greater complexity than previously possible. The process was first employed in the field of technology roadmapping. It was focused on supporting strategic and long-range goals in the technological arena, specifically with the help of new technological innovations such as the personal computer.

This process comprises three main phases, modeled separately, as outlined below:

  • Preliminary phase involves identifying the problem areas by the executive or decision-making organs and identifying the technological evolution or roadmapping that will work best to solve the problem.
  • In the Development phase, the proposed solution is to be identified. Engineers faced with the challenge would outline the specific technological areas that would target the critical systems in question. They would then review alternatives, evaluate timelines, and eventually settle on a recommended avenue to pursue, which they would indicate in their technology roadmap report.
  • In the follow-up activity phase, the proposed roadmap would be critiqued, validated, and hopefully approved by the implementation group. Implementation would then begin, with continuous updates informed by evolving technologies and changing needs of the participants.

Cambridge University’s T-plan, designed in the 1950s to help address inertia in development processes and slow-downs, was the institution that refined this raw technological roadmapping into the first glimmer of what we have today.

The eventual rise of Agile Development methods offered further refinement to technological roadmapping by prioritizing product success rather than sticking to timelines, which gives developers and their teams much more flexibility and autonomy. These improvements gave us the first proper examples of the product roadmap models we have today.

Why Is a Product Roadmap Important?

A product roadmap is integral to any strategic planning exercise. It acts as a motive force, triggering discussion about where and why you should invest efforts in certain areas or product development. When your implementation is closely tied to your product strategy, all team members will be aligned and focused on what’s important. 

Product roadmaps allow you to visually detail your vision to your internal teams and external stakeholders. With this transparency, the entire organization and its affiliates will be better positioned to prioritize and plan for whatever you have planned next.

As a product manager, your work impacts other groups, and their input will be of critical importance inproducing a Complete Product Experience (CPE). This is why the best roadmaps comprise cross-functional teams. 

For instance, the marketing department will prepare for more effective campaigns and launches; the IT department may improve the technical infrastructure involved in product development; the sales team may better set client expectations. The more inclusive a roadmapping process is, the greater the alignment within an organization will be.

What Are the Benefits of a Product Roadmap?

A well-designed product roadmap will keep all team members on the same page regarding the initiative’s scope, timeline, and objectives. Additionally, executives will be able to communicate directives, updates, and goals much more efficiently.

Let’s take a look at the ways a product roadmap may benefit your organization:

  • Establishes continuity of purpose by outlining the vision for product development over the coming months.
  • Facilitates collaboration with stakeholders and assists individuals in comprehending their roles in achieving organizational objectives.
  • Aids prioritization by outlining if and when features will be implemented.
  • It helps clear product backlogs by allowing your teams to focus on the next release where necessary.
  • Helps secure budget allocation by detailing the prospective benefits of a potential product.
  • Facilitates portfolio management and the coordination of related product initiatives.

What Are the Types of Product Roadmaps?

The types of roadmaps vary depending on the tasks, goals, and the structure of the teams creating them. Here are some types of roadmaps that cross-department and product teams may benefit from using:

  • Market and strategy roadmap;
  • Business development roadmaps;
  • Visionary roadmap;
  • Department roadmaps;
  • Technology roadmap;
  • Project roadmaps;
  • Platform roadmap;
  • External and internal product roadmap.
  • Progress-based Roadmaps
  • Time-based Roadmaps
  • Mixed Roadmaps

1. Progress-based Roadmaps

Progress-based product roadmaps will typically divide tasks into lanes (columns on a Kanban board) representing the achieved progress, e.g., to-do, in-progress, blocked, completed.

Progress-based product roadmaps are commonly used in Agile development as they are not defined by deadlines and dates. These roadmaps offer teams more flexibility and autonomy because they are more concerned with overall progress than meeting deadlines.

2. Time-based Roadmaps

Time-based product roadmaps visualize how product development is progressing and how it will continue to advance over time. These roadmaps divide tasks following their deadlines, dates, and milestones. 

3. Mixed Roadmaps

Some organizations prefer a combination of progress and time-based product roadmaps. This might involve, for instance, using the columns (or lanes) in a time-based roadmap as a way to divide tasks according to their estimated completion date, such as: coming soon, next-up, in progress, or “maybe.”

