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Product roadmaps are crucial tools in any product manager’s arsenal. However, if used incorrectly or without intentionality, they could be potentially detrimental for you, your product development teams, your stakeholders, and your customers.

While creating roadmaps sounds like the first thing a product manager should know how to do, creating an effective roadmap is a non-trivial task; in fact, it's more akin to plotting an epic adventure for your company and your colleagues. 

It takes time, patience, and clear communication to ensure you craft a roadmap that accurately reflects your team’s priorities to cross-functional counterparts, internal executives, potential new customers, and current customers.

To help you establish a winning roadmap, we’ll first discuss why roadmaps are important. We’ll then talk through the process for spinning up a compelling roadmap, as well as different kinds for you to use. Let’s dive in!

What Is a Product Roadmap?

A product roadmap is a document that communicates the strategic direction of your product to align key stakeholders, marketing teams, sales teams, product teams, and customers on what you’re prioritizing. Your product roadmap is a critical part of the product strategy. 

The product roadmap is not a to-do list or a wishlist; it's the GPS of your product's journey.

Imagine you're embarking on a road trip. You have your start and end points, but what matters most is the path you choose, the stops you make, and how you adapt to unexpected detours.

That's your product roadmap: a strategic document outlining where your product is now, where you aspire for it to be, and how you plan to get there. Your roadmap is essentially a way for you to carry out your product plan.

What a Product Roadmap Isn't

While the concept of a product roadmap may sound fairly straightforward, there are plenty of misconceptions about what the function and objective of this document is. Here's what your product roadmap should never be.

  • Product roadmaps shouldn't be thought of as ‘final.’ In an agile methodology environment, the more you and your agile team learn, the more changes the product roadmap will have throughout the product life cycle
  • Product roadmaps shouldn't be lists of upcoming features: Roadmaps should focus on the big picture and problems to solve, not solutions to those problems. If you create a roadmap that’s solely focused on new features and delivery dates, you remove autonomy from the team to find solutions to the problems that are outside of previously defined solutions.

Why Are Product Roadmaps Important?

Why are roadmaps indispensable in product management? They serve several critical functions:

  • Planning: Like plotting a course on a map, a roadmap lets you determine what your team can achieve in a given timeframe. It's about realistic goal-setting and assessing the trade-offs you'll inevitably face​​.
  • Strategic Alignment: A roadmap ensures that your day-to-day work moves the business forward. It's not just about the product; it's about aligning your product's trajectory with the broader business strategy.
  • Coordination: Here's where roadmaps truly shine. They're not just for your eyes. Sharing your roadmap with stakeholders is like broadcasting your journey, inviting feedback, and ensuring everyone's on the same page​​.

Now, let’s dive into how to craft roadmaps.

Best practices for creating a product roadmap. Foundational steps include developing a value hypothesis, working with your team to ideate on solutions to user pain points, estimating the timeline for product development, prioritizing solutions and action items, and considering how you’ll balance your resources as you work through the roadmap.

How to Create a Product Roadmap: A Collaborative Symphony

As a product manager, while you spearhead the roadmap creation, it's not a solo performance. 

Think of it as forming a band with design and engineering. You can't craft a roadmap in isolation; understanding customer needs and the feasibility of those needs is crucial.

This trio—you, the designer, and the tech lead—become the joint decision-makers, each bringing a unique perspective to the table: viability, desirability, and feasibility​​.

Viability: The Business Lens

Viability in product management is about assessing whether a product or feature makes good business sense. It’s the commercial backbone of your product strategy, answering the question, “Can this product succeed in the market and contribute positively to the company’s bottom line?” As the product manager, you’re the one who owns the considerations below.

Key Considerations of Viability

  • Market Demand: Are there enough potential customers who need this product?
  • Revenue Potential: Will this product generate the anticipated revenue or profitability?
  • Brand Alignment: Does the product vision align with the company’s brand and long-term strategy?
  • Competitive Landscape: How does this product stack up against competitors? Does it offer a unique value proposition?
  • Regulatory and Legal Compliance: Are there any legal or regulatory hurdles that could affect the product's success?

In essence, viability is your reality check against the market and business metrics. It's about making sure that the product you're passionate is in step with overarching business goals. Think of it as ensuring that your ship is not just well-built but also sailing in lucrative waters.

