A Product Roadmap Guide: Everything You Need To Know
When was the last time you went on a road trip without any GPS navigation? It can be stressful trying to navigate unfamiliar roads and plan your route. But with GPS, you have a guide that can get you where you want to go with ease—even if you need to make changes mid-route.
The same goes for modern product roadmaps. They may be called “roadmaps,” but the truth is that successful product roadmaps these days are more like navigating by GPS than using an old paper map. Product roadmaps are dynamic plans designed to keep everyone aligned and on track.
Product roadmaps provide a clear path forward with milestones, features, and release dates. They should also remain flexible enough to adapt to changes and challenges. And just like a GPS, everyone on your team can see the route, which encourages collaboration and communication.
What Is a Product Roadmap?
A product roadmap (sometimes also called a product management roadmap) is a high-level plan for a new product’s development and release.
Roadmaps usually track progress over time and include milestones like new features and release dates. Product roadmaps often include visual elements, too, like Gantt charts or other graphic timelines.
The purpose of a product roadmap is to serve as a single source of truth, where everyone (from the development team to project managers) can stay up-to-date, track product progress, and align on priorities. The product roadmap should contain release dates for each phase of the product's development as well as strategic goals and KPIs.
Know the Difference: Product Vision, Strategy, and Roadmaps
Newer product managers often get product vision, product strategy, and product roadmaps mixed up at first. But once you know the purpose of each, it’s easy to see them as related but distinctly different steps in the product development process.
- The product vision defines the long-term mission, overarching goal, or ultimate purpose of the product.
- Strategic planning is a more detailed process of deciding how you’re going to achieve your mission.
- The roadmap is the plan to execute the vision and strategy.
Visions, strategies, and roadmaps are everywhere. Preparing for a product launch is not too different from preparing for a trip.
First, you have to decide where you want to go. Somewhere warm? Somewhere in the mountains? At this point, you’re developing your vision for a perfect vacation—the concept of what the goal looks like.
Once your vision is complete, it’s time to strategize—what kinds of places and activities do you want to see and do? Sightseeing or hiking? Ruins or beaches? How much money do you have to spend? You need to strategically plan if you want to achieve your short-term and long-term goals.
Finally, you have to make the roadmap—you need to choose the flights and hotel and hire a pet sitter. Or, if you’re taking a road trip, you may use your trusty GPS to plan your route. Either way, your roadmap is the plan for how it all will happen.
Why Product Roadmaps Are Important
A product build is too complicated to manage without a clear plan in place. And just like a vacation, you can’t predict precisely how your product build will go, but you can create a comprehensive and flexible roadmap to help you handle the bumps that life throws your way.
A product roadmap keeps everyone aligned, helps you track product progress, and lets you revise as issues naturally arise. It also provides a centralized place to look at the big picture.
Roadmaps Align the Team and Enhance Collaboration
A product roadmap is a shared understanding of the product vision and goals, and the steps needed to achieve them. It is key to aligning your product team. With one place to go for information about the product, including the product goals, everyone is working toward the same objectives.
Not only does that visibility reduce confusion and misunderstandings, but it makes collaboration easier, too. You don’t have to schedule a meeting to update your teammates if they’ve been able to stay up-to-date the whole time because you both have access to the same roadmap.
Your Roadmap Helps You Track Progress and Stay Focused
A great product roadmap makes it easier to track progress and stay on target. With a product roadmap in place, the whole team can clearly see what tasks need to be completed and when. Without a roadmap, the development team may miss crucial deadlines, resulting in a delayed launch and potentially even losing market share to competitors.
A roadmap allows you to see where you are in the development process and what tasks need to be completed next. This can help you identify potential roadblocks early on, so you can take steps to mitigate them before they cost you too many employee hours or throw off your timeline.
Roadmaps Help You Navigate Uncertainty and Adapt to Changes
Product roadmaps are designed to be flexible, which is important because changes are a natural part of product management. It’s one of the reasons having a product plan in place is so important. When an issue arises and the roadmap needs to be adjusted, having the whole picture in front of you can help show you the best path forward.
Say you realize you need to build more features than you originally accounted for in your timeline. The product team can use the roadmap as a guide to understanding how these changes will impact the overall timeline and adjust as needed.
Types of Product Roadmaps
Product roadmaps can vary a lot. Depending on the product, the metrics you’re using to measure success will vary—no two roadmaps are entirely alike. That said, product roadmaps can be grouped into a few different categories, like timelines, internal/external, agile, or theme.
Timeline Product Roadmap
A timeline product roadmap is essentially a visual representation of the product development process. It provides a clear idea of how the product will evolve over time and what key milestones and deadlines you need to hit before product release.
The timeline usually spans a specified timeframe (often a quarter or a year) and outlines when to expect each major release or feature.
The timeline can be presented in various formats, like a Gantt chart or a simple calendar view. The Gantt chart is one of the most common formats, though, since it offers an easy-to-understand visualization of the timeline. It also shows the dependencies between different tasks or features.
