Product Roadmaps: A Complete Introductory Guide With Examples

Oct 6, 2020

Building a product doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and effort. Thus, you can’t just turn a blind eye while your product’s growing, and you would want to know what’s happening throughout. There are different ways of knowing what’s happening in your product development life cycle. Today, I’m going to talk about one of them: product roadmaps.

In this post, I’ll introduce you to product roadmaps and explain why they’re important for you. Then I’ll give you some product roadmap examples that will show you an idea of how they can be used for different use cases.

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What Are Product Roadmaps?

Product roadmaps allow you to lay out a complete product development summary. There are three important questions to answer when building a product:

  • What is the product?

  • How do you build it?

  • When should it be built?

The product roadmap includes the answers to all of these questions.

A product roadmap is a periodic tracking of your product’s status. It describes the vision, strategy, action plan, and progress of your product. When you start building a product, you set the tasks, timelines, outcomes, etc. to get the product to its final desired state. Once these are set, you monitor them over time to make sure things are hitting the mark. A product roadmap communicates the information of your product as it evolves to its final state.

The purpose that product roadmaps serve may look simple. You may ask yourself, “Why do I need a product roadmap just to know what stage my product’s at?” Let me explain with an example of how a product roadmap is more than just that.

Let’s say your product is a car and it’s being built in a production plant. Now to get the ready-to-use car, it has to go through a lot of departments for assembly: the engine department, electrical department, body works, etc. It’s easy to know where the car is and how much of it’s ready. But you need to know more than that. You need to know if the investments are right, how efficiently things are getting done, how the plan’s working, etc. Product roadmaps aren’t just checklists of tasks. Along with providing the status of the product, they also provide you with details regarding the vision, strategy, and goals of the product development cycle.

Importance of Product Roadmaps

Within the Team

Product roadmaps can help development teams stay on the path to reach their vision. Roadmaps can contain specific tasks and milestones, along with deadlines. Because of this, the team can plan their work accordingly and work to complete each task before its deadline. This helps in getting the outcome right on time. Product roadmaps are especially helpful in organizations that follow agile for development because they give a clear work-time status.

Among Different Teams

When it comes to building complex or advanced products, more than one team is involved. Product roadmaps help multiple teams in getting visibility over the progress of other teams. This makes the collaboration of teams easy and predictable. And if there are any delays/bottlenecks, you can improvise to reduce waste in the development process. Teams can also use product roadmaps to prioritize tasks so that they optimize the combined outcome of various teams.

For Management

Product roadmaps also help management understand how product development is going. Management can know the status of the product and how teams are collaborating with each other to build it. This helps the management in understanding how much value each team and process is adding to the final product. After getting this information, value stream management can be used to increase business value.

Roadmaps give a clear idea of how the product priorities are aligned with the vision and strategy. And this information helps the management in long-term planning. They can create new strategies or improve the existing strategy for product development and make process-level and financial decisions.

For External Stakeholders

Along with being informative within the organization, roadmaps can be used to provide details to customers as well. This gives the customers a sense of satisfaction about where the product’s at. And because of its visibility, customers can also point out if the product development is going off track. This is rarely the case but is still possible.

Product Roadmap Examples

You can use product roadmaps for a single product or for multiple products. What determines your roadmap is the primary parameter that you want to monitor. Based on what point of view is important for you, you’ll have to decide what type of roadmap to use. Next, I’m going to talk about some of the most commonly used product roadmaps.

Feature-Based Product Roadmaps

The primary focus in this kind of roadmap is on the features of the product. Every product is made up of one or more features. Feature-based product roadmaps list the different features of a product and have the vision, strategy, and tasks to complete each of these features. This kind of roadmap gives a clear context of what the product’s made up of and can be defined in a hierarchy using epics, stories, and tasks. It’s simple and easy to understand. However, the problem with feature-based product roadmaps is that the requirements for the product keep changing frequently. And because this roadmap is based on the features, making changes becomes difficult when the features need to be changed.

Time-Based Product Roadmaps

As the saying goes, “a goal without a deadline is just a dream!” When you’re building a product, if you haven’t decided the timeline, then that leaves you with a lot of uncertainty. Time-based product roadmaps consider time as an important factor. Tasks are set up with time frames, and the release of a feature or the product itself indicates its completion. Planning the time frames for each task for each feature plays an important role. If the time frame is too long, you’ll be wasting time unnecessarily. And if the time frame is too short, that puts pressure on the teams. Cleverly planned time-based product roadmaps help in smooth product development and give an idea of how to plan the next tasks. But if not properly planned, the timelines keep shifting, and this adds frustration to the team.

Objective-Based Product Roadmaps

This roadmap gives visibility over the “why” of what’s happening. Objective-based product roadmaps focus on the purpose of doing a certain task or building a feature. This kind of roadmap is very useful when you have curious team members and stakeholders who don’t want to blindly follow the task. They’re interested in knowing why they’re doing what they’re doing. This roadmap is objective-driven and easily explains the vision and strategy in layperson’s terms.

Technology-Based Product Roadmaps

You might have to use different technologies to build a product. In the case of complex and advanced products, the number of technologies that teams must use is high. You might use a different technology for the underlying infrastructure, another for the back end, and yet another for the front end. Technology-based product roadmaps are centered around these technologies, the technical requirements of tasks related to them, and their completion.

Marketing-Based Product Roadmaps

So your product’s ready. Now it’s time to show the world what you’ve built. So you start with marketing. Marketing-based product roadmaps aren’t solely a part of the development. They mostly focus on what happens after the product is built. Launching the product, campaigning it, and other such tasks are involved in this kind of roadmap. These roadmaps give you an idea of the reach of your product to your customers.

Each of these examples of roadmaps has its own pros and cons. If you want to decide which type of roadmap suits you best, you need to have a vision clearly defined. Then decide what it is that you want to know. Is it the timeliness, the progress of features, or technological details? Or do you want a roadmap for marketing? Finally, once these answers are clear, it’ll be easy for you to choose the kinds of roadmaps most useful for you.

Getting Visibility Over Product Development

The main goal of product roadmaps is to give you more visibility over your product development. You can use product roadmaps for internal use where they give the details to various teams, stakeholders, and management. Or you can use them to give visibility to external stakeholders and customers. However, there’s no universal roadmap that works for everything. You might have to use a variety of roadmaps for visibility. But when you do this, you’re also adding invisibility to the product development process because there’s a gap between the different roadmaps being used. To solve this, you can use Plutora’s product management solution that collects information from different roadmap tools and brings visibility to the overall product development process.

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