Building a product is not a one night, one day or even one-week tasks. It requires focused efforts along with foolproof and flexible planning. For this planning part, there are tons of aspects that need to be taken care of. This planning around developing a new product or in fact a new feature to an existing product is commonly known as product roadmap.

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If you're new to this process, you've come to the right place. In this post, we'll try to cover different approaches to building a successful roadmap and some of the most commonly used templates for the same.

Let's start with the basics.

How to Build a Successful Product Roadmap

Like any other project management, the two most popular approaches are Agile & Waterfall.

A waterfall product roadmap communicates a long-term commitment to building specific features on a set timeline. However, an agile roadmap accommodates inevitable changes while still committing to getting meaningful work done. It communicates a short-term plan for achieving product goals, with the flexibility to adjust that plan according to customer value.

Most of the businesses are always keen on taking the agile approach and the major reason for that is the flexibility that comes with Agile planning. It can look something like this:


Source: Aha

Let's dig in a little deeper to understand the agile product roadmap in-depth.

Here are the core components of a product roadmap that one should be familiar with while building a roadmap.

Products: It can be an item, service or method that satisfies any customers current need or demand. It has a combination of tangible and intangible attributes (benefits, features, functions, uses).

Goals: Goals are measurable, time-bound objectives that have clearly defined success metrics associated with them. They are included in a product roadmap to show the critical accomplishments required to make the product vision a reality.

Releases: A release is typically the launch of new functionality for a product that provides value to customers. Releases often contain epics or multiple features that get delivered at the same time.

Epics: An epic is a large user story that cannot get delivered as defined within a single release. It is often broken down into small features or user stories that can get delivered incrementally.

Features: A feature represents new or improved functionality that delivers value to users. Features provide more detailed information about new functionality.

MVP: MVP stands for minimum viable product and is a development technique in which a new product gets just enough core features for it to function. The goal of the MVP is to quickly get feedback from customers and improve the product without having to invest a lot of time or money that could potentially go to waste.

User Stories: A user story defines a new software feature from an end-user perspective — including what the user wants and why. The words "features" and "user stories" are often used interchangeably.

Timeline: Product roadmaps typically include dates to show when new products and updates to existing ones will be completed and released.

How to Build an Agile Product Roadmap

To build a roadmap, product owners take into account market trajectories, value propositions, and engineering constraints. Once these factors are reasonably well-understood, they are expressed in a roadmap as initiatives and timelines. To build any roadmap, the product owner needs to bring all the stakeholders needs to be in one room to share ideas and outline with a plan.

Source: Roman Pichler

During these roadmap meetings, Ideas and suggestions from all the stakeholders are taken into consideration and put on either on a whiteboard or wall in form of stickers.

Source: Medium

The final ideas are then put together and using a tool put under defined timelines for everyone to access. The entire process can be broken down into steps and stages depending upon the product, the business needs, the stakeholders and timelines. This is what I can suggest as a starter:

1. Basics

When you are thinking about building product roadmaps, you have to be very clear about your goal. There could be several possibilities around it depending on if you are building the roadmap for. Is it a new product or is it for revamping an existing product?

In case of a new product, you have to start with the ideation and define MVPs' for someone to be able to use and test the product functionality. MVPs' are important assets of product roadmaps and the priorities for these are to be well-defined.

For example, if you are creating a login page for your users to access your platform then having login fields like email id and password will be some crucial MVPs'. However, MVPs' like the functionality of ‘Forget Password' can be kept at a lower priority and can be tackled later on.

2. User Story Mapping

Once you are set on the goal and other basics, you can start with user story mapping.

Many times, it is difficult to decide where to start and what to focus on. Story mapping is an engaging activity where all participants are involved in the process of building the product backlog on a wall which is way better than writing a dull 100-page requirement document.

User story mapping is a top-down approach of requirement gathering and is represented as a tree. This is led by a Product Manager or any other product owner with all other stakeholders -- designer, developer, and finance to allocate budget for a huge product in one room.

The user-driven approach helps to identify requirements from user perspective e.g. buyer, seller, administrator etc. The map is then structured as User > Goals > User Journeys > Actions > Stories.

For eg; to achieve goal ‘Find product' there are multiple ways such as ‘Browse through product category tree', ‘Free text search', ‘Promoted products' etc.

Imagine taking one approach, ‘Browse through product category tree' to build a story map. To complete this activity of reaching a required product, the user needs to do perform certain tasks and these tasks can be converted to user stories for software development.

Continuing to deep dive each branch of the story map starting from goals and build the whole story map.

Thinking from the user's perspective, taking everyone's suggestions as to what the product should be capable of doing and under what timeline. This is followed by collating all those suggestions on a whiteboard.


Source: Medium

3. Building the Roadmap Sheet

Building a product roadmap also includes taking into consideration all the features that might be somehow connected to the core product. For eg, for building a new SaaS product for an existing platform, related features could be ‘new campaign' and ‘cloning new campaign'.

Not to forget the priority as to which feature is a MUST and which can be taken care of later now.

While building a roadmap for a new product, user story mapping is a very crucial step. However, it can be avoided in case of revamping an old product or adding a new feature to an existing product.

Next in line comes deciding the timeline and breaking the tasks in smaller achievable Epics. None of the task or subtask should be something that can't be tested.

A virtual excel sheet or any other tool can be used for this step. Putting the final roadmap together in a sheet includes, putting all the epics together under a defined timeline.

Large projects may require up to 6 levels in a story map. However, for smaller projects, 3 levels are usually sufficient. Based on how mature the product is, how big the product is.

4. Visionary Board

The last step is putting everything on a visionary board that is accessible to all the stakeholders to be able to track the progress of the product development. Epics or even features can be divided for each sprint based on the resources available.

In an agile approach for product road mapping, testing happens at each epic level and doesn't have to wait for the entire product to get completed. This gives you an idea of how much time each task takes for the existing resources and if you need to add more resources at any stage.

Whenever you are creating an agile roadmap, you have to be very adaptive for all unexpected changes that come your way and deal with them to make the product a success. Here are some additional tips around creating agile product roadmaps.

Product Roadmap Templates and Example

Earlier, Excel and PowerPoint roadmap templates were considered to build a product roadmap. As with these tools, it was easy to capture and communicate product plans. They could save you a lot of time and could be a great starting point. There were a wide range of examples and tailor each roadmap template for specific needs.

However, serving the complexity of products there are a lot of other tools like Asana, Trello, Venngage, Product Plan, Aha, Prod Pan available to build these roadmaps.

There are countless ways to create a roadmap and choosing the right strategy depends on your product. However, the visual display of a roadmap is generally consistent. Here is a product roadmap example:


Source: Product Plan

Almost all the tools there are tons of ready to use templates that are easily accessible for anyone. However, not all of those templates are free to use. You need to purchase the product plan in order to access those templates.

If you are at an early stage of your business and don't have the budget to invest in tools like Asana or Trello, here are a few free templates you can start with:

To learn more, read about how to become a product manager next.

This blog post was written in collaboration with Piotr Dziekanski.

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Originally published Feb 19, 2019 8:00:00 AM, updated September 05 2019


Product Management