A Complete Guide on Product Roadmaps & How to Make Them

Product Roadmaps

What Is a Product Roadmap?

When building a product, it is easy to get overwhelmed with decisions/ideas from various departments in your organization. One of the best ways to deal with this problem is building a product roadmap. 

A product roadmap is a high-level visual summary that maps out the vision of your product offering over time.

Moreover, it is a shared source of truth that outlines the vision, direction, priorities, and progress.

Think of it as an actionable plan that aligns the organization around short and long-term goals for a product and how you will achieve them.

In essence, a product roadmap is the significant efforts and necessities required to meet your overall business objectives. It is the timeline for implementing features and requirements. As product teams have shifted gears to the remote work environment, the need for roadmaps has grown exponentially to ensure that proper team alignment is achieved.

Terms Which You Should Also Know:

What Is Product Roadmap Voting?

As the name suggests, product roadmap voting means asking your target audience or team members to vote for the product’s features. These are the people who know your product well and would vote accordingly. 

Whatever score they give is based on how they like the feature and whether it’s helping the pain points.

The resulting score decides what the product roadmap to the product development will look like. 

What Are Product Roadmap Milestones?

Product managers must decode a ‘milestone’ for your product and the organization. Milestones refer to goals or dates achieved by your product team

Some examples of a milestone are conferences, releases, and so on.

Why Use a Product Roadmap?

The most considerable benefit of building a product roadmap is forcing conversations about where you will invest your time and resources and why.

Connecting your product strategy to implementation drives alignment. It keeps everyone focused on the work that helps you achieve your vision more efficiently.

The beauty of a product roadmap lies in its visual aspect. It allows you to communicate the product’s direction to internal teams and external stakeholders.

Everything you do as a product manager, impacts other groups in the organization. That is why the best product roadmaps include cross-functional teams and factors during initial creation.

Imagine it like this:

  • With a cross-functional roadmap in place, marketing will create more impactful campaigns.
  • IT can improve the overall technical infrastructure.

Therefore, you should constantly update good product roadmaps. They are a way to keep everyone informed about the product’s goals and encourage collaboration between key stakeholders and various teams.

What To Include in the Product Roadmap?

The requirements

Understanding your customer’s requests is essential to include in your product roadmap. Having a conversation with your sales and customer support teams helps you understand these needs and build on them.

Vision

A vision is something you desire the product to achieve. Setting this vision at the very beginning of the product roadmap is critical. You can always go ahead and change it as and when necessary. But putting it right in the beginning will help you answer your product questions. 

Strategy

Strategy includes how the product you are about to build will help grow the business and meet the vision. Informing this strategy to the teams and the stakeholders (internal and external) can go a long way. After this, it is a smooth transition to build a product roadmap around this strategy and follow it to reach the end goal. 

Plan

Product planning is a must when building a product roadmap. This way, you know how to meet the vision. Setting timelines is helpful but leave some space for flexibility. 

Tracking the progress with markers

Timelines can be complicated to follow. Hence, dividing them using the markers helps you and your team measure the progress effectively.

Measuring using the metrics

Inform the team what metrics you will use to measure the performances. And make sure that everyone is on the same page with the metrics.

What are the Parts of a Product Roadmap?

A product roadmap needs to have specific components to communicate the product’s needs and goals

However, it doesn’t mean that the product roadmap that works for someone else will work for you. Instead, it would be best to tailor a product roadmap to your teams’ needs and interests.  

The following list of components should serve as a guide to consider what works best for you. 

It assures that your product roadmap has the correct details when communicating your plans and why you are planning to do so.

Timeline

Any good roadmap needs to have some timetable. 

It does not mean these dates serve as a deadline for the features. Instead, it is a way to rank the relative importance of the features.

Some standard timeline methods include:

Now, Next, Later: This release schedule is applicable when you have features not tied to a specific release.

June, July, August: This release schedule is practical when features are released every month.

Q1, Q2, Q3: This release schedule is helpful when you are planning long-term goals for your organization.

