What Is a Product Roadmap? Roadmapping 101
Learning how to create product roadmaps will enable you to communicate your vision and high-level product plan quickly and efficiently.
But what is the purpose of a product roadmap? Product roadmap tools enable you to display the goals, direction, and priorities of a product in a visual way that viewers can easily understand. For this reason, product roadmaps are valuable communication tools and an integral part of new product planning.
In this guide, we’ll outline what to include in your product roadmaps, how to create and present them, and what you should look for in product roadmap software.
What is a product roadmap?
A product roadmap is a graph that illustrates work, milestones, and goals across time, similar to a Gantt chart. In the same way that Gantt charts are used to illustrate a project plan and schedule, product roadmaps are used to visualize a product plan and timeline and facilitate teams to use the launch plan template for success.
The purpose of a product roadmap is to document and communicate the high-level work and objectives of a product plan, as well as to show progress to date and work remaining. By sharing your product roadmap with your team and other stakeholders, you help keep everyone on the same page about the product’s progress and goals.
Roadmaps are also useful for assessing change requests, as they help you see how new functionality or a change in requirements will impact the overall product plan.
Your product management roadmap is a "living document" in the sense that it must be updated throughout the product life cycle. As work progresses and changes occur, the roadmap needs to reflect this new information to keep stakeholders up to date.
Who designs a product roadmap?
Typically a product manager designs the product roadmap. Product managers are responsible for overseeing and managing the entire product life cycle. Their focus is on the high-level product strategy and plan, and the product roadmap is an essential part of this.
While the product manager is responsible for designing the product roadmap, they don’t complete product roadmapping all by themselves. To ensure all the essential information is included in the roadmap, the product manager must collaborate with key stakeholders to brainstorm and prioritize features and requirements.
In some cases, your company might not have a product manager. In this case, the product roadmap’s design and upkeep may fall on a project manager or product owner. (A product owner is a member of a Scrum team that is responsible for representing the customer’s best interest during a project.)
What goes into product roadmap planning?
The first step of product roadmap planning is defining your product strategy and vision. This strategy should outline who the product is for, where and how it will be sold, and what you hope to accomplish by selling it.
For instance, you may have a cost strategy (offering the best possible product for the lowest price) targeted at a certain segment of the U.S. population, with the goal of increasing your market share.
Once your strategy is clear, the next step is to define measurable objectives. This may include when you want to release the product, how many people you want to reach with your product marketing, and what percentage of market share you hope to gain by what date.
The last step of product roadmap planning, before you start the actual product roadmapping process, is to define who your audience is and how far out you want the roadmap to go.
With product roadmap software, you can often create the entire detailed roadmap and then change views and filters to show only the high-level requirements or immediate time frame. This functionality enables you to maintain one version of your roadmap while still only showing viewers exactly what they need to see.
But if you’re creating your product roadmap manually, you may need to produce multiple versions based on your stakeholders’ expectations and your product life cycle length.
Your product operations team, and other key internal stakeholders, such as the product marketing team, will likely want a more detailed product roadmap. On the other hand, external stakeholders and executives will benefit more from a high-level roadmap showing only the essential information they care about.
Plus, a product life cycle could stretch on for years, so creating a single roadmap that encompasses the entire span of the product life while still being easily digestible is challenging. You may need to create a roadmap for just the initial quarter or year of the product and then expand it out as time progresses.
What is roadmapping?
Product roadmapping is the process of creating your product roadmap. Once your product roadmap planning is complete, it's time to execute the actual product roadmapping process.
The product roadmapping process includes the following steps:
- Collect features and other product requirements from stakeholders (users, customers, your marketing team, technical experts, etc.).
- Evaluate and prioritize the requirements based on company goals, expected benefits, team capacity, and other constraints.
- Highlight any dependencies and key milestones (such as product releases) you need to include in your roadmap.
- Provide high-level estimates of how long it will take to complete each feature and requirement.