On a Gantt chart, each task or feature has a horizontal bar, with the length of the bar representing the estimated time it will take to complete the task or feature. Dependencies are shown as lines connecting the bars, indicating that one task or feature must be completed before another can start.
Internal and External Product Roadmaps
An internal roadmap is a product roadmap that is developed and maintained to update internal stakeholders like sales, development, marketing, services, and the other groups involved in making your product a success. Internal roadmaps serve the needs of your internal teams by providing them with the information they need to do their job.
Meanwhile, external roadmaps aimed at existing and prospective customers. Keep your external roadmap realistic—don't speculate and don't oversell your product. An external roadmap is a great way to conjure excitement and buy-in for your product.
Agile Product Roadmap
An agile roadmap is designed to evolve throughout the product lifecycle based on feedback and changing market conditions. This type of flexible roadmap is useful for startups and small organizations that need to be able to pivot quickly across multiple teams and initiatives.
It’s important to understand that agile is a philosophy, not a rigid methodology. Meaning it can result in many different types of roadmaps, but the constant feature in an agile roadmap is the built-in expectation of change. Agile development emphasizes responding to change and accepting uncertainty.
Whether or not you function as an agile team the rest of the time, incorporating agile concepts into your product roadmap can help you smooth out the (often bumpy) product development process by building revision right into it. The results are faster review cycles, greater flexibility in releasing features, and less wasted work upfront.
Theme Product Roadmap
Theme-based product roadmaps contain visual representation of product development tasks and milestones organized around specific themes or initiatives. This type of roadmap is an excellent way to link back to product strategy. That’s why we recommend incorporating some aspects of theme roadmaps into every product roadmap.
Each theme is a high-level strategic goal that the product team wants to achieve. Each goal can be broken down into multiple epics, which are made up of smaller user stories or tasks.
For example, a product team working on an app might create a theme around new users, and it might look like this:
Theme: Increase new users
Goal: Get new signups on the free trial page
Epic: Build a user-friendly free trial page by incorporating user feedback from the last product and consulting with a UX designer
- Conduct user research to identify current signup pain points
- Get UX designer suggestions
- Develop wireframes for a new design
- Test new design with a focus group
- Release new login
- Monitor user engagement metrics to evaluate the effectiveness of the new design
Theme-based product roadmaps provide a high-level view of the product development process that then drills down into tasks, making it easier to align development efforts with strategic goals. It helps the product development team keep the most important features and initiatives prioritized.
One of the challenges of a theme-based product roadmap is that it can be difficult to track progress across multiple themes. It is important to have a clear system in place for tracking progress and ensuring that the team is making progress on all of the themes in the roadmap.
This can be achieved through regular check-ins and updates, as well as tools such as project management software or product roadmap software that allow for easy tracking of progress on tasks and milestones.
Product Roadmap Tools
With UserVoice, teams can easily create and manage product roadmaps informed by feedback to meet the needs of their target audience.
UserVoice helps product teams bring customer ideas into roadmap planning with feedback analytics. By adding business intelligence to the feature-planning process, product teams can see the potential impact of a feature before implementing.
Learn more about how UserVoice can help with product roadmapping.
How To Build a Product Roadmap
While each roadmap will be unique, several key steps will ensure an effective product roadmap aligned with your organization's overall business strategy.
Before you can begin building your product roadmap, it's essential to have a clear product vision of what you want to achieve. This means understanding your target market, identifying key customer needs, and defining your product's unique value proposition.
To build a successful roadmap, you also need a product strategy that links back to your organization's strategic objectives and overall business strategy. This strategy should outline how your product will help you achieve your business goals and include details on your product's target market, key features, and competitive landscape. Once you have those pieces in place, you’re ready to start building your roadmap.
1. Identify Your Target Customers With User Stories
To build a successful product roadmap, it's important that you understand your target customers. This includes collecting feedback to identify their needs, preferences, and pain points. Use this information to inform your product development process. Then build user stories to understand the value of your product from the user’s point of view.
User stories can inform the development of product roadmaps by providing a clear understanding of the needs and preferences of target users.
2. Prioritize Your Features Based on Customer Needs
Once you have a clear understanding of your target customers, it's time to prioritize your product features based on their needs. This means identifying the most important features that will deliver the most value to your ideal customers and focusing your development efforts on these features first.
For example, if you’re building a B2B sales tool and your target market is small businesses, your product may prioritize lead management features that help small sales teams easily collect contact information and track communication history with potential clients.
3. Determine Which Metrics Will Matter Most for Your Product
To ensure that your product roadmap is effective, it's important to identify the key metrics to measure impact.
Say you’re building a product roadmap for a team collaboration app. In this case, key metrics that may matter most for the product could be:
- User engagement—This could be measured by tracking the number of active users, daily logins, and time spent on the app per user.
- Revenue growth—This could be measured by tracking the number of paid subscriptions or in-app purchases.
- Customer satisfaction—This could be measured by conducting surveys or analyzing app reviews to understand user feedback and sentiment.
By identifying key metrics and tracking them over time, the product team can better understand how their roadmap is impacting the success of the app and make data-driven decisions to improve it.
4. Build a Realistic Timeline With Tasks and Deadlines
With your product strategy and feature prioritization in place, it's time to build a realistic timeline for your product development process.
To build a timeline, identify all of the tasks that need to be completed, prioritize them based on their importance, and estimate how long each task will take to complete. Use this information to create an overview of specific deadlines for each task.
Keep the timeline flexible enough to accommodate changes and revisions by including checkpoints for progress reviews and updates. Assign specific team members to each task to create a feeling of accountability and ownership. Finally, communicate the timeline to all stakeholders so that everyone is aware of what needs to be done and when.
5. Get Feedback From Stakeholders
Throughout the product development process, it's important to seek feedback from key stakeholders, including your product team, C-suite, and investors. This feedback can help you identify areas where your product roadmap needs improvement and ensure that your product is aligned with your organization's overall business strategy.
6. Revise Based on Feedback
Finally, you’ll revise your product roadmap based on the feedback you receive from stakeholders. This might mean adjusting your feature prioritization, revising your timeline, or making other changes to keep your product on track.
For example, stakeholders might say your roadmap requires too large of a budget. So you might revise the feature list to include the most important features while you put a handful of features on the back burner.
Tips for Building a Successful Product Roadmap
You can use the steps above to make a decent product roadmap, but if you want to create a roadmap that helps you build an exceptional product, follow these tips.
Get Inspired by Your Competition
Use your competition as a source of inspiration, but don't fall into the features arms race with them. Differentiation is the key to success.
Keep an eye on what they’re up to, and let it spark your imagination. But stay focused on your product vision and unique value proposition, and use your competition as a benchmark for best practices and industry trends. Because if you’re truly differentiating yourself and focusing on a unique target audience, your competition can’t be anything more than inspiration.
Identify What Your Customers Need Most
To build a successful product roadmap, it's important to have a deep understanding of customer needs—not just who they are, but what they want from you.
This means constantly gathering customer feedback to identify their needs, preferences, and pain points. Use this information to inform your product development process—your customers’ needs should be a big part of your vision and strategy, too.
Balance Features With Functionality
Don't overload your product with extra bells and whistles—Your product needs to balance features and functionality. Whenever you get stuck on what features to prioritize to maintain that balance, refer back to your product vision and your customers. They’ll help you realign on what matters most and keep that balance.
Prioritize Your Roadmap Using a Matrix System
Speaking of priorities: if you don't already have a prioritization strategy, try using a matrix system to categorize possibilities and determine which projects are worth including in the roadmap. This can help you prioritize your feature development efforts based on their potential impact and feasibility.
[Image suggestion: an example Matrix]
Sorting your tasks and features into four categories based on effort and impact gives you a visual representation of your prioritization. It’s common to use the Matrix system for decision-making as the act of sorting into different categories often makes it easier to prioritize.
Get in the habit of documenting everything. It will help you stay on track and keep everyone informed about product progress. This includes documenting your product vision, product strategy, and feature prioritization. Any time anything changes, document it. This will help you with the current product development, and it can serve as a reference for future product roadmaps.
For example, if you see the same issues popping up in the same part of the development process over multiple products, that’s an opportunity to review your organization’s approach and how you might prevent them in the future.
This can also help reduce misunderstandings between team members (if they have different notes on the same meeting, for instance) by giving them a single source of truth for information, both old and new, on the product.
Link Each Task Back to Strategy
Every task added to your roadmap should serve your strategy and your vision. By explicitly stating how the task serves your strategy, you can make sure you stay on track and keep your product's purpose top of mind.
Task: Build the autosave feature that users have been requesting
Link to strategy: This will link back to our strategy of improving user engagement by offering our users a way to easily jump back into wherever they left off.
By explicitly linking each task to your strategy, you can avoid getting sidetracked by tasks that don't contribute to your product vision or strategy. It will also get the whole team in the habit of asking themselves, “How does this relate to our vision and strategy” on a regular basis.
Product Roadmap Templates
Product roadmap templates can be useful as a starting point to kick-start your creative thinking and help you determine what your product roadmap needs. But if you have any illusions that a template is all you need to build your product roadmap, think again. A template should serve as a starting point or inspiration to spark ideas for your own product roadmap.
This is because it's highly unlikely that any product roadmap template will be perfectly suited to your product and your users. By creating your own template, you can ensure that it's tailored to the specific needs of your organization and your target customers.
When creating your own template, it's important to consider the unique requirements of your product development process. This might include factors like the size and structure of your product team, your development timeline, and the specific features and functionality that you plan to include in your product.