Release 1, Release 2, Release 3: This release schedule is valid when the time between releases varies.

Features

Features are the smaller parts of a product you are thinking of releasing in a specific period. 

Features can be both high-level or detailed. 

A good plan is to create a high-level feature and specify what sub-features you will need to add to make it work.

Some examples are:

Implement file storage: Add upload functionality, add download functionality.

Add a social system: Allow the ability to share files, allow the ability to like files.

Goals

These are why you are implementing various features in your product. 

Goals help stakeholders understand the purpose behind the decisions that you are making. That keeps the entire organization aligned.

Examples include: Increasing user retention, increasing sales, or improving communication.

How To Build a Product Roadmap?

Define The Why

Before building a product roadmap, you need to ask yourself and your team: Why are you developing this specific product? Why should we prioritize specific product attributes?

Asking these questions at the outset of any new product development, whether the product is brand new or old, will be very fruitful. 

If you can’t answer these questions with data to support your answers, you cannot justify putting energy towards this.

It is shocking how many product managers don’t do this, no matter how experienced and talented. 

It is the baseline prep work any product manager needs to do. Using such information, you can express to the stakeholders why the product/feature needs a reason for being.

Moreover, aligning your team behind these questions to understand the product’s vision will pay dividends well beyond the initial launch.

The vision is the NorthStar for any product team. It will allow future decisions to be more strategic and cohesive, leading to a more successful launch.

Review and Manage Ideas

Now that you have defined the why, you have many ideas to sort out. 

There are a couple of ways to cut through the noise. 

From experience, at Chisel, we like to use the Kanban board as a scratchpad. From that scratchpad, we will have a chunk of ideas that then need prioritization.

We prioritize those potential features by requesting a vote on them from our team, giving us a total prioritization score. 

Then, we can identify which ideas are high priority, which ones should be on the backburner, and which ones may need some more analysis.

Once you get this process down pat, aligning the team behind specific ideas that turn into features and honing in on priorities becomes a breeze.

Define Requirements

Once we’ve figured out the “why” and the “what,” next up is the “how.”

We’ve identified the prioritized ideas that are now potential features, but how do we make this actionable?

The best solution is user story mapping. This visual exercise helps product managers and their teams define the work to create the most delightful user experience.

User story mapping employs the concept of user stories

It communicates requirements from a user value perspective. 

That helps validate and build a shared understanding of the steps to create a product users love.

This exercise will give engineering teams the context to implement the best possible solution.

Prioritize Your Product’s Strategic Themes And Organize Into Releases

Once your ‘why,’ ‘what,’ and ‘how’ are all in sync, the work begins.

You need to organize these different features into themes in the Release view.

organize these different features into themes in the Release view

Identify the major themes and identify what significant components outline your overall feature organization.

Beneath these central themes, you can layer the epics beneath them. Beneath each epic, as more details come up, you layer-specific features.

In the same way, you determined the reason earlier; this will determine where features fall within a theme and overall epic.

Be Flexible

As outlined in the Agile Manifesto, you need to always be flexible with your roadmap.

It isn’t a stagnant document, but rather, it should be continuously changing and improving.

Take your ego out of the equation and be open to pivot if that’s what the data dictates.

Tailor Your Roadmaps as per Your Audience 

Suppose you have one roadmap for every group of stakeholders within your organization. In that case, you are not doing your job as a product manager.

You must remember that the roadmap is a strategic document. 

The strategic objectives shared with your executives will be distinct from those you share with the marketing and development team.

If executive stakeholders look at your roadmap and ask, “Show us what you’re planning.” They don’t care about the nuances of your every feature. They want a broad timeline of what’s going to increase market share.

On the other hand, meeting with your developers will focus on the nuances of the features and how you want them to build them. You also discuss the expected time frame, the day-to-day tasks required, and the prioritization.

What Are the Different Types of Product Roadmaps?

Not all roadmaps serve the same purpose. 

Different roadmaps can help various stakeholders understand your product vision best. 