Desirability: The User’s Perspective

Desirability is all about the user. It focuses on whether the target customers will actually want to use or buy your product. This dimension is crucial because, no matter how viable or feasible your product is, it won’t succeed if it doesn’t resonate with your users. Your designers are the ones who own the considerations below.

Key Considerations of Desirability

  • User Needs and Pain Points: Does the product solve a real problem or fulfill a need for the user?
  • User Experience: Is the product enjoyable and easy to use?
  • User Feedback and Testing: What does actual customer feedback tell you about the product’s appeal?
  • Brand Perception: How does the product affect users' perception of the brand?
  • Emotional Connect: Does the product create an emotional resonance with the user?

Desirability is your beacon, guiding you to create products that not only meet user needs but also delight and engage them. It’s about building a product that users don’t just need but love.

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Feasibility: The Realm of Possibility

Feasibility addresses the practicality of turning your product idea into reality. It’s about answering the question, “Can we actually build this product?” This dimension involves technical considerations, resource availability, and time constraints. Your engineers are the ones who own the considerations below.

Key Considerations of Feasibility

  • Technical Capabilities: Do you have the right technology and expertise to build the product?
  • Resource Allocation: Are the necessary resources (people, technology, money) available?
  • Time to Market: Can the product be developed in a reasonable timeframe to meet market and business needs?
  • Scalability and Maintainability: Can the product be scaled and maintained efficiently over time?
  • Integration with Existing Systems: How well does the new product integrate with existing products or systems?

Feasibility is your compass, ensuring that your journey towards creating a product is grounded in practicality and pragmatism. It’s about balancing ambition with the realities of technology and resources.

Viability, desirability, and feasibility are interdependent. A successful product manager navigates these three dimensions, constantly calibrating and recalibrating their approach to ensure that the product not only exists as a viable business proposition but also as a desirable solution for users and a feasible engineering endeavor.

This triad guides product managers in creating products that are not only possible and profitable but also preferred by users. The process is dynamic, with each member pushing and challenging the others to test assumptions, seek alternatives, and refine the approach.

It’s like a brainstorming session where ideas are tossed around, debated, and polished. This collaboration embodies the spirit of product management—a blend of confident decision-making and the humility to adapt and learn.

The Five Pillars of Roadmap Creation

I’ve taught 7,000+ product managers how to build better products through my PM workshops, and one of the most commonly requested topics is “how to build a roadmap.”

Shockingly, a large number of PMs believe that building a roadmap works this way:

  1. Get a list of desirable product features from sales and marketing teams
  2. Identify which feature is going to earn the most revenue, irrespective of effort
  3. Ship that feature first

Here’s where that goes wrong:

  • Many times, our customers believe that a particular feature will solve their pain, but it doesn’t actually help. For example, they might ask for user permissions, when really what they want is notifications.
  • The goal is to focus on ROI (return on investment). Imagine you could spend $1m to earn $5m. That sounds good, sure—but what if you could spend $100k to earn $1.5m? The latter proposal is superior because it gives you 15x ROI, whereas the former proposal only gives you 5x ROI.
  • Shipping just to earn money turns the team into a custom dev shop & feature factory, and not an empowered cross-functional team with a long-term strategy.

To build a truly strategic product roadmap, lean on these five foundational steps instead:

  1. Value Hypotheses: Start by identifying the customer pain you aim to alleviate. Formulate a hypothesis on how solving this pain will move a specific metric. This step is where your product's value proposition begins to take shape. For instance, you might hypothesize that by making a user interface more intuitive, you could significantly reduce the time it takes for a user to complete a task, thereby improving user satisfaction or increasing usage frequency​​.
  2. Solution Ideas: This is where the creative magic happens. Collaborate with designers and engineers to brainstorm solutions for the identified pain points. The goal here is not just to find a solution but to find the best solution – one that effectively addresses the pain point and aligns with your value hypothesis. This stage is about being open to diverse ideas and not getting wedded to the first solution that comes to mind​​.
  3. Estimates: Now, bring in the reality check. Assess how much design and engineering bandwidth is needed for your proposed solutions. It's akin to planning a long drive and ensuring you have enough gas to reach your destination. This stage is crucial for grounding your ideas in practicality and feasibility​​.
  4. Prioritization: Here's where the strategic aspect of product management comes into full play. You need to prioritize the solutions based on various factors like reach, impact, confidence, and effort. It's like deciding which destinations to hit on your road trip and which ones can wait for another journey​​.
  5. Tradeoffs and Sequencing: Finally, balance your limited resources to maximize ROI. Determine the order in which to tackle your prioritized initiatives, considering the tradeoffs you'll have to make. This is where your strategic thinking is truly tested, as you decide what's most important for your product and your users right now​​.

