What Is a Product Roadmap? Definition and Use Guide.

A product enterprise incorporates multiple key stages into the business development process. Say, you are an online retailer selling handmade clothing. It’s an in-demand segment, and you need to innovate constantly to stay on top of the game. You research the demand, set the criteria for uniqueness, and plan accordingly. What you need now is to formulate a killer product roadmap.

What Is a Product Roadmap?

A product roadmap is a blueprint upon which you systematize your business plan. It has to be time-sensitive, and present an executable layout for follow-up. This diagram will essentially highlight the future plans for your business when it relates to your product. Whether that’s new release dates, product changes, or setting a timeline for launch, a product roadmap can accompany all product-related scenarios.

The planning of a roadmap usually starts by setting a tentative release date. The next phase is to develop the action plan, which is how you will organize your roadmap to ensure your project is finished by the given date. The entire process is heavily data-reliant to ensure that deadlines are accurate and reachable. It must present a coordinated blueprint to involve all personnel working on the project. Tasks have to be assigned, resources need to be allocated, and a project manager should look after the ongoing protocols.

How to Plan Ahead With a Product Roadmap

Product roadmaps are documents that need to be accurate not just today but into the future as well, and in some cases, they must work up to the event horizon of launching the idea tangibly. Therefore, executing different phases of the product roadmap on time and in succession is mission-critical for all stakeholders. The release date should be feasible to avoid friction between various departments while providing ample time for development to proceed undeterred. 

That said, imminent market situations have a vital role in setting the release date. It’s always a competitive market, and you want to be there pitching your product before the hype runs dry!

So, gear up the teams for graveyard shifts, hypercharge the R&D, and resolve the bottlenecks. A neat product roadmap addresses all aspects, setting the wheels in motion to the final date while remaining thorough. It is also critical for a map to be flexible to absorb changes in product strategies on the go. 

Unforeseen issues may come up, such as a sudden change in the product vision or the team’s ability to deliver a solution. Thereby, the rest of the plan should be adjusted with the changed scenario, or for other similar alterations later on. Adjusting this flexibility on a real-life time scale is a challenge that needs to be overcome.

Different Types of Product Roadmaps

Depending on the goals of the company, roadmaps are of different sub-types. The most common category is the release roadmap, as discussed above. It can serve as a standalone function or can be coordinated with the strategy roadmap.

The strategy part is particularly relevant when a complex workflow is involved. For example, multiple product launches may need to be coordinated. Certain launches require a significant contribution of the R&D team, especially in consumable niches.

Devising a product roadmap depends heavily on the business niche in question. The roadmap for a medical insurance plan would be categorically different from that of a new weight loss program. 

That said, the basic idea is always the same in any roadmap. The rest of the planning phases are variations of the same theme, as per the priorities of the company. To interpret and execute the basic framework for a product roadmap is the litmus test for a product manager.

Another sub-type is the features roadmap. This roadmap deals with improving an existing product line by adding new features. It is common for software products, designed to evolve while there is a changing idea of the vision behind the product. Also, evolution is a fundamental survival strategy in a competitive landscape, which is but yet another follow-through of customer perception. In addition, digital products are designed for successive editions, each next stage growing out and above the previous. Therefore, even if it is the latest launch (for example, the next version of your favorite smartphone brand), the previous product roadmap still serves as a valid precedent.

So, despite being a new product line, it is still explainable by the features roadmap template. The manager can simply present the roadmap for upgrading the current technology with newer features. However, sometimes, a brand new launch may involve full overhauling of the existing template.

To that end, a separate strategy map can be created, with an entirely new vision. As it is, a watertight subdivision of roadmaps is an obsolete concept. For all purposes, perhaps Venn intersections can best explain the versatility of product roadmap categories. A competent executive must be able to interpret the sub-types and blend them at will.

Crowdfunded projects and startups often employ a separate roadmap strategy for stakeholders. This is aptly named the stakeholder roadmap. Its primary purpose is to elicit trust by offering a practical vision for product development. It has to be a convincing blueprint for how the development is going to work out. Most importantly, the plan should be able to explain the potential of revenue from the said product, via data projections and similar examples. Essentially the purpose of a stakeholder roadmap is to explain the vision and execution of the product

Product Roadmap Advantages

A well-planned roadmap well defines the success of the launch. The first advantage of formulating one is to make everyone involved aware of their responsibilities. It can also be used in cross-communication channels such as marketing, customer support, and sales for coordination. However, it is necessary that the roadmap must cover all the details leading to the release date.

It needs to be accented with the keynote themes that need to be addressed. The ideal product roadmap serves as a template for resolving bottlenecks even before they develop. It takes into account all the possible criteria where the product launch may face challenges and suggests remediation. Also, the solutions should be properly laid out for practical implementation.

The roadmap should be able to accommodate this impetus and set out a plan to get the work done. Strategy roadmaps often deal with formulating multiple product lines, besides coordinating them to completion. Being able to accommodate multiple different product visions and completing them on time is another huge advantage of using a product roadmap.

Simply having a vision is not going to be enough. Turning that vision into a reality requires heavy legwork. The roadmap must be able to offer the necessary guidance to the foot soldiers, assigned tasks to access the release date in completion.

