Product Management 101: Roadmapping
The roadmap is one of the most important “living documents” a product team has. It brings together multiple stakeholders around a shared plan for the product and sets general expectations of what will be completed and when.
What is a product roadmap?
A product roadmap is a visual summary of a product’s direction to facilitate communication with customers, prospects, partners, and internal stakeholders.
What a product roadmap isn’t
A product roadmap is not a backlog of tasks. It’s not a detailed project plan or list of tactical activities, nor a repository for customer feedback and/or feature requests. And definitely it’s not an ironclad plan for which features or products will be released when. In fact, roadmaps change quite frequently due to shifting priorities, market conditions, or a change in business strategy.
What is included in a product roadmap?
A basic roadmap will usually include feature and product releases, but most go beyond that. Some items that may appear on a product roadmap are:
- Feature releases
- Product releases
- Strategic milestones
- Business or team initiatives
- User stories
How is a product roadmap used?
A product roadmap signals general product direction and often shifts with market and business conditions. In this spirit, a product roadmap should be seen as a living document, a snapshot in time that is subject to frequent change. The more distant the time horizon, the less reliable the commitments. For example, roadmap items three months out may be relatively close to committed, while those that are six, nine, or twelve months out are a bit less certain.
How is a product roadmap different from a project plan?
Unlike a project plan, a product roadmap is a high-level artifact that focuses on vision and themes rather than the fine details of the product. However, there are different levels of visibility and detail that are appropriate for different audiences — for example, customers may need to see more than prospects and customer success more than sales.
Who creates the product roadmap?
Generally, the creation and management of the product roadmap is the purview of the product team. However, they don’t do this in a vacuum. Input from a wide variety of sources should make its way into the roadmap. These sources typically include both internal stakeholders, such as executives, salespeople, and customer success team members, and external ones, like customers. Also, a roadmap isn’t a “one and done” project — product managers should continuously seek feedback related to the roadmap and update it as priorities shift and new data becomes available.
How do companies manage their product roadmaps?
There are lots of commercial tools for creating and managing product roadmaps. Some of the major vendors include Aha!, JIRA, Monday.com, ProdPad, ProductBoard, ProductPlan, and Roadmunk. Many companies still create and manage product roadmaps using general-purpose tools like PowerPoint and Confluence, but often find this unwieldy, especially as the documents are updated over time and adapted for different audiences.
Are there different kinds of product roadmaps?
Definitely. Product teams often create roadmaps for specific audiences. For example, they might create a public-facing version to share with customers. Or they may build a sales-specific one to distribute to revenue team members. In addition, they may create versions that emphasize different things — one that’s feature-focused, and another that’s initiative-focused, for instance.
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