Why Should I Create a Product Roadmap?

The most significant benefit of product roadmapping is its ability to visualize the strategic vision to all stakeholders. The product roadmap matches the broader product and company goals with teams’ development efforts. Product roadmaps align teams and employees around shared objectives to deliver excellent products. 

  • For product developers, roadmaps offer insights into the ‘big picture,” allowing their team members to prioritize better, avoid scope creep, and make informed autonomous decisions.
  • For product managers and owners, the roadmap is the tool to unify all teams involved in high-impact tasks and a way to facilitate priority communications with teams from different departments.
  • For organizational leaders, a roadmap gives updates on product development in easy-to-understand non-technical terms.

When you embark upon a project, you will likely be bogged down with multiple variables requiring your attention. Managing them all will be a challenge, and you will also have to figure out how to delegate tasks among your team members. It will be crucial to keep track of the various resources, ideas, and tasks involved without getting overwhelmed.

A product roadmap gives you a bird’s eye view of the products while allowing you to stay aloof from the minute details. This makes the product roadmap a valuable tool for product managers who have to keep stakeholders in the loop when it comes to products’ progress and scope. A product roadmap is helpful to anyone who needs an overview of an initiative. It is useful to managers responsible for the development of comprehensive product strategies.

How to Build a Product Roadmap?

A product roadmap should reflect the development style of an organization. Agile teams should have flexible, incremental maps that allow them to react to market and client changes. More traditional teams usually stick to the waterfall approach that focuses on delivering long-term, specific features within a given window.

Here you can see the steps to build a product roadmap.

1. Define product strategy: You will first determine why you are embarking on this initiative by detailing your vision, goals, and objectives, as well as how they tie in with your overall organizational goals. This information will be crucial for your team’s competitiveness and commitment. This step includes details about your customers and your marketing plan.

2. Manage and review ideas: Considering customer requests is best done via ranking systems, whereby they are individually scored according to how well they reflect a company’s overall strategy. The idea behind this step is to get an unbiased, objective picture of what your clients need in juxtaposition with your company’s best interests. It is easy to distort feedback when personal preferences are brought into play.

3. Define features and requirements: Identify what features best suit your company strategy and develop them into detailed requirements and user stories. They will be used by the teams involved to come up with practical solutions. The different teams shouldn’t operate in a vacuum; otherwise, they might develop the “echo chamber” mindset, where their solutions serve their picture of what needs to be built rather than the reality of what the situation is.

4. Minimize the risks: Identify potential risks associated with your roadmap in advance and take measures to avoid them entirely or mitigate their possible disruptive effects. This might involve, for example, making sure there are no discrepancies in the timelines your teams are working under. Ensure that your teams are working well together and are satisfied, as well as pay attention to any governmental or regulatory actions that might have the potential to impede your product progress.

5. Revise your roadmap continually: Roadmaps should be flexible documents that allow teams to adjust their efforts according to new information, changing market conditions, or unanticipated sub-tasks. Most organizations prefer to create their product roadmaps digitally as it is easier modification.

How to Use Product Roadmap?

With shifting markets, changing customer preferences, and modifications to planned features, you will have to ensure that your roadmap remains true to your organizational objectives. Different roadmaps will work best for various stakeholders. Use product roadmaps to communicate the most important aspects of product development, depending on the audience:

  • Utilize leadership roadmaps such as release plan roadmaps or objectives roadmaps for executives in need of a bird’s eye view of your operation to offer a quick summary of your activity and progress. They may include profit and loss reports while providing the opportunity for deeper insights into the product development process.
  • Utilize company roadmaps such as release timeline and release plan to keep cross-functional teams, for example, sales and customer support teams, up-to-date on more valuable details. These roadmaps allow them to set confident expectations and projections and evaluate customer feedback and comments.
  • Utilize delivery-focused roadmaps that incorporate granular timelines to accommodate development teams that want to have the details. Make sure that you communicate the relevant objectives, development stages, and product areas. Capture risks in your roadmap and leverage all available dependencies.
  • Utilize customer-oriented roadmaps such as release roadmaps to focus on features that customers want the most. These roadmaps are good at visualizing which features are coming up next for the product so the customer-facing departments, such as sales, marketing, and customer success, can explain them to the end client.