- Use product roadmapping tools to pull all of this information together into a visual timeline.
While roadmapping can be done in spreadsheets or even on paper, product roadmapping software is the most efficient way to construct and update your roadmap. A roadmap tool can automatically update dates and dependencies based on changes you make, while you would need to manually make changes in a spreadsheet or paper document.
Roadmap best practices you need to consider
Here are five best practices you should embrace when constructing your product roadmaps.
- Don’t make it too granular. The product roadmap is meant to be an easy-to-understand visual used to convey important information. Putting too much detail into it will clutter up the graphic and make it difficult to read.
- Use time horizons instead of dates. Most Scrum teams use Story Points (SPs) to convey relative units of measurement. One SP doesn’t necessarily equate to one hour or one day; it just indicates that a task will take less effort than a feature assigned two SPs. In the same way, it’s useful to assign "near-term," "mid-term," and "long-term" to your roadmap rather than specific calendar dates to allow for flexibility in planning.
- Refine as you go. For near-term items, it's important to understand exactly what work and expertise will be required. But, for features or requirements that are further out, it’s okay to leave them vague for now and add detail as you progress, and more information is gathered.
- Show stakeholders only what they need to see. As mentioned earlier, different stakeholders will want to see different information and timelines in a roadmap. Your product team will likely expect more detail for a shorter timespan, while your client may only care about high-level features and progress over the long term. You should have a different view or filter for each group, so they see only what they care about.
- Have one centrally located roadmap. Your roadmap should be stored in a central location and regularly shared with stakeholders. Having one version that is continually kept up-to-date can ensure everyone stays on the same page about product goals, progress, and priorities.
How to present a product roadmap to clients
A product roadmap helps illustrate to clients the goals and objectives for a product as well as what high-level features and requirements will achieve those outcomes and how long it will roughly take to complete them.
Clients generally want to see higher-level, longer-term roadmaps. They also care about seeing progress to date, how you’re prioritizing features, and what upcoming milestones are planned. So it’s vital that you present a version of the roadmap that highlights this information and doesn’t include any lower-level detail that they won’t care about.
When you first present a product roadmap to a client, you should book a short meeting to walk them through it, so you’re both comfortable they’re reading it correctly. This can be in-person or using a video-conferencing tool such as Zoom.
After you’re both confident that the client understands the graph, you can easily share future roadmap updates through your collaboration software. This will allow the client to see changes in real-time, leave comments if they have any concerns, and avoid sifting through multiple roadmap copies in their inbox.
What to look for in product roadmapping software
As we’ve already discussed, it’s important that you can maintain one version of your roadmap while also filtering or modifying the view to suit different stakeholders. This is an essential requirement that you should look for in any product roadmapping software.
Other features you should look for in a product roadmap tool are:
- The ability to easily edit and update your roadmap as changes occur
- Version control functionality to maintain an audit trail of changes
- A way to efficiently share roadmap updates with clients and other stakeholders (I.e., online view-only access)
- Capable of showing requirements, features, dependencies, and milestones
- The ability for you to share progress reporting
- Collaboration features for stakeholders to ask questions, leave comments, or make notes
- Product roadmap templates to help you get up and running quickly
Why Wrike could be the roadmap tool for you
Wrike is a robust product management software that can help accelerate your product launches, boost team productivity, and centralize product-related communications. It offers all of the essential features we just discussed, including pre-built product templates to help you streamline and standardize your product management.
Introducing Wrike's product roadmap template
Wrike’s product roadmap template allows you to quickly and efficiently create an attractive product roadmap that your stakeholders will easily understand. The template offers the ability to organize tasks by team, function, quarter, or other customizable tags, so you can modify it to show exactly what your viewers want to see.
Our template is highly customizable, so you can adjust it to suit your team’s specific workflows or requirements. Plus, custom fields and statuses enable you to easily track key metrics in real-time, allowing you to continuously stay on target. You can also use Wrike’s Gantt chart view anytime you want to see product progress.