What do you do when you want to get somewhere…
But you don’t know how?
You probably whip out your phone and pull up Google Maps.
15 years ago most of us used Mapquest.
Before that, you had to buy new maps of your state and stuff them in your car.
And even before that, in the days of grand ships scouring the seven seas in search of new lands, new monsters, and untold glory, our ancestors relied on hand-drawn maps to guide their vessels.
Maps are essential if you want to arrive at your chosen destination.
It’s no different in the product development process.
You need a product roadmap.
Without one, you will veer off course, lose sight of where you were going in the first place, and either end up somewhere completely different and have to do a lot of backtracking or get so sidetracked you scrap the project altogether.
We’ll show you what a product roadmap is, a few examples of what they may look like, and how to create a product development roadmap for your next undertaking.
Let’s dive in.
What is a Product Roadmap?
A software product roadmap is a high-level view of your product’s vision, direction, goals, and all the projects and tasks associated with them.
If you’re familiar with David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology, he talks about horizons of focus. Horizon 5 is about your purpose, your big WHY. Horizon 4 is your overall vision – what you see manifesting after you’ve done what you set out to do. And Horizon 3 is your objectives and goals.
We’re not gonna spell out everything, but it’s a helpful way of conceptualizing your product roadmap. It kind of combines all 3 of those, loosely speaking.
The roadmap should start with why the product is being created in the first place. It’ll move to the specific vision you see of what this product will look like and accomplish once it’s created. And it should spell out the specific goals and projects required to fulfill that vision.
It’s an overview of your plan for execution, and usually follows the product discovery process.
Here are more specifics we recommend including in your product roadmap:
- A breakdown of the product being created, who it serves, why customers will want it, the tangible and intangible attributes, and the specific problems this product solves.
- Measurable, deadline-oriented objectives with clear definitions for success that map out the milestones of accomplishment that are critical to making the product a reality.
- New features or improved functionality of the product you’re making (or upgrading).
- User stories, which define new products from the end-users point of view, including what they want and why.
- Dates and deadlines that show when aspects of a product will be completed.
- And because product roadmaps are “living documents” that are updated over time, we also recommend you included status updates within the roadmap to show how your team is progressing.
The ultimate goal of the product roadmap is to get buy-in from everyone across your organization and provide direction for the rest of your team.
3 Product Roadmap Examples
Product roadmaps vary from company to company, product to product.
They don’t always include all of the elements detailed in the last section.
The following examples describe different ways of creating a product roadmap to help you approach this creative process with more confidence.
Defining the features of your product is one of the first things you’ll start doing after deciding on what product to create.
Listing all of the features is a perfectly valid way to create a product roadmap. Just don’t use it as a brain dump for all of your ideas.
A feature-focused product roadmap should be well-organized and logically outlined in a hierarchy of features so that you can quickly understand the context of each feature.
It should tell a clear story of what’s being delivered.
A featured-focused product roadmap tells you the “what”, but an objective-driven one hones in on the “why.”
You can include a list of features in a vision-driven roadmap, and in fact, it allows you to show the relationship between what you’re making and how it supports your objectives and truly serves your customers.
Without a strong “why” it’s difficult to prioritize one feature over another. This can lead to confusion or wasted time.
When a product roadmap is guided by a strong vision, every feature has a reason for being created, which quickens the development process.
A time-based product roadmap focuses on features that need to be released within a certain timeframe. This is generally more useful for software products.
The beauty of this type of roadmap is you can organize your team around the deadlines and get a full picture of what you need and when you need it – speeding up the prioritization process.
Be careful not to use time frames that are too tight and burdensome. What can end up happening is you constantly rub up against a timeframe and keep pushing it back and pushing it back. Or worse, you release a product full of bugs and defects.
These situations can kill morale and future confidence in developing a high-quality product that customers love.
But as long as you set realistic timeframes and stick to those deadlines, a time-based product roadmap can help you finish and ship fast.
Creating a Product Roadmap That Works
Your product roadmap is going to be different from ours, but there are universal principles you can use to help you improve whatever process you use.
Below are a few tips to help you design a product roadmap that works for your company and improves product development.
Start With Vision and Goals
No matter what product you’re creating or roadmap you’re using, we highly suggest you begin by defining a clear vision followed by well-defined goals.
This is sometimes referred to as the “top-down approach.”
Getting agreement on the vision will be the hardest part of this process. We encourage you to involve as many team members and stakeholders as you can to get a variety of opinions. Pull them apart and smash them together to find the winning vision everyone supports.
Then set your goals for the product development process and create a roadmap to prioritize the work that needs to get done.
Organize By Themes
One way to organize your product roadmap (and make stronger products) is by using themes.
We mentioned earlier about how listing features on your roadmap is a legitimate way to arrange a product roadmap. Themes help make you and your team understand the full context and relationship between individual features and groups of features.
A theme is a big benefit for your customer or a large feature that depends on many smaller features.
“Reduce buying friction at checkout.”
That’s a theme you could organize various features around, like allowing more payment options, keeping the number of steps to a minimum, and letting the customer complete the purchase on one page.
Themes are especially helpful for product managers who have to sell their roadmap to different stakeholders. A theme prevents any confusion and eliminates ambiguity about the purpose of any feature.
When themes are combined with a strong vision, you can be certain about the direction and progress of your product.
Organize Tasks by Prioritized Features
There will be debate and deliberation at every stage of creating a product roadmap. But perhaps none more than when deciding on which features to develop in what order.
You have to evaluate the criteria for each feature, it’s importance to the overall product, its cost of development, and so many other considerations.
Many methods are out there that help you prioritize features.
One common prioritization framework in software product development is moSCow, which breaks features and tasks into the following categories:
- Must have – critical to the total success of the product.
- Should have – important but not necessary.
- Could have – desirable and could improve some aspects of the product, but not at all necessary or important.
- Won’t have (this time) – least critical, lowest ROI, and minor improvements that will either be scrapped
Use Visuals in Your Roadmap
If you followed our previous tips, then at this point your product roadmap will be driven by a clear and exciting vision, features are organized by themes and prioritized within these sections.
Now you can add a persuasive boost to your product roadmap by including visuals.
Securing buy-in requires you to quickly convey the reasons behind the decisions made in the roadmap. Long-winded statements and text-heavy presentations may not get the job done.
But adding color-coded sections and images, infographics, and even videos can pair down the text and present a richer story to stakeholders.
And visuals shouldn’t be limited to just your product roadmap…
Use Visual Communication to Make Teamwork Natural and Less Stressful
Walls of text in an email or other document giving direction or feedback causes eyes to glaze over, minds to wander, and tasks to slip through the cracks.
Some people thrive on the written word.
In fact, internet users and employees prefer visual communication over any other medium. And it’s not difficult to implement more images and videos into your daily interactions.
Meetings can be held quickly through a webcam instead of waiting until everyone can pile into a cramped conference room.
Complex tasks can be made into GIFs.
And feedback can be given on the document itself through annotated screenshots.
At Zight (formerly CloudApp), we believe fast and easy collaboration is a must-have for organizations that want to do their best work. We’ve been ranked by G2 Crowd as one of the top sales enablement tools and we can help you create better product roadmaps with better communication.