What Is a Product Roadmap?
A product roadmap is a strategic document that guides organizations and teams on how to document, plan, and execute the overall mission, vision, and strategy of the stakeholders. Product roadmaps are visual depictions that show cross-functional activities over time that need to be completed. They can depict what needs to be accomplished over a few days or even over multiple years.
Figure 1: Sample Product Roadmap
To be successful, the roadmap must consider all facets of the organization in question, such as customer needs, market size, company strengths, sales channels, positioning, competition, and partners. A product roadmap is also critical in obtaining funds from the organization to invest in the proposed product or products. It is critical to take a multi-disciplinary approach to developing a roadmap because it will allow you to have a holistic view of the organization, as well as its needs and priorities.
While a roadmap communicates the “what” and the “when” of your project, it is a flexible document that evolves overtime. Any roadmap that does not go through a grooming process on an agreed upon timeframe (number of releases every quarter, etc.) will serve as an ineffective tool to planning. In other words, for a roadmap to be an effective planning tool, it needs to be groomed periodically.
What Are the Goals and Benefits of a Product Roadmap?
There are four key benefits of a product roadmap:
- Drive consensus and sponsorship from leadership for the product
- Develop a baseline estimate for resources (financial/labor)
- Offer a clear vision of the evolution of the product
- Provide a low-risk, low-cost approach to prioritizing market trends
The ultimate goal of creating a product roadmap is to help achieve the organization’s goal of creating a successful product. It is important to understand the business core needs and desires while demonstrating the organization’s vision and getting the buy-in from the stakeholders. This will also help with planning for future resources and leveraging the wisdom of the team. It also communicates what the product delivery team is working on, which promotes transparency and accountability.
How Is a Product Roadmap Developed?
To develop a viable and executable product roadmap, it’s important to ensure the involved stakeholders (e.g. those who will develop, utilize, and sustain the product) buy into the roadmap. Like other plans, the product roadmap starts with a simple thought and various ideas. This thought and these potential ideas are put through multiple steps to develop a clear product vision and implementation of that vision.
Figure 2: Steps for creating a product roadmap
Step 1 – Strategy Development. During the first step in the roadmap development process, it’s important to review the defined vision and strategy that the organization is striving toward. It’s also important to extract specific products required to execute that vision and strategy.
Step 2 – Idea Generation. During the second step of the development process, the Product Manager enlists a team to conduct market research, workshops, and brainstorming sessions to generate a relevant list of products for the product roadmap.
Step 3 – Idea Prioritization. In the third step of the development process, the Product Manager and key stakeholders collaborate to prioritize the products and/or ideas based on organizational needs against the financial and technical constraints.
Step 4 – Idea Grouping and Finalization. The fourth and final step is to review the list of ideas that have been prioritized and group the ideas together in logical categories. By doing this, the Product Manager and key stakeholders will have developed a high-level schedule and thus a final version of the roadmap.
Upon completion of the roadmap, it is important to share the roadmap with relevant stakeholders to gain buy-in. With this, a Product Manager can guarantee alignment.
Who Are the Key Stakeholders Within the Product Roadmap Development Process?
In the world of Agile Development where priorities change quickly and teams instantly pivot from one task to another, it is critical to have the right people in your organization to facilitate team discussions, promote value, and drive the implementation of the roadmap.
While Agile Coaches and Scrum Masters are critical members of the team, Product Managers lead the road mapping process. To be effective in this endeavor, transparency and communication are essential. All stakeholders from the engineering, sales, marketing, and executive teams must share unfiltered feedback to ensure the plan delivers on the defined vision, mission, and objectives.
In a typical organization, various stakeholders need different levels of information. The goal is to be able to provide the roadmap’s information in the clearest and most concise way. This will help decide when plans should change, how those changes can impact certain objectives, and how to collaboratively communicate the team’s goals and plan.
Engineering: requires the high-level goals, strategy, and vision (the “why”) with every detail for the product’s features, releases, and requirements (the “when” and “what”).
Marketing: requires the detailed goals, strategy, and vision, with more emphasis on how the customers benefit overall from the product.
Sales: requires information concerning what functionality the customer receives. This includes the “when” and “why” the customers should care. The sales team will also need to know when they can tell their customers the new functionality is coming.
Management/Board: requires knowing how the product plan aligns with the goals, strategy, vision, and corporate metrics. They need to know how the releases impact the business.
What Are the Different Types of Product Roadmaps?
While developing the product roadmap, it is important to clearly identify the roadmap’s audience. With this in mind, the product roadmap content will be tailored to present information that is pertinent to the audience members. Typically, there are internal roadmaps for internal stakeholder groups to execute and external roadmaps that are client-focused.
Internal Roadmap for an Executive Audience
For the executive stakeholder group and leadership teams, the aim is to gain buy-in for the product’s vision and to maintain continued support throughout the development system. These roadmaps focus on high-level strategic concepts, including customer satisfaction, driving growth, market position, or new market penetration.
Internal Roadmap for an Engineer Audience
For the engineering stakeholders, roadmaps are often focused on releases, features, milestones, and sprints. Their scope is typically more detailed and has a shorter duration than the executive-focused roadmaps. The product roadmap will help drive the technical roadmap so the engineering teams are able to identify the technology required to achieve the business goals. Regardless, the product’s themes and goals should remain a primary component of this type of roadmap.
Figure 3: Sample sprint roadmap
Internal Roadmap for a Sales Representative Audience
The product roadmap for sales teams simply showcases strategies for selling more. The focus here should be on how the product’s features benefit the customer. Additional focus should be on how the product directly benefits the sales representatives, as well as the user benefits that can be conveyed to customers and prospective customers.
External Roadmap for Customers and Prospective Customers
For this group of stakeholders, it is important to focus the roadmap content on the various benefits the product offers. Because these are external, customer-focused documents, ensuring the roadmap is aesthetically and visually pleasing will be important.
The product roadmap is a flexible and powerful tool developed specifically to guide key stakeholders within an organization to plan and execute the overall strategy and objectives of a business. They are visual and clean depictions of activities that need to be completed over time.
This article provides steps on how to develop a product roadmap and who to involve during its development cycle. Ensuring the product roadmap is tailored to each specific audience is key to meet the objectives defined early in the process.