A product roadmap is a high-level visual summary that maps out the vision and direction of your product offering over time. Creating a product roadmap is a multi-step process, as you will first need to determine your product vision and strategic goals.
In this post, we will walk you through the four basic steps of building your first product roadmap from scratch:
- Determine the “Why” for your product — its strategic reason for being.
- Determine your audience and tailor the roadmap to resonate with them.
- Prioritize your product’s strategic themes — and begin building the actual roadmap.
- Stay flexible — because your roadmap will change.
Before we jump into this post, though, if there is only one insight that you take from this post, let it be this…
A product roadmap is not an operational to-do list. It is a strategic document designed to help you develop a plan for your product and to keep your team on track in executing that plan.
It can be very tempting for a product manager in need of a roadmap to simply say, “I’ll just write out all of the themes, epics, and features we need for this product — and we’ll use that as our roadmap.” Although this sounds logical, and it is an easy way to get something down on paper quickly, it will likely lead to all sorts of problems in your product development. You’ll see why as we walk through this post.
1. Before you do anything else, first determine the “Why” for your product — its strategic reason for being.
Why are you developing this product, at this time, in this way, prioritizing these product attributes, for these users?
Those are the key strategic questions you need to ask yourself and your team at the outset of any new product development or update to an existing product. If you can’t answer those questions — ideally with data to support your answers — then you can’t reasonably justify spending any time and resources on the product at all.
Moreover, this first step will reward you in a major way throughout the development process and well beyond your product’s launch. Determining your product’s reason for being with your team upfront will make all of your downstream decisions more strategic and cohesive, and ultimately, it will lead to a more successful product.
2. Determine your audience and tailor the roadmap to resonate with them.
Don’t create a single roadmap view and present that roadmap to every team or group you meet with. This means your executives and investors shouldn’t see exactly the same roadmap view that your developers see. Remember, a product roadmap is a strategic document, and your strategic objectives in sharing it with your executives will vary wildly from your objectives in showing it to the marketing or development team.
Here’s a good rule of thumb. If you are using an identical roadmap document for every audience you present to, you are not doing your job as a product manager. Why? Because when your executive stakeholders gather around your roadmap and say, “Show us what you’re planning”, they don’t want to see the ground-level details of every feature. They want to see how it will help the company increase market share, or what it will mean to your revenue numbers for the next two quarters.
By contrast, when you have a roadmap meeting with your development team, and they want to know what you’re planning, your presentation needs to focus on what the product’s development will mean to them — what technology you’ll be asking them to use, what timeframe they’ll have to get the work done, and what their day-to-day tasks and priorities will be.
This is a critically important component of developing your roadmap. You need the ability to present different views and varying levels of detail depending on the team or audience you’re presenting to.
You want your management team to see a roadmap that gives them confidence your product will help meet the company’s strategic objectives. You want your sales teams to see a roadmap that clearly shows them how they can convince prospects the product will meet their needs. And you want your developers to see a roadmap that clearly explains what you’ll need from them and why their work will matter to the product’s ultimate success.
3. Prioritize your product’s strategic themes — and begin building the actual roadmap.
At this point, you’ve set the foundation and you’ve determined your product’s strategic reason for being. Now it’s time to start typing.
So, where do you start? What goes onto the roadmap first?
Up to this point, you have approached every step in the roadmap creation process from a top-down, strategic point of view. You should use that same approach when building the actual details of your roadmap.
Start by determining what the major themes of the product will be. For each of those themes, create a swim lane on the roadmap.
Now that you have a series of major themes, you can start layering in epics beneath them. And if you determine you need additional detail, you can also layer in specific features beneath each epic.
The point is that you want to start at the strategic level with every detail you add to the roadmap. Just as you first determined your product’s reason for being, you’ll want to apply the same thinking to each theme, asking why that theme deserves a place on the roadmap — and which specific place it deserves in relation to the other themes, and why.
4. Stay flexible — because your roadmap will change.
Finally, as you’re building out the details on your roadmap, you’ll want to keep in mind that none of those details are set in stone. Companies’ priorities change. Resource levels change. Moves by competitors can force a product’s development or release schedule to change.
So you want to draft your product roadmap — and present it to your various audiences — in such a way that leaves room for the inevitable updates, tweaks, and course-corrections along the way.
And if you can tackle the roadmap creation process strategically, and in the order I outlined here, you’ve got the makings of a successful product roadmap.
I hope this has helped you and you’re in a better place for creating a roadmap for your product. Please leave a comment below and let me know if you have other suggestions and tips for creating a roadmap!