If you want to create a great product that your customers will love (and continue to buy), you first need a great product roadmap. It’s the playbook that answers how decisions should be made, which stakeholders need to be involved, and what happens next as you build your product.
Haven’t built or managed a product roadmap before? You’re in luck – this guide details everything you need to know about what a product roadmap is, why it’s important to have one, the steps you should take to build one, plus tips for designing the most effective roadmap possible.
What is a product roadmap?
A product roadmap is a tool that outlines the vision, priority, timeline, and progress of products or projects a team plans to work on over a period of time. Used as a source of truth, a roadmap also details a product team’s goals and is an action plan for how those goals will be met.
A product roadmap is an opportunity to expand visibility to stakeholders – it can detail how and when an organization is going to implement new features or launch subsequent versions of your product, as well as a product team’s specific short-term and long-term goals for achieving business objectives.
Why is a product roadmap important?
A product roadmap is your plan of action for the future of your business. Here are a few reasons why creating one is critical for success.
1. It allows you to solidify your strategy.
Creating a product roadmap allows you to rationalize why each project – and its timeline – makes sense for your business.
By completing the exercise, you’ll also gain clarity around questions like: what goal can we achieve with one project over another? Why is this goal more important than another project’s goals?
2. It enables communication and coordination.
Product roadmaps can help you demonstrate to investors that your project is worth funding.
They’re also an indispensable tool for project managers, your development team, team leaders, and other important employees in your organization who need to communicate about – and coordinate on – project goals.
3. It will help you make better decisions.
Does the upcoming roadmap justify the need for a new hire? What’s the highest priority for this week?
Consulting the product roadmap can help you gain clarity on what’s important and time-sensitive so you can make better decisions for your business.
Who is responsible for the product roadmap?
Designing a product roadmap should be a group effort (more on this topic in the tips section, below). But ultimately, the product management team – ideally, spearheaded by a product manager – is responsible for bringing stakeholders together, creating the roadmap, and maintaining it.
As the product manager, It’s important to ask yourself: “What sort of input are you looking for from other team members?”
For example, you might want to:
- Ask your programmers what they think of your list of new features.
- Ask your product team members if the time frames are reasonable (especially if they are working on multiple products).
- Ask your marketing team if they are aligned on the launch strategy and if the timeline fits with the marketing calendar.
Getting input from these team members (and others) will also help secure early buy-in. Meanwhile, establishing who owns the roadmap will help keep your projects on time and your stakeholders on task.
How to build a product roadmap
So, how do you create a product roadmap from scratch? I’ve outlined three critical steps for getting started below.
Step 1. Gather context and information
Before you begin creating your product roadmap, you need to understand your product/market fit, or PMF. With a product/market fit survey, you can learn how your customers feel about your product and what they’d like to see from it in the future.
Subsequent customer surveys and other research tools can similarly enhance your understanding of your target audience, your competition, and other variables that will play a role in your product development.
Step 2. Outline your roadmap
After you’ve gathered and analyzed your product and customer experience data, you can start outlining your product roadmap.
Depending on your business goals and the nature of your organization, that could mean putting together a simple document with all the details or investing in more interactive visuals. I recommend considering multiple roadmap types and design tools (many product managers like using Gantt Charts to get organized), to determine which works best for your needs.
Then, bring together your team, likely from a few departments, to think about what this information might mean for your product strategy and the specific features you’ll create. Next, you’ll want to whiteboard these items, possibly across multiple sessions. From these meetings, you may find you need more information, or you may be ready to hit the ground running.
Step 3. Focus on prioritization
Now that you understand the strategy and scope of the projects you have, it’s time to prioritize.
Frameworks like the RICE Scoring Model – that is, Reach, Impact, Confidence, and Effort – help product managers avoid biases during decision-making, defend their prioritization and timeline with stakeholders, and make better business decisions with evidence.
How the RICE framework works:
To start, score each individual project across the first three dimensions. According to Intercom, the breakdown looks like this:
- Reach = Number of customers/events this project will impact over a period of time
- Impact = The estimated impact of the project on a customer, based on a self-determined scale (for example, a rating of 0-10)
- Confidence = Your confidence, defined as a percentage, that the feature will have the Reach and Impact that you expect (It might help to determine your high, medium, and low confidence ranges on a 0-100% scale)
Then, add the scores together and divide the number by the Effort.
- Effort = The total amount of time (in days, weeks, or months) that the project will require from the entire team
Each project has its own RICE score, and those with the highest score should be at the top of your prioritization list.
Best practices for creating an effective product roadmap
Not all product roadmaps are equally effective. If you want your roadmap to be more informative, more accurate, more persuasive, and/or more strategically sound, follow these tips.
1. Get input from the entire team
Designing a product roadmap should be a collaborative effort. Your product roadmap is going to influence the work of people on various internal teams, so it’s important to get input from the entire team when putting together your product vision.
2. Remain as objective as possible
There’s room for speculation and creativity when putting together a product roadmap, but for the most part, you should remain as objective as possible. Don’t just hypothesize about what your customers want – look at the numbers. Don’t trust your initial assumptions about your competition – do your research to see what they’re doing. Most of your product roadmap should be grounded in observational data.
3. Estimate timelines conservatively
It’s a good idea to estimate your timelines conservatively, even if you’re planning for an aggressive rollout. Giving yourself an extra week, or even just an extra day, can be the difference between exceeding expectations and disappointing your stakeholders. The most experienced and agile teams do this.
There are too many variables in product development to reliably predict – and all it takes is one major change, like the loss of an employee, to make all your timelines collapse.
4. Include core goals and stretch goals
Your product roadmap should have several outlined objectives, including core goals that you want to achieve no matter what, as well as stretch goals that you’d like to hit – but aren’t strictly necessary.
For example, your core goal might be to prepare to launch version 2.1 of your product by June 15. Your stretch goal could be to include an extra feature or to aim for June 12 as an optimistic launch date.
5. Make the roadmap easy to understand
You should also make an effort to make your product roadmap as easy as possible to decipher. Someone looking at the roadmap for the first time should be able to get the gist of your outline without a detailed explanation. Employ helpful visuals, minimalistic design, and/or a roadmapping tool to help you achieve this.
This approach won’t necessarily help you set or achieve your goals better, but it will make it easier to use your product roadmap as a communication tool with employees, stakeholders, and other leaders in your organization.
6. Get feedback
Don’t hesitate to get feedback for your product roadmap, especially from the people working in product development.
Ask questions like: Do they think that your timeline is too strict or too aggressive? Do they feel like the new features have been grouped efficiently? Do they have other ideas for improvement?
The answers to these questions can illuminate gaps in your processes and timelines.
7. Work specific to vague
The further into the future you plan, the vaguer your plans should become. For example, if your next release is coming in a month, you can afford to make a concrete list of coming features. But if you’re planning a version of your product five years into the future, it’s important to leave some room for modification.
8. Be prepared to make adjustments
In line with the above tip, be prepared to make adjustments to your product roadmap. Over time, you’ll learn new information, new variables will emerge, and some of your assumptions may be proven wrong. It’s important to stay flexible so you can make tweaks on the fly – and avoid getting relegated to a product backlog.
Are you ready to create your product roadmap? Start by gathering feedback with Delighted’s self-serve experience management software. Customer surveys, product/market fit surveys, and even customer effort scores can all help you better understand customer perceptions of your product.
New to Delighted? No problem. Sign up to send employee surveys in minutes.
Additional product roadmap resources
- What is product positioning?
- What is product development?
- How to measure and track product/market fit
- Product-led growth: A product manager’s insight into growth hacking
- 10 best product survey questions to gather customer feedback