It is perhaps incomplete to consider marketing and product development as separate channels. Marketing pundits affirm the need to utilize a product roadmap to raise brand awareness. You can integrate this aspect as a separate section on the map, or develop an entirely new customer-facing map for the purpose. It can focus exclusively on how the successive stages of product development are in progress, and how this launch is going to impact the consumers.

In other words, the roadmap must be able to generate value for stakeholders and consumers alike. It also presents the perfect scope for implementing various marketing principles such as pricing, physical ownership, and resource allocation. For example, the roadmap should lay out the budget allocated for different stages of product development, and how the money must be spent. Since it is a planning document, the allocation should be tentative, or in a given range. So, not only marketing, but the finance department should also be a part of the product roadmap. Proper use of sections and sub-sections to elaborate on key tasks, and setting of milestones are other key benefits of a good map.

Milestone mapping is another key advantage of a product plan. The executive in charge should set the geometry of getting the product out, done in stages. It’s a complex task, but the obligation of a roadmap is to simplify it. One ought to consider all the variables of product development and identify the key areas where a previous stage transitions into the next.

Also, attention must be diverted to slimming the roadmap by nullifying all those areas that may be redundant. Lessons can be derived from previous templates and implemented with the rectifications thereby. Again, the flexibility of a product roadmap should allow for provisions to implement any improvements that may come up.

Furthermore, yet another key advantage of such planning is the proficiency in setting measurable goals within the plan structure. At every phase of the milestone, a goal can be tied along with it. Not only that, the map should be able to guide the protocols on how to achieve these goals, and that too within a strict schedule. The measurable goals would be vital in the end after the launch, to devise the balance sheet on the development costs vs. the revenue. In this sense, the significance of a product roadmap is not limited only to the development phase but extends beyond that to serve as a template for further reference.

Above all, the product roadmap is a channel of communication between the stakeholders of the process. It has to be done as a group effort, but the key responsibility must be on the product planner. The roadmap is uploaded in the project management module, and the modules can be customized to assign the perfect workflow. The product manager must collaborate with the HR team and managers at other successive levels to ensure that the product planning is executed summarily.

Product Roadmap Walkthrough

Let’s present an example template so that it is easy to grasp the concept. First, you need to set the timeline for the product development process. Consider all the variables involved, and rely on previous examples. Say, you are developing a software product. First, you need to assign the tasks to the web team. Discuss with the development head the possible timeframe of completing the architecture of the product.

Categorize it into milestones, and include a sub-type of reviewing these milestones. Software development work is done in stages, after the client green signals the previous phase. Details of this ongoing process should be mentioned and made available to the team for reference.

At par with the web development team, you set the next product roadmap template for the mobile team. The mobile and web teams should be able to synchronize and draw conclusions from each other. Include sub-categories such as UX improvement and cloud support. Further categories can consist of interactive development, priorities, and ticketing system.

Next, formulate a separate section for marketing. Key classes within this section can include market analysis, customer outreach, and SEO plan. Also, include sub-types such as lead generation, proactive email campaigns, and pricing review. Finally, create a section called performance management to overview the entire process and execute the same.

Choose any software that lets you set the access levels. Use your wisdom. Sometimes, you may need the entire project to be visible to all. At other times, you may need to oblige with confidential SLAs and set limited access to select personnel.

Product Roadmap vs Project Roadmap

The project roadmap presents the big picture of the product map. Essentially, they are not two different categories, but one big plan, consisting of several smaller plans. In fact, this classification is most evident in situations where multiple products are in the pipeline. Coordinating between these would imply a grand unveiling where everything will come together at once. For singular projects, where one product is being developed, a project head looks after the ongoing completion of all aspects of the development.

A product roadmap consists of the following key aspects:

  • Setting milestones
  • Strategy and execution
  • Product feature phases
  • Final timeline

On the other hand, a project roadmap has the following parameters.

  • Resource allocation
  • Cross-communication
  • Potential bottlenecks

Using Product Roadmaps With the Agile Methodology

The Agile/Sprint roadmap is critical to present a strategic view of the development process for agile teams. It helps link together the various functions working towards completing the project. It is especially critical for digital development, where coders must be able to estimate the strategic direction the product is taking. The Agile product roadmap can be extremely helpful for short-term details while keeping track of the progress as the release date comes nearer.

The roadmap can be utilized to set priorities on essential objectives that must be achieved in a given time frame. Thereby, the priorities can be followed through to see that they get executed as per plan. Besides, the Agile interface is also the perfect platform for the stakeholders to collaborate. Since Agile is a familiar tool for cross-functional communique, it has all the resources ready to facilitate effective collaboration.

By organizing the product roadmap into the familiar working framework called Scrum, and short phases called Sprints, it is easy to set milestones and achieve them. While you choose any roadmap software, consider the aspects mentioned here to figure out which is the best option. Assess the user interface and other aspects to ensure your purpose is met.

Conclusion

There are many different applications that you can find for implementing a product roadmap, and whichever one suits you best, you need to make sure that you’re following these guidelines to get the best out of your team. If you like this article make sure you stay tuned to Fresco to learn more about product roadmaps and online collaboration.

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