The Ultimate Guide To Crafting a Product Roadmap

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Bailey Maybray
Bailey Maybray

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Crafting new products takes time, preparation, and hard work. Even with a vision in mind, you still need to figure out the details of ideating, building, and launching your creation.

Product Roadmap: Two charts show different parts of product management.

Having a product roadmap helps set up that much needed step-by-step process and paves the way for your company’s long-term success.

What Is a Product Roadmap?

A product roadmap is a visual that maps the vision, strategy, steps, and progress of a product or feature over time. It’s the foundation for building a product that explains the what, how, and why behind it.

A product roadmap typically comes after your team finishes crafting a compelling product vision — which explains the long-term mission and essence of your product, including target customers, differentiating factors, and more.

A product roadmap brings together several parts of product development, including:

  • Lanes: division of responsibilities (e.g., team assignments)
  • Themes/Containers: high-level projects (e.g., working on third-party integrations)
  • Bars: tasks to progress through within themes (e.g., creating an integration with Salesforce)
  • Timeline: dates or time frames to finish objectives (e.g., between the months of January and April)
  • Legends: visual cues explaining different purposes of the roadmap (e.g., color filters to show purpose of goals)
  • Metrics: ways of measuring progress (e.g., percentage of phase II finished)

Putting it all together, your product roadmap will likely look something like this:

Product Roadmap Example: Several bars delineating tasks and assignments appear on a calendar.

Product Roadmap Types

The majority of product development roadmaps fall into two categories: Waterfall and Agile. Waterfall focuses on planning, whereas Agile emphasizes adaptability.

Waterfall Product Roadmap

The Waterfall methodology uses a sequential approach to product management. The team completes distinct steps before moving on to the next. Typically, Waterfall product development has specific dates when a phase needs to be finished. This roadmap might work best for teams that want to plan ahead.

Agile Product Roadmap

An Agile product roadmap is a flexible, sequential plan that maps out different phases of product development. Teams iterate and change the roadmap as they move through the process. Over 7 in 10 US companies use Agile over Waterfall.

An Agile strategy uses an interactive approach to building products. Instead of a rigid timeline, the strategy focuses on achieving objectives. An Agile product roadmap values adaptability and collaboration, allowing teams to stay flexible throughout product development.

Product Roadmap Example

Waterfall Roadmap Example

Waterfall works for companies that require long-term planning, such as construction. If a construction company has a project starting in quarter one, their product roadmap might look like the following:

Waterfall Roadmap Example: Tasks occur sequentially, with each one's end marking the start of the next.

In a Waterfall map, tasks occur one at a time instead of simultaneously. In the case of this company, they must acquire supplies before hiring crew, and so on.

Agile Roadmap Example

Software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies often use Agile product roadmaps because of their flexibility. They might run into critical hurdles while developing a product, such as having to fix major bugs or scrapping a feature. An Agile product roadmap for a SaaS company might look like this:

Agile Roadmap Example: During Quarter one, several tasks -- such as "Conduct Interviews" and "Increase App Performance" occur simultaneously.

Compared to the Waterfall example, this one features overlapping initiatives. Instead of waiting to finalize interviews before increasing app performance, this team starts on the app before the interviews are finished. And if upgrading the homepage takes longer than expected, the team can still be on schedule for finalizing third-party integrations.

In these cases, different teams often have different assignments — making it possible for several things to happen at once.

1. Define Your Product Vision and Strategy

Figure out the why and how behind your product before crafting a product roadmap. They act as the foundation for product development, so prepare your product vision and strategy before moving into product roadmaps.

2. Collaborate With Other Stakeholders

When creating a product roadmap, ask other teams and departments for their input. What features do they feel customers will value most, based on their market research, vision, and strategy? How long does each team need to complete their tasks? What resources do they need to succeed?

3. Determine Features To Prioritize

Your product cannot have every bell and whistle. Using company research and user feedback, create a ranked list of features the team should prioritize. For example, if you find that ease of use matters greatly to customers, you may want to create a phase dedicated to improving your product’s responsiveness and user experience.

To improve this part of product roadmapping, you could map user stories — an engaging activity where all stakeholders are involved in identifying features important to customers.

For example, when figuring out how a user will achieve the goal of finding the product, you map out the steps a user will take to find it. This could be browsing through your company homepage, filtering through them, and landing on the new product page. Then, you can figure out if you can reduce any friction points your customer might run into along the way.

4. Map Out Different Initiatives Into Phases

Once you have a set of features and their priorities, convert that into different phases on your roadmap. Here, you address the when behind your product. What features will you work on first? How long will they take to complete? How does this project fit into the work of other teams?

5. Pick a Template That Works for You

Although you could create a roadmap using graphic software, templates can make your life easier. Below, you can find a selection of product roadmap templates to get started.

6. Iterate and Optimize

The process of product management does not fall under a linear progression. So, stay agile. Update the product roadmap as you go. If something major happens in the market (e.g., a new federal regulation), you may want to modify certain features.

How To Manage a Product Roadmap

Measure Frequently

Product roadmaps have metrics attached to them — so make it a habit to regularly measure progress. For example, you could look at high-level metrics — such as percentage completed — or more specific ones, such as steps completed in subtasks.

Collaborate With Stakeholders

Ask teams how they feel about their work. Speak with developers, engineers, and anyone involved with building out the product. For example, you might want to schedule biweekly meetings to chat with relevant stakeholders. You could also send out regular emails explaining your organization’s progress, updates, and any changes to the product roadmap.

Make Changes When Needed

You might have the perfect product roadmap to start. But to manage one effectively, you need to make changes when necessary.

For example, a team might run into staffing issues — delaying an initiative on your roadmap. You want to review the product roadmap with this in mind. Ask yourself often which parts of the product roadmap seem volatile. Be prepared to change them if needed.

Product Roadmap Templates

Paid options, such as Coda, Trello, or Asana, can help you create product roadmaps you can easily share. But free options can work just as well.

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