Delivery-focused Roadmaps

These are roadmaps with very detailed timelines and are best for engineering and User Experience (UX) teams. They help understand the specifics of a feature they are trying to implement. 

They excel in communication status of development, communication goals of a feature, and understanding dependencies that various features may have.

An excellent example of a delivery-focused roadmap is the kanban roadmap. 

This roadmap brings various initiatives together to find the progress and what you should complete.  

This roadmap is handy for engineering, UX, and product teams as it allows them to plan without having hard deadlines.

Chisel’s Free Forever Plan includes the kanban functionality. Try it out today!

Customer-focused Roadmaps

Customer-focused product roadmaps help focus on the features that customers want. 

This roadmap is also handy for customer-facing teams like marketing and sales. It allows them to share what is coming next for your product with users.

A popular example of a customer-focused roadmap is the releases roadmap. This roadmap shares when customers can expect certain features that they want in the product. 

It is useful when planning milestones and determining the future of the product.

Release view

Company Leadership Roadmaps

These roadmaps help give executives and stakeholders a high-level view and understanding of the product

They show the direction of the product and how you are using time and other resources.  

The summaries provided by these roadmaps are critical in keeping important stakeholders aligned with your product vision.

An example of a company leadership roadmap is the timeline roadmap. A timeline roadmap helps communicate your product strategy and the product’s plans for a specific time.  

When combined with the objectives for the product or organization, it helps to clarify why you are working on specific features.

Timeline roadmap

What Are the Best Practices for Great Roadmaps?

You will never complete your product roadmap.

It’s constantly changing and shifting, so you need to ensure its editing and navigation consistency.

  • Detail is important, but only include those that are necessary.
  • Keep the roadmap focused on the immediate short-term, but always watch how this relates to your overall vision. Don’t lose sight of your NorthStar.
  • Ensure every stakeholder has access to the roadmap and regularly checks it. Chisel’s free forever version allows unlimited stakeholders for the roadmap tool.
  • Align your team and prioritize features consistently to ensure everyone is on the same page.

What Is the Now-Next-Later Approach in Product Roadmap?

The now-next-later roadmap is an approach also referred to as the NNL product roadmap. Here, you divide the roadmap into three categories. 

These are what the team is working on currently, what is on the product roadmap next, and what work you will undertake afterward. 

The now

This section of the product roadmap includes all the granular details. It contains the current work that the team undertakes. For example, the focus in the now stage would be on the design, user stories, features, and many more. 

This stage can be rigid in approach.

The next

This stage in the product roadmap includes all the work that the team needs to complete. Here, the objectives and key results are also discussed. 

The later

The last stage of a product roadmap is the later one. This section includes the bigger picture and ranges from a year to three years down the line. In this approach, you consider the broad perspective regarding what might change in the future and how to tackle it better. 

Product Roadmap vs. Technology Roadmap

This section shall discuss the technology roadmap vs. the product roadmap. We will consider the three aspects of who it is built for, the focus, and the deliverables.  

Who Is It Built For?

The technology roadmap is made for internal purposes. The engineers and the operations team build it to outline the plan to deliver specific features. 

On the other hand, you build the product roadmap for external purposes. Using this roadmap, product managers inform the target audience that you’re creating this product to solve their problems. 

What Is the Focus?

The focus in the technology roadmap is on how the technology will grow to accommodate the needs of the product roadmap. 

The product roadmap focuses on what features to build and how to solve customer needs and benefit them. 

Deliverables

In the technology roadmap, everything is specific. You set the deadlines because the other teams are dependent on the technology you build.

A technology product roadmap example: The sales and marketing team will start their work only after the feature building side is complete. 

Product roadmaps are not rigid in timelines, and they are flexible in approach. But that does not mean there is no set deadline. 

Product managers use these roadmaps to let the audience know that they will deliver certain features in some time. 

Conclusion

A roadmap is a savior, and building a product roadmap will make the process more disciplined.

This guide has shown what a product roadmap is and has given steps to build it.

You can use product roadmaps even if you are a product manager or a team member. 

This product roadmap will save time and give you a sure shot at success.

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