Developing a shared understanding of your product’s journey forward is always an important piece to a successful business venture, but it might not be an easy thing to communicate to shareholders or customers. Using a product roadmap is an amazing tool that engages collaboration and helps create a plan for the future, while also factoring in the interests of stakeholders and customers.
In this article, we will define what is a product roadmap, discuss its various advantages, and walk through how to build one from scratch. If you are interested in learning about our other templates, you can check out our guides to using a business model canvas, a customer journey map, and more.
Product Roadmap Definition
What is a Product Roadmap?
A product roadmap is a diagram that details the present and future plans of how a product will grow over time, and what that growth will look like. This action plan is aligned not only with the product goals but takes into account the strategic goals or the business as well. In short, product roadmaps demonstrate how the product strategy translates to real solutions.
Linking the product’s timeline to the strategic goals of the business as a whole helps bring the product roadmap together and involves various parties that might not have been included otherwise. By including these different perspectives, the roadmap gains some external scope that can be excluded if it isn’t visualized.
It is an important distinction to be made because product roadmaps are more than just product timelines, but strategic documents as well.
Product roadmaps are great places for collaboration to occur because of their interdependence on multiple different strategies and interests. Creating a product roadmap, therefore, is a great situation to utilize an online whiteboard and collaborate on a shared interface to fully realize the aspirations of everyone involved.
Why you should use a Product Roadmap
Now that we’ve established exactly what a product roadmap is and its main use case, here are some distinct advantages to using them.
Using visualization techniques to detail product timelines is one of the best ways to communicate ideas and plans to a large and diverse audience. Not only can these templates help communicate ideas to outside interests, they also create a shared understanding between the people that actually use and create them.
Creating these open lines of communication, just like with most online whiteboard instances, creates new channels for ideation and collaboration that are not possible without a shared visual platform.
Product roadmaps bring together many different aspects of business positioning and, through that, create unique and important intersections between the product and the business. It is these new intersections and opportunities for communication that make using product roadmaps so effective.
Creating alignment is similar to the increased communicative capability that product roadmaps offer, but covers the ability of the template to bring together multiple different interest parties to collaborate together on the board.
Beyond communication, product roadmaps bring together product teams, stakeholders, and consumer feedback all on the same platform to collaborate on the timeline of the product release. This collaboration allows for the alignment of all of the different parties to each other’s interests, something that is hard-pressed to be found in most product release scenarios.
Product teams have a much better understanding of the strategic alignment, and the stakeholders have much more realistic expectations of the product team, both sides also develop a great understanding of the customer’s perspective and feedback.
Because of the product roadmap’s ability to bring together multiple interest groups and align all of their viewpoints, it is very advantageous to teams completing strategic releases.
Product roadmaps are not just diagrams that visualize the estimated release of a product, they are dynamic tools to be revisited and updated as time goes on.
One of the biggest advantages of using a product roadmap is its ability to align teams not only to a possible release but when there needs to be a change as well. Product roadmaps serve as dynamic indicators for a product release, a change in vision or expectations, and even the evolution of customer feedback/expectations.
Because product roadmaps align all of these perspectives into one comprehensive timeline, they can also be a source for regrouping and reference for teams operating on the template.
Seeing that all of the perspectives and interests are always due to change as things develop, it’s important to engage this template in an ongoing conversation and open an ongoing dialogue between all of the interested parties. This constant communication is vital when developing product sprints and is a huge advantage in creating a unique product roadmap
How to create a product roadmap
Understanding how a product roadmap works and the biggest advantages to using them is important when adopting a product roadmap, so the next step is learning how to build one from scratch. While you can most likely find a good template online, building one is another good option that allows for full customization and control over the flow of the roadmap. Here’s our guide to building and using a product roadmap.
Determine the Strategic Mission
Determining the strategic reasoning for a product’s creation is important not only for the alignment with business values and overall trajectory but also as a justification for its creation.
If a certain product or feature doesn’t align with the strategic trajectory of the business and also doesn’t warrant the time and effort put into creating it, then it obviously is not a smart investment of time and money.
This might seem like an obvious calculation and an easy decision for your team to make, but this is the importance of prioritizing strategic trajectory at the offset of the project roadmap.
If this step is left until last, then you might end up wasting all of the work that is done when planning the sprint, organizing the customer feedback, and creating a go-to-market plan. This is why determining the strategic mission and milestones is so important to creating a product roadmap and should be prioritized before any other work can be begun.
Some questions to ask yourself in this section could be:
- What are the stakeholder’s main goals?
- How does this product/feature align with our value proposition?
- How does this product/feature emphasize the company’s mission?
Incorporate User Feedback
After making sure your product vision is aligned with your strategic endpoints, the next step is to incorporate direct user feedback.
The core reason for adding new features and abilities is to engage users and solve the problems they are experiencing. It can be great to create an innovative new product, but if it’s not addressing direct customer issues, then it won’t be an effective addition.
Conducting user research is very important to creating an effective product, and by doing usability testing you can create a direct line of communication between your customer base and your team.
By opening this communication you are able to make sure that the vision of the product is directly related to the feedback you’re receiving from your customers. If your user feedback resonates with the problems your product is solving, then it’s time to begin creating the roadmap with these needs in mind.
Some questions to ask in this section could be:
- What problems are my customers experiencing and how does my product alleviate their struggles?
- What are their specific pain points?
- What do they suggest as a solution?
Build Release Timeline
The most formative step in creating a product roadmap is building the release timeline. This is where the details of the product release get sorted, prioritized, and planned out.
Since the outline has already been put into place by the development of the strategic milestones and incorporations of customer feedback, this portion is mainly used by the product teams and development team who determine the actionable tasks that bring the product to fruition.
The product teams work in a similar manner to the other teams, developing milestones and actionable tasks that will enable the project to be completed but instead of being overarching strategic touchpoints that are tasks that move the physical product forward.
This is the most common part of creating a product roadmap and is usually the most familiar portion to teams releasing a new product. It resembles a more traditional release timeline and can incorporate other task-oriented elements if that helps the efficiency of the team.
Some important questions to ask in this section could be:
- What are the highest priority tasks to move the product forward?
- How can we set realistic milestones to have a final product at the end date?
- What are the necessary features, and what features will be omitted?
Creating the roadmap is not actually the final step, however, and it’s very important that this roadmap is revisited, consulted, and manipulated as the product moves forward towards completion.
This is extremely important because, during the timeline, many of the elements are subject to change, and your team has to be ready to accompany that change and react to it. The stakeholders could tweak the overall mission, the customers may be experiencing an entirely new angle of the problem, or the development plan might have to change.
All of these scenarios demonstrate the need for flexibility within the product roadmap and even if nothing really changes, it’s important to revisit this document to make sure everything is still in alignment.
Using a product roadmap is more than just creating a timeline. It aligns stakeholders, customers, and the development team on a single document and prioritizes all of their shared interests. If you enjoyed this article, make sure you check out our guides on virtual workshops and visual collaboration as they’re very helpful in offering some strategies to use while creating a product roadmap.