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Product Roadmap: What It Is and How to Build One

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To make a brilliant app idea a reality, you not only need a bunch of professional programmers. Organizing teamwork and establishing effective communication are equally important aspects that have a significant impact on the final results. This is especially applicable if you plan to build a complex solution and a development process is expected to be lengthy.

But how to keep everyone on the same page if new changes occur in a blink of an eye and there are so many people involved in a project? The answer is simple yet effective: you should create a product roadmap.

Most of us probably have a general understanding of roadmaps since they are widely used in many areas of our personal and professional life. In this article, we will explain how product roadmaps look like as well as provide you with some examples. We will also give you some recommendations on how to create a decent roadmap for the app development project.

  1. What is a product roadmap?
  2. What is an agile product roadmap?
  3. Types of product roadmaps
  4. When do you need a product roadmap?
  5. How to create a product roadmap
  6. What should a product roadmap contain?

What is a Product Roadmap?

In general, a product roadmap is a visual representation of a plan for the creation of a particular product or a group of products. As a rule of thumb, it depicts a strategy of product development as well as the key steps for its execution.  

Here are the main tasks a product roadmap performs:

  • Establishes a single vision of a product
  • Shows the long-term objectives and strategy
  • Maps out stages for executing such a strategy
  • Keeps everyone on the same page
  • Facilitate effective communication
  • Helps teams stay on track
  • Allows product managers to monitor the progress

What is an agile product roadmap?

Product roadmaps are not something that has emerged just recently. People have been using them for several decades by now. However, a product roadmap used to be a pretty much static document with long timeframes. A team that worked on a project often treated such roadmaps like instructions so usually no or just a few changes were made to them after the beginning of a product development process.

Nowadays, many teams implemented Agile methodologies such as Scrum and Kanban. One of the key principles of such methodologies is flexibility so a product roadmap looks different now. Specifically, it became a tool for effective cooperation and communication that is adjustable to ever-changing conditions rather than a document declaring something pre-defined.

Hence, amendments can be made to today’s product roadmaps quite easily in case, for example, stakeholders changed their priorities. And modern cloud-based solutions for building product roadmaps (e.g. ProductPlan, Roadmap Planner, Aha!, etc.) allow product managers to keep everyone updated automatically. Here’s a product roadmap example:

sample roadmap

Types of product roadmaps

If you do the search in Google, you will probably find many different classifications of product roadmaps. In this post, we will discuss only one of them since it’s not only theoretical but also has a practical value. Besides, this classification is also the most popular one in software development.

So product roadmaps may be divided into types depending on the audiences they are created for. Because, as you might have guessed, CEOs and software engineers are interested in completely different pieces of information. Based on the audience criterion, we may determine the following types of product roadmaps:

types of product roadmap

Roadmap for stakeholders

Depending on a project and a team that develops a product (internal or outsourced), stakeholders are either the company’s top management or clients.

The product roadmaps of this kind show a product development process from a strategic perspective. They are aimed at depicting such aspects as growth, market position, market penetration, etc. For instance, so-called IT roadmaps are created for the CTOs of large organizations to lay out the evolution of a company’s technology stack (i.e. what solution a company needs to develop to reach its business goals).

Roadmap for tech specialists

A product roadmap for programmers is also sometimes referred to as “technology roadmap” or “development roadmap”. It is usually more in-depth than a product roadmap for stakeholders and focuses more on product functionality, milestones, releases, epics, and features. Here’s an example:

product roadmap

A technology roadmap helps developers define the priorities, figure out what are the project goals in general, and what other team members do reach such goals.

Roadmap for a sales team

This roadmap is mostly used by the sales departments of product companies. Sales representative have to explain to the clients and customers what benefits they will receive after buying the product. That’s why roadmap for a sales team should focus on the product value. It’s recommended that different product features are grouped based on the benefits they bring to customers.

Roadmap for customers

This is the rarest type of product roadmaps. As they are built for external purposes, product roadmaps of this type look more like presentations. In particular, they should be easy to understand and should not contain much information about the company’s internal processes.

When do you need a product roadmap?

It’s worth mentioning that not all product development projects require all kinds of a product roadmap. If you need to build just a simple website or upgrade your existing app with minor changes, you can probably do it without putting resources into building a product roadmap for every type of users. In such cases, it will be enough if a product manager (product owner or project manager) builds just one product roadmap solely for the internal and reporting purposes.

However, if your project (just like most software development projects) is complex, we recommend having a more comprehensive roadmap or several roadmaps of different types to ensure effective communication among all the parties involved. It is also a nice idea to create a product roadmap when your existing application or system requires frequent updates so that a team, stakeholders, and customers can see how the solution is evolving over time.

How to create a product roadmap

Product roadmaps come in different formats. Everything depends on the audience, project management methodology, software that is used for roadmap building, personal habits and preferences, etc. However, it doesn’t mean that one roadmap is better than the other. Since product roadmaps are all about convenience, all of them are good provided that they perform their main task — make the work and communication on a project more efficient.

Here are some general tips that should help you create a decent product roadmap regardless of the chosen format:

define the strategy and audienceDefine the strategy and audience. These two aspects are equally important for the further process and, thus, they must be determined at the very beginning. Of course, if you build a technology roadmap, you’ll need to focus on the details rather than on business directions. Yet, all roadmaps more or less map out the big strategy so you cannot go without it.

Choose the metricsChoose the metrics. One of the main purposes of product roadmaps is to help product managers and other interested people monitor the progress on a project. Depending on the audience, metrics may relate to business goals (for stakeholders) or the functionality (for developers).

Choose software that fits your needs bestChoose software that fits your needs best. There is no one-size-fits-all solution so you have to do deep research. The good news, however, is that most modern applications for the creation of product roadmaps are well-tailored to the specifics of software development processes and have the functionality that agile teams need.

Don’t go into much detailDon’t go into much detail. A product roadmap is a high-level document. So you have to include only those details which are required to communicate a product strategy. After all, this is a tool to make everyone’s life easier, not to create another endless table. Think thoroughly and discuss this issue with stakeholders or a coding team if needed.

Update as necessaryUpdate as necessary. To perform its task, a product roadmap should take into account the current conditions, not just the ones which were known at the very beginning of a project. That’s why you have to make necessary changes to it, exclude information that is no longer relevant, and set the new priorities.

What should a product roadmap contain?

The main purpose of constructing a product roadmap is to communicate a product vision and strategy to a specific group of people. A good roadmap should not look like a to-do list or a list of theoretical statements about the company’s objectives and philosophy. It should rather show practical steps of the development process but, at the same time, tell a product’s story in general.

With a different level of digitalization, key components of a product roadmap include:

  • Theme (i.e. what is the product about?)
  • Epics & stories (i.e. what features will the product include?)
  • Timeline (i.e. how much time is needed to build these features/product)
  • Priorities (i.e. what features should a coding team develop in the first place?)

Wrapping up

Accurate planning, step-by-step execution, and careful monitoring are essential prerequisites for the ultimate success of any project. And a product roadmap is one of the most important tools for ensuring that everything goes as scheduled and everyone is kept updated about all the changes. Depending on the specifics of your project, you may need different types of roadmaps aimed for such audiences as customers, stakeholders, sales or coding teams. However, when it comes to software development, technology roadmaps are used most frequently. They help a development team to communicate more effectively and deliver a solution on time.

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