How to Update Product Roadmap?

Product roadmaps should be updated as often as necessary to reflect the most current and accurate state of product development. Depending on the initiative in question, you may have to make updates every week, monthly, or quarterly.

An outdated roadmap may do more harm than good. When team members and stakeholders need information about upcoming updates rather than relying on the roadmap for guidance and information, it means that the roadmap needs to be updated. A mistrusted roadmap leads to confusion, conflict, and waste of time and resources.

Still, you shouldn’t make the mistake of spending inordinate amounts of time working on your roadmap to get everyone on the same page. You should never forget that a roadmap is a planning tool that helps you think through the product development process. When it starts to take up more time and resources than task execution, it might mean that your roadmap is more complex than it needs to be. Consider making the change to a simpler one.

What Are Some Common Challenges in Creating Product Roadmaps?

When your product roadmap is poorly structured, you bear the risk of various unintended consequences. Because roadmapping is such a critical aspect of product development, product teams often have difficulty implementing a proper and easy-to-follow product roadmap. Below is a list of the most prevalent challenges your organization might face when trying to create a successful product roadmap:

  • The product roadmap consists of nothing else but a list of features.
  • The product roadmap is non-responsive to feedback or changes.
  • The product roadmap is just a static document.
  • The product roadmap focuses mainly on solutions rather than highlighting the problems.
  • The product roadmap exists in various versions across the organization, with no one knowing which version is the most up-to-date.
  • The product roadmap tries to please everyone, resulting in a pool of incoherent features.
  • The product roadmap is extremely detailed while failing to show a clear strategy or plan of action.
  • Product roadmap’s themes and epics don’t deliver the desired outcomes and values.
  • The product roadmap lacks the mechanisms that facilitate research, testing, and feedback.
  • The product roadmap is set to meet unrealistic goals.

What Are the Best Practices for the Best Roadmaps?

Creating and maintaining a product roadmap is a continuous process that you embark upon in collaboration with your team. As such, they must understand the roadmap creation and implementation process right. And for this to happen, your teams should follow a set of best practices to create the best roadmaps for your organization:

  • Establish a solid vision and strategy before you begin building a product roadmap.
  • Maintain an up-to-date product roadmap.
  • Do not overload the product roadmap with unnecessary details.
  • Manage the expectations in the product roadmap and keep them at reasonable levels.
  • Ensure there are mechanisms in place that facilitate feedback.
  • Review product roadmaps regularly and make adjustments when plans change.
  • Clearly indicate the ownership and responsibility for the roadmap.
  • Make sure all stakeholders and team members have access to the roadmap throughout the entire product development process.
  • Maintain a consistent roadmap format even when adjustments are made along the way.
  • Keep in touch with all stakeholders along the way to ensure alignment.

What Are the Product Roadmap Tools?

Product roadmap tools are designed to make it easier for product management teams and managers to plan, prioritize, and map a product strategy that facilitates an organization’s business goals.

This digital tool is typically offered as a web-based Software-as-a-service (SaaS) product. The SaaS model allows customers to access and utilize specific software through a web browser with the aid of third-party applications.

Such software is used by teams or individuals working on product development and strategy to create visual roadmaps that keep team members aligned and on track throughout the product development life cycle. The product roadmap software also includes project management features that help product development teams build timelines and identify backlogs.

Some of the best product roadmap tools are: 

  • Roadmap Planner
  • Kanbanize
  • Monday.com
  • SharpCloud
  • Aha!
  • ProductPlan
  • Roadmunk
  • Wrike
  • Productboard
  • Airfocus

What Are the Examples of a Product Roadmap?

