How to Design a Clear Product Roadmap

ProjectManager.com

Product management is notoriously known as a detail-oriented discipline, and a product roadmap helps keep those details in perspective. Getting into the weeds is part of the job description, but one should never get lost there. Product managers must lift their heads out of the day-to-day operations of a product to take a larger look at where they are in context.

A product roadmap is essential to product management because it allows the product manager, and anyone involved in the project, to see the big picture. But what goes into creating a product roadmap, so that it’s as clear and useful as possible?

What Is a Product Roadmap?

A product roadmap is a bird’s-eye view of the vision and direction of a product over time, a simple and quickly discernible overview of the major phases from start to finish. What a product roadmap captures is the vision and strategy of the product, and it serves as a guide for executing that strategy, while getting internal stakeholders aligned, facilitating discussions around options and scenario planning, and aiding communication to external stakeholders and customers. It’s all laid out in such a way for it to be easily understood by everyone in the product group.

The product roadmap is the responsibility of the product manager, both to create and to use as a communication tool. This sets the proper expectations, while sharing the product overview and highlighting important parts to come.

The great importance of the product roadmap is that it speaks to everyone from stakeholders to team members on a high-level. Therefore, it must be clear, easy to understand and communicate critical details.

Related: Free Communication Plan Template

What Isn’t a Product Roadmap?

Because a product roadmap must be clear and simple, it can’t be cluttered with too much detail that will distract from the overall strategy and implementation. Therefore, a product roadmap is not a product plan. It might share elements of a product plan, but not at such a granular level.

Furthermore, a product roadmap is not a resource management tