The ABCs of Designing a Roadmap

abcs-123A roadmap communicates the why and what behind what you’re building.  A roadmap should be a high-level visual summary that maps out the vision and direction of your product offering over time. A good roadmap usually articulates how and what value is created, and a bad roadmap usually commits to the timed delivery of features.

Startups should use product roadmaps as a high level vision and strategy to get internal team members in alignment and buy-in from customers in order to help guide and execute the strategy. The roadmap does not have to include details that normally sit in the product backlog, such as functional requirements.  Running a collaborative roadmap workshop is a great way to engage everyone and create a shared product roadmap. However, be careful saying yes to a bunch of feature requests and agreeing to meet a certain deadline because you to need to anticipate new bugs, continually new feature requests, and resource constraints.

Product managers need to tailor their roadmap to the right audience. You can create multiple roadmaps with the same product vision but different messaging to maintain support and enthusiasm from different stakeholders throughout the development cycle. For your executive stakeholders, your aim is to secure their buy-in and to maintain support  throughout the development cycle. This roadmap should focus on high-level strategic concepts — such as driving growth, new market penetration, customer satisfaction, or market position.

For your engineers, you can focus on features, releases, sprints, and milestones. The roadmap can be granular in scope and shorter in duration and can be focused at the feature level. Even though your developers will focus less on product vision and revenue potential, it is smart practice to include relevant milestones and requirements the other departments are facing, so your developers understand your specific deadlines and requirements. It’s best practice to front-load the work in your sprint or quarter cycles. It will help you identify risks earlier and it’s better to deal with your product crisis earlier so you can shift items from your product roadmap to ensure success. This method will also allow you to free up some time at the end for quality assurance, reducing project risks and improving the probability for a successful software deployment.

Your sales team will want to know how the product will help them sell more, so your focus here should be on a combination of features and customer benefits. Focus on how the product will benefit your reps directly, as well as the user benefits they can communicate to their customers and prospects.

When designing a product roadmap for your customers and prospects, your focus should be entirely on the product’s benefits to them. Customers’ roadmaps should be visually attractive and easy to understand. It’s a best practice to not include release or launch dates in external-facing roadmaps. Unless you are certain about the product’s availability date, it is smart practice to avoid including dates in an external-facing roadmap. Defining a deadline could lock you into a needlessly rigid plan at a time when you don’t have enough information to make an accurate forecast.

The roadmap creation process can be summarized as the following: research and capture everything, then organize and prioritize. As a great product manager, you must establish a goal first. Since there are multiple teams that will influence the vision of the product, everyone will need to agree on the vision first and then align the roadmap and requirements against them and make the necessary trade offs as a group. You must constantly reaffirm your strategy and tweak it as a necessary, but stay grounded in what you are trying to achieve to build a successful product.

Please see below for some examples of product roadmaps:

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Tools available for building product roadmaps:

  1. AHA
  2. Product Plan
  3. Prodpad
  4. Trello
  5. Craft
  6. Roadmunk
  7. Quip
  8. Capterra
  9. Etc.
Emma Nguyen
Over 5 years of experience in IT implementation, pre/post-sale support, custom application support, and innovative solution deployment. Passionate about innovation and process improvement. Have lived and worked in Boston, Sydney, and New York.

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