Let's explore how these foundational steps interact and build upon each other to create a roadmap that's not just a plan, but a strategic tool for navigating the complex landscape of product development.

Delving into Value Hypotheses: The Start of the Journey

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and in roadmapping, that step is forming your value hypotheses.

This is where you connect the dots between customer pain points and your product’s potential impact. You hypothesize how solving a specific problem will positively influence a key metric. 

For instance, by simplifying a user interface, you might forecast a significant reduction in the customer support calls, thereby increasing efficiency and user satisfaction​​.

But here's the trick: avoid tunnel vision. Don't latch onto a solution just yet. Stay focused on the pain and the metric; the solution will evolve.

Brainstorming Solution Ideas: The Creative Melting Pot

Now, things get exciting. Collaborating with your design and engineering teams, you start brainstorming potential solutions.

This stage is about being divergent in thinking, exploring all avenues without prematurely discarding any. It's like brainstorming destinations for your road trip, considering everything from a beach getaway to a mountain retreat.

Remember, the goal is not just to find any solution, but the best solution that addresses the pain point effectively and is feasible to implement.

A common pitfall here is falling for the first idea that comes to mind. Instead, encourage your team to think outside the box, to challenge the status quo, and to come up with a range of ideas before zeroing in on the most promising ones​​.

Estimating Resources: The Reality Check

With a list of potential solutions in hand, it’s time to face reality: do we have the resources to bring these ideas to life? This stage is about estimating the design and engineering bandwidth required for each solution.

It’s like figuring out if you have enough fuel, time, and money for the destinations on your road trip. This step grounds your creative ideas in the reality of what’s possible given your team’s capacity and capabilities​​.

Prioritizing Solutions: The Strategic Decisions

Now comes one of the most challenging yet crucial steps: prioritization. It’s where your strategic acumen as a product manager is put to the test. You must decide which specific features will offer the highest return on investment and align best with your product's goals.

This process is often aided by frameworks like RICE (Reach, Impact, Confidence, Effort), helping you weigh each initiative’s potential against the effort required. It’s about choosing the route that offers the most scenic views with the least amount of roadblocks​​.

Tradeoffs and Sequencing: Navigating Constraints

Finally, you sequence these initiatives, mindful of the trade-offs you’re making. It’s about deciding the order of your road trip destinations based on distance, significance, and what you want to achieve at each stop.

This step is about balancing different initiatives, considering how they fit into the overall journey, and making tough calls on what to prioritize given your limited resources​​.

Now, let’s talk about how to align our roadmap with the broader business strategy, how to embrace flexibility, and how to involve stakeholders.

Aligning Roadmap with Business Strategy: The Bigger Picture

The essence of a product roadmap lies in its alignment with the company's overarching business strategy. It's not just about what your product will do; it's about how your product will propel the business forward.

A roadmap should never exist in isolation; it's a piece in the larger puzzle of the organization’s objectives. This alignment ensures that every initiative on your roadmap contributes towards the broader goals of the company.

For instance, if your company's strategy is to penetrate new markets, your roadmap might prioritize features that cater to the needs of people who look nothing like your current customers.

Or, if the strategy is to maximize revenue from existing customers, your roadmap might focus on enhancing upselling or cross-selling functionalities by digging ever deeper into your current customers’ needs.

This strategic alignment is crucial because it ensures that your product's journey is not just successful in its own right but also contributes meaningfully to the company's success.

Embracing Flexibility: The Agile Roadmapper

Rigidity is your enemy; after all, market conditions change, customer preferences evolve, and new competitors emerge. Your roadmap needs to be flexible enough to adapt to these changes. It's about being agile, not just in the product development process but in planning and strategizing.

