A product roadmap is a shared source of truth that outlines a product’s vision, direction, priorities, and progress over time. It’s a plan of action that aligns the organization around short and long-term goals for the product or project and how they will be achieved. While it’s common for the roadmap to show what you’re building, it’s just as important to show why. Items on the roadmap should be linked to your product strategy, and your roadmap should be responsive to changes in customer feedback and the competitive landscape.
Product owners use roadmaps to collaborate with their teams and build consensus on how a product will grow and shift over time. Agile teams turn to the roadmap to keep everyone on the same page and gain context for their everyday work and future direction.
Why is a Product Roadmap Essential?
Product roadmaps encapsulate how the product strategy becomes a reality. They take many competing priorities and boil them down to what’s most important, leaving shiny objects by the wayside in favor of work that moves the needles stakeholders care about.
They’re also a source of inspiration, motivation, and shared ownership of the product and its successes. All the individual work contributors do often only make sense within the context of the product roadmap, and knowing that plan and what the organization hopes it will bring can get naysayers onboard.
Product roadmaps are one of the few things almost everyone in the organization will be exposed to, as sales pitches, marketing plans, and financials are usually held closer to the vest. For many workers, it’s their only glimpse of where the product and organization are heading and why certain decisions were made. They provide a shared, common understanding of the vision, goals, and objectives for everyone in the company.
Product roadmaps also help organizations avoid chaos from reigning, pet projects from sliding into the implementation queue, and wasting resources on less important tasks. They are the beacon, the focal point, and the guideposts for everyone bringing the product to market.
Who is Responsible for the Product Roadmap?
Product managers own the product roadmap. As a product manager, you lead the charge in collecting research, ideas, and feedback, translating and prioritizing these materials into features, and ultimately building the roadmap. Once it is created, you will share the roadmap and progress with stakeholders. You also identify the right roadmaps to make for your team and when.
That said, the best product roadmaps involve cross-functional collaboration. Your work as a product manager impacts other groups, and you need their input and participation to deliver a Complete Product Experience (CPE). The roadmap is a central place to come together around your CPE the visibility into what is coming next helps the entire organization prioritize and plan for the new experience you will deliver.
And the more inclusive your roadmapping process is, the greater organizational alignment and support you will have when you release that new experience. When you rally other teams around your product roadmap along the way, your product’s success is a collective celebration.
Who are Product Roadmaps For?
Internal Roadmap for Executives
These roadmaps emphasize how teams’ work supports high-level company goals and metrics. They are often organized by month or quarter to show progress over time towards these goals and generally include minor details about detailed development stories and tasks.
Internal Roadmap for the Development Team
These roadmaps can be created in several ways, depending on how your team likes to work. Some standard versions include details about the prioritized customer value to be delivered, target release dates, and milestones. Since many development teams use agile methodologies, these roadmaps are often organized by sprints and show specific pieces of work and problem areas plotted on a timeline.
These roadmaps should excite customers about what’s coming next. Make sure they are visually appealing and easy to read. They should provide a high-level, generalized view of new features and prioritize problem areas to get customers interested in the product’s future direction.
Internal Roadmap for Sales
These roadmaps focus on new features and customer benefits to support sales conversations. An important note: avoid including hard dates in sales roadmaps to avoid tying internal teams to potentially unrealistic dates.
Advantages of a Roadmap
Visibility & Transparency
Making your product roadmap accessible to the general public, most commonly via your website, turns things like the specs and features of your product into a public discussion. If marketed correctly, creating a conversation around your general product roadmap could turn your customer base into a community, which is a great way to gain visibility and build brand loyalty.
When your customers can interact with your product in an even more meaningful way, you are much more likely to get helpful feedback on all of its different features and selling points by gaining access to your product roadmap. When you’re willing to share an integral part of your business plan publicly, the communication with current and potential clients becomes two-sided and more evenly balanced. This, in turn, allows you to open up another communication channel with anyone interested in your products.
By sharing something that would otherwise be considered confidential, you allow your customers to hold you accountable for every decision you make regarding your product roadmap. That means that your audience isn’t just given the role of spectators, but rather a role with a potential to impact your vision for the product.
When your product roadmap is accessible to the general public, it becomes a selling point for your business because it showcases reliability and trustworthiness to your customers. By marketing your business as visible and transparent, you also have the chance to create a conversation around your product and its features which wouldn’t be possible otherwise.
Disadvantages of a Roadmap
Competitors Get an Edge
The bad news about your public roadmap being accessible to everyone is that this move makes it possible for your competition to pry into its details. By making your roadmap public, you make it easier for organizations with similar offerings to copy or build on the features you came up with first. If you’re considering including your product roadmap on your website, a good idea would be to figure out a way to insulate your products’ features from potential copycats via legal means (trademarks, patents, etc.) or by creating a product that is difficult to copy.
Too Much Pressure and Feedback
Allowing the prying eye of the general public into your process can also be a bad thing, as it can make your customers entitled to have their input included in your plans. This can create pressure for improvements and fixes to happen on shorter deadlines, and the inability to respond to their wishes can result in more churn.
You Can’t Go ‘Above & Beyond’
It isn’t easy to surpass your customers’ expectations when they know exactly what to expect. Surprises and extra features can be a great marketing gimmick, but you will have to forfeit if you plan to make your product roadmap public. The wrong side of being on the same page with your customer base and meeting their needs and demands is that you can’t do much beyond what they need and demand, meaning that you have to find other ways to delight them, perhaps with things like great support.
Here are Top Product Roadmapping Mistakes and How to Avoid Them
Having a Fixed Roadmap
A roadmap should not be fixed or frozen after being created. It’s not the document type we ideate, define, create, communicate, have everything ticked off, and then forget about. It is essential to review continually.
We often see companies working on their roadmaps at the beginning of the year, and then they forget about it a few months later. They don’t make any changes, leading to problems as the product evolves during the design and product development process.
A product roadmap is a strategic forecast for your product and should reflect current realities and micro and macro ecosystems. It is advisable to review it at least once a quarter. This will give you the best chance of creating a product roadmap relevant to your current objectives and capable of visualizing upcoming events or changes.
Jumping Right Into the Details
The product roadmap is a high-level, strategic tool. It’s designed to show a vision for the product: what major themes the product team plans to work on and why those themes should be prioritized. Many PMs skip this step and present their “roadmap” as intricate details: planned feature development, estimated timelines, resources needed, etc.
You will need to think through and capture those details as well. But they shouldn’t be the focus of your product roadmap. Instead, create your roadmap to display the high-level product initiatives—and include a brief strategic explanation for each.
Trying to Do Everything on Your Own
You can do everything yourself.
- If you have a solid engineering background, you can handle all tasks and responsibilities, from developing the product vision to deploying the app.
- Suppose you’re a lifestyle entrepreneur and know everything you need to know about the target market and product growth. In that case, you can prepare all the necessary documentation and delegate development to an engineering partner.
However, in the first case, you will probably invest months and years in your product, burn out, and even fail in the intense competition in which every day and every reaction to users’ needs matters.
In the second case, even if you build the most OK documentation, you’ll still need to check in with the development team, listen to recommendations and best practices, take into account the technical side of the project, and then edit and correct every single document you’ve worked on. Doing the job twice may bring the expected results, but is it worth it?
Effective delegation and dependable partnership are the cornerstones of project success. At the initial stages of your product growth, you need a small but skilled team willing to share their experience to improve your product.
Not Mentioning Assumptions and Constraints
When you create a product roadmap, you generally define the themes or high-level goals to be accomplished. Then, you might not have complete information about a feature being scoped. There might as well be other dependencies like you are awaiting more information from a vendor, or you might want to mention the release dates as tentative.
Whatever assumptions you make regarding the items that go into your product roadmap need to be explicitly called out with asterisk marks. This is to ensure everyone is aware of the assumptions and constraints that might cause a delay later on or cause an item to be descoped.
Creating a Single Roadmap for Everyone
A product roadmap is a document to provide the next steps that help achieve goals defined by product strategy and vision. Product managers’ most common mistake is creating a single product roadmap with a prioritized list of features. A product roadmap is a document that needs to be referenced by a CEO, CPO, marketing, sales, engineering, and your customers. You can choose different roadmaps depending on who wants to view them. For example, a release roadmap with features listed against release dates is suitable for engineering teams and other cross-functional teams like sales, marketing, and customer support. This type of roadmap might not benefit executives as they need to view a strategic roadmap outlining high-level initiatives with the intended outcomes or goals.
Failing to Align the Roadmap with the Company’s Goals
Product roadmaps don’t exist in a vacuum, or at least they shouldn’t. They need to be aligned with the organization’s larger strategic goals. If your executives’ current objective is an incremental increase in market share without taking too much risk—and you craft a roadmap for a completely new, highly speculative product—you’ll be in for an unpleasant meeting with those executives when you present your roadmap.
Sharing the Wrong Roadmap View With Your Audience
Whenever you develop a new product roadmap, you’re almost certainly showing it to different groups in your company. Sales will want to see it. So will your development team. And, of course, you’ll have to show it to the executive staff if you wish to budget and resources to start developing. One common mistake is to prepare only a single version, or view, of the roadmap and then share it with all of these different groups.
Instead, develop your roadmap to quickly highlight the critical details that interest sales, your executives, and so on. This is one reason it makes more sense to use a purpose-built roadmap app than making three different files in Excel or PowerPoint and trying to keep them all up-to-date.
Product roadmap creation is a challenging and one of the most crucial tasks for a product manager. It can lead to a failure for the whole team working on a product or features for the market if it’s not performed correctly. The key to a successful roadmap is to involve different groups and key stakeholders, gather inputs from other sources, and create a document outlining the next steps for your product without falling prey to the above outlined common pitfalls.