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What is a Product Roadmap?

Plotting Your Product’s Path to Success with a Product Roadmap

Products evolve over time and Product Managers need to get agreement on how the product evolves. Product roadmaps are a great way to document planned changes for product strategy, direction and features. Documenting your plan to deliver product features over time is critical for getting management buy-in, project funding, and customers who agree to buy it before it comes to market.

Where will you use your Product Roadmap?

Product Roadmaps are used virtually every time you present to an audience about your plans for the future for your product, product line or even loftier company goals. The timelines that you choose to show reflect the cadence of new or revised product releases. And if you’re releasing products every few days, then your roadmap will show the direction of development rather than stakes in the ground by which time different features are available.

Before You Start Your Product Roadmap: High-level Roadmaps

High-level roadmaps give context to your product roadmap. You’re not just releasing a product. You are releasing it into a market that has:

  • Technology transitions
  • Market changes
  • Competitive forces
  • Platforms to support the product
  • Your own company strategy to support

Make sure that you give the context for your product proposal and you’ll have a lot more buy-in to proceed.

Product Roadmap - Market and Tech Trends

Product Roadmap – Market and Tech Trends

An Eight Step Process for Creating a Product Roadmap

Product roadmaps are a core deliverable for Product Managers. Here is a simple eight step process to make sure that you don’t miss a step along the way.

  1. Decide the detail level and amount of time to spend depending on your audience and the purpose of the roadmap. Should this be a “quick and dirty” roadmap that you create in half an hour, or is it something that warrants you spending many hours on? How much detail do you want to include? Does it need to include details on all of the features in each release or can it be more high-level?
  2. Assess the competitive moves, market and tech trends that are the background into which you are developing your product. This will help you as you plan your product strategy and determine what a winning roadmap will look like.
  3. Gather and prioritize your product requirements.
  4. Decide on the appropriate timeframe. Will your roadmap be short-term and just showing three, six or twelve months? Or is it a longer-term roadmap that is one, three or five years?
  5. Choose an organizing strategy. Are you organizing around customer-focused themes or are you releasing product at a regular cadence?
  6. Build an internal roadmap. This should include enough details to help educate your team and others about where the product is headed and what to expect in the future in terms of product releases.
  7. Get buy-in and finalize your roadmap. Share the roadmap with your team and executives as you are developing it. Make sure they understand your logic and thinking using the organizing strategy and other data. Once you have a final draft get sign-off from the main stakeholders.
  8. Create an external roadmap. Use the internal roadmap as a basis and then remove the appropriate level of detail and specifics so that it can be shared more widely outside of your company to give major customers, the press and industry analysts an idea of how you will achieve your vision.

Eight steps seem so simple. In practice each step may involve a lot more in-depth thought.

Product Roadmap Templates

Product roadmaps help to organize and plan out the future of products, show the team and others how the product will achieve its vision, and serve as a way to communicate with internal and external stakeholders. They can be a highly effective tool for a Product Manager.

Theme-Based Product Roadmap Template

You create this roadmap by grouping your potential prioritized feature list into themes. example, a theme could be performance, usability, or competitive parity. The beauty of a theme-based product roadmap is that it makes creating marketing messages and plans for communicating clearly with customers easier. Without a theme, you may be delivering customers a bunch of features and then leaving them to decide why they should buy.

Product Roadmap - Theme Based

Product Roadmap – Theme Based

Golden Feature Product Roadmap Template

Golden feature roadmaps use a simple concept: Choose one critically important feature for each release; the product can’t be released until this golden feature is completed, and only very minor other features can be added. This approach can be a good strategy because it provides focus for product development and makes marketing messaging very clear.

Product Roadmap - Golden Feature

Product Roadmap – Golden Feature

Timed Release Product Roadmap Template

Timed release roadmaps are based on the concept that new versions of the product will be released on a consistent schedule that doesn’t change. For example, a new product would be released every 6 months – no matter what. To create this roadmap, you list your features in priority order for the next release, estimating what can be done in the time frame. If a feature slips and doesn’t make it into this release, it simply goes into the next release. A consistent release cadence like this one works well if your team is doing Agile development and is either releasing after every sprint or combining every few sprints and releasing on a regular schedule.

Product Roadmap - Timed Release

Product Roadmap – Timed Release

There are lot of suggested roadmap formats. If none of them work to tell your product, technology or market story use these ideas as a starting point for illustrating what you have to say. Have fun!

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