Flexibility in roadmapping means being open to reevaluating and adjusting your plans based on new data, feedback, and circumstances. It's recognizing that sometimes, the best-laid plans need to change, and that’s perfectly okay. This agility is what enables you to seize new opportunities and pivot away from strategies that are no longer effective.

Stakeholder Involvement: The Collaborative Approach

Now, let’s talk about the role of stakeholders in the roadmapping process. Product roadmaps are not just for product managers or their team members; they are crucial tools for aligning internal and external stakeholders. This includes everyone from your design and engineering teams to sales, marketing, customer support, and even the customers themselves.

Involving stakeholders in the roadmapping process does several things:

  • It ensures buy-in: When stakeholders are involved in the creation of the roadmap, they are more likely to support and champion it.
  • It provides diverse perspectives: Different stakeholders bring different insights and concerns, which can help in creating a more comprehensive and effective roadmap.
  • It sets realistic expectations: Sharing your roadmap with stakeholders helps set the right expectations about what the product will deliver and when.

For example, sharing your roadmap with the sales team can help them understand upcoming features, which they can use to inform their sales strategies.

Or, discussing your roadmap with customers can provide valuable feedback that might lead to adjustments in your plan.

Types Of Product Roadmaps

In my PM coaching practice, I regularly have to dispel a commonly-held misconception: “there’s only one right way to build a roadmap.”

Actually, there are many different ways you and your team can build viable product roadmaps, which is reflected in many different styles of product roadmap templates you can use as a starting point. Each type of product roadmap serves a specific purpose; there’s not a single kind of roadmap that works as a silver bullet.

Trust me: back when I was at Movoto as an associate product manager, I tried to use a single type of product roadmap document for multiple audiences.

It didn’t go well:

  • Designers and engineers were confused by potential long-term explorations that our customers desperately wanted us to explore over the next 2-3 years
  • Executives asked in-the-weeds questions about why a particular person was staffed to a particular task, rather than the broader questions around strategy and customer focus
  • Customers latched onto delivery dates as though they were contract commitments, rather than rough estimates we were using to help us work backwards for delivery planning

Recognizing that one size does not fit all, we should adapt our roadmaps to cater to the unique needs of the different teams and leadership working on the product.

To help you avoid the mistake that I made, let’s analyze the three different kinds of stakeholders who rely on our roadmaps.

Once we understand their goals, we can then discuss the required fidelity of the roadmap, refresh rates, essential information, and what needs to be kept under wraps.

Roadmaps for Design and Engineering Teams

  • Goals: These teams are the architects and builders of the user journey. Their goals revolve around effective resource allocation, avoiding bottlenecks, and working sustainably. It's like ensuring that the crew of a ship has the right tools and directions to navigate through choppy waters efficiently.
  • Fidelity Level: Here, precision is key. High-fidelity roadmaps are crucial because they provide the detailed timelines and plans needed for design and engineering tasks.
  • Refresh Rate: Updated every sprint, these roadmaps are dynamic documents. This frequent refresh rate ensures that the teams are always working with the most current information, adapting to changes and new insights swiftly, much like a GPS recalculating the route based on real-time traffic updates.

Must-have Information

  • Personnel Allocation: Knowing who is working on what is critical to prevent overlaps and ensure balanced workloads.
  • Initiative Estimates: It's about gauging the time and resources needed for each task – a crucial step for realistic planning.
  • Sequencing of Initiatives: This ensures that tasks are done in the most logical and efficient order, avoiding the pitfall of starting a phase without completing its prerequisites.
  • Delivery Sprints: These are the milestones, the checkpoints of progress, ensuring that the project is on track.

Must-hide Information

Long-term plans or explorations that might distract the team from their immediate tasks should be avoided. It’s about maintaining focus on the current sprint without being sidetracked by future possibilities. Dynamic spreadsheets enable collaboration with designers and engineers on sprint plans & forecasts, with a focus on the current quarter (and potentially next quarter, but no further).

Example of a roadmap for design and engineering teams.
Example of a roadmap for design and engineering teams.

Roadmaps for Leadership Teams

  • Goals: For the leadership team, the roadmap is a strategic tool. It’s about overseeing smooth business operations, fostering cross-departmental collaboration, and preempting risks and opportunities.
  • Fidelity Level: Medium fidelity is the sweet spot here. Leaders need enough detail to make informed decisions, but not so much that they get lost in the weeds.
  • Refresh Rate: A monthly refresh keeps the leadership team updated on progress and shifts in direction. This cadence strikes a balance between providing timely updates and allowing enough time for meaningful progress.

Must-have Information

  • Sequencing of Initiatives: This gives leaders a bird's-eye view of what’s coming up and how initiatives align with broader company goals.
  • Long-term Path: It’s the strategic trajectory of the product, aligning with the company’s vision and market trends.
  • Delivery Quarters: These are the broader timelines, giving leadership a sense of when to expect significant milestones and deliverables.

Must-hide Information

The nitty-gritty details that are more operational than strategic should be omitted to prevent information overload and maintain focus on high-level planning.

Example of a roadmap for a leadership team.
Example of a roadmap for a leadership team.

Roadmaps for Customer-facing Teams

When we talk about roadmaps for customer-facing teams, especially in a B2B context, it's a narrative exercise as much as it's about data dissemination. These teams are on the frontline, shaping customer perceptions and expectations. Their roadmaps, therefore, need to be crafted with meticulous care, balancing transparency and discretion.

  • Goals: For teams in direct contact with customers, roadmaps are tools for communication and expectation management. They focus on showing progress, prioritization, and sequencing, providing a narrative that customer-facing teams can relay to end users.
  • Fidelity Level: The fidelity level for these roadmaps needs to be low. The focus is on the big picture rather than granular details. It's about providing a broad overview of the product’s direction, avoiding the minutiae that could confuse or mislead.
  • Refresh Rate: Updating these roadmaps every quarter strikes the right balance. It's frequent enough to keep customers informed about recent developments and upcoming plans but not so frequent that it becomes a moving target, hard for customers to track, or for teams to maintain.

Must-have Information

  • Sequencing of Initiatives: This information helps customer-facing teams convey a story of continuous improvement and planned enhancements to customers. Make sure that you don’t provide any delivery dates!

Must-hide Information

  • Personnel Allocation: Details about who is working on what are irrelevant to customers and could lead to unnecessary scrutiny or misinterpretation.
  • Specific Delivery Dates: While it might be tempting to provide exact release dates, this can lead to unrealistic expectations and disappointment if there are delays.
  • Long-term Future Explorations: Discussing distant future plans or speculative features can create confusion or lead to premature excitement for things that may not materialize.
Example of a roadmap for a customer-facing team.
Example of a roadmap for a customer-facing team.

The art of crafting effective roadmaps in product management involves a keen understanding of the audience. Each team, from the builders to the strategists to the storytellers, requires a tailored roadmap that serves their specific purposes.

This targeting ensures that every team not only understands their role in the product's journey but is also equipped with the right information to navigate their specific challenges effectively.

Product Roadmapping Tools

As you can see, every product roadmap has many variables, considerations, dependencies, and specificities, so it should come as no surprise that no two product roadmap examples look exactly the same.

As a result, there isn’t a single tool that takes the cake as the best product roadmapping software—only the best solution for you and your team. Some teams thrive with roadmapping tools with a slew of added features, and plenty of other teams do just fine using a zhuzhed-up Gantt chart in Excel. At the end of the day, choose the tool that works for your each of your teams’ needs.

Closing Thoughts: The Roadmap as a Living Document

In summary, a product roadmap is much more than a plan. It’s a strategic tool that guides your product’s journey, aligns your team and stakeholders, and contributes to the broader business objectives. It’s a living document that evolves with your product, your team, and the market.

As a product manager, your role in creating and managing the product roadmap is critical. You need to balance creative thinking with strategic planning, ambition with practicality, and innovation with feasibility. And remember, the most successful roadmaps are those that are flexible, collaborative, and aligned with the company's broader goals.

Your roadmap is your compass, your map, and your travel diary. Use it wisely, and it will guide you to not just any destination, but the right one.

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By Clement Kao

Clement Kao is Founder of Product Teacher, a product management education company that accelerates product talent through corporate training workshops, on-demand video courses, and executive coaching. Before founding Product Teacher, Clement shipped 10+ multi-million dollar products as a group product manager at multiple companies, driving successful exits worth billions of dollars in aggregate. Clement’s writing has been featured on Amplitude, Mixpanel, Gainsight, and other leading publications.