At this point, you know that a company-wide roadmapping process can boost visibility into each team’s goals and how they’re progressing to achieve a high-level business strategy. Each team within your organization will have different priorities and needs translated differently onto the general roadmap. Below are some specific examples of product roadmaps your organization could use to support its goals:

  • Project roadmap example: A project roadmap offers a project manager and the relevant stakeholders a high-level overview of the projects’ goals, initiatives, and deliverables.
  • Strategic roadmap example: A strategic roadmap communicates an organization’s vision. This type of roadmap focuses on the long-term deadlines and extended timelines. While product roadmaps will often concentrate on initiatives and features to be implemented in the short-term, strategic roadmaps take a long-range view of things.
  • Agile roadmap example: An Agile roadmap will illustrate how the product or technology will change and evolve over the development process and offer tons of flexibility. While time-based roadmaps insist on deadlines and dates, Agile roadmaps place more importance on progress and themes.
  • Business roadmap example: Business roadmaps make it easier for executives to institute, manage, and supervise various tasks and assignments. They also help ensure that all stakeholders, employees, and clients are aware of its overall strategic ambitions.
  • Marketing strategy roadmap: A marketing department roadmap is an example of a departmental roadmap. Marketing departments are tasked with creating workable strategies that allow all team members to understand their specific roles and how they fit into the department’s overall objectives. This can be a challenge because such a department might be working on various advertising campaigns and initiatives simultaneously. Marketing roadmaps make it significantly easier for team members to balance their projects and strategies efficiently.

What Are the Templates of a Product Roadmap?

Roadmap templates make it easy to communicate and capture an organization’s product plans. You can quickly and easily create visual representations of your product initiatives and goals, plan for tasks that will support the product strategy, and develop a timeline detailing when the development process will be completed. Let’s take a look at the best templates of product roadmaps:

  • Portfolio roadmap templates: Portfolio roadmap templates are perfect for displaying multiple product release plans in a single, unified view. You will find them particularly helpful when strategic overviews need to be presented to leadership or advisory boards. Internal teams will also benefit from seeing how their work and plans intersect and affect other teams’ plans.
  • Initiatives roadmap templates: The initiatives roadmap template is used to outline your company’s strategic product initiatives. They may represent the executive-level efforts needed to attain your objectives. Adopt this type of roadmap template when you’re required to present progress updates or planned initiatives to important stakeholders such as executives. They help internal teams to understand how releases play an essential role in driving the product ahead and pushing its overall strategy forward.
  • Goals roadmap template: The goals roadmap template is used to help you visualize high-level products and business goals. This roadmap template makes it simple to share an overview of strategic objectives and when you anticipate attaining them. You will find it helpful when trying to get executives up-to-date and update stakeholders on progress. The goals roadmap template could be used when you have to communicate big-picture content to internal teams.
  • Features roadmap templates: Features roadmap templates are used when you have to present timelines for new features, which is helpful when trying to display strategically essential features that you expect to complete within 3-4 months. This roadmap template serves well when internal teams such as sales, marketing, and customer support need more detailed information.
  • Digital marketing roadmap template: Digital marketing roadmap templates are used to help marketing teams coordinate their efforts across separate marketing channels. It can be used in conjunction with other roadmaps such as the marketing strategy roadmap to balance operational tasks and align strategic directions. Marketing managers and their teams will benefit from using the marketing roadmap template. 

How Do You Manage a Product Roadmap in Kanban?

Kanban is a workflow management method for defining, managing and improving services that deliver knowledge work. It aims to help you visualize your work, maximize efficiency, and improve continuously. At the beginning of the 21st Century, key players in the software industry quickly realized how Kanban could positively change the way products and services are delivered. 

You can start building your Kanban system by setting up the most straightforward Kanban board with three basic columns – “Requested,” “In Progress” and “Done.” When constructed, managed, and functioning correctly, it serves as a real-time information repository, highlighting bottlenecks within the system and anything else that might interrupt smooth working practices.

The most efficient way for product managers to leverage the Kanban method in their strategic planning is by implementing a Kanban roadmap. This process involves grouping initiatives into clearly defined categories such as ‘to-do,’ ‘in-progress,’ ‘blocked,’ and ‘completed.’ When the Kanban method is applied to product roadmapping, it helps product teams see the sequence of their efforts in a long-term, big-picture context.

Perhaps, the most significant benefit when using a Kanban product roadmap is its ability to help you communicate near-term plans without the need to commit to exact dates. Another positive aspect of a Kanban product roadmap is that product managers can improve the organization between the teams operating in different departments. The Kanban product roadmap approach is also a great way to keep organizations from falling into the trap of committing to static, inflexible, year-long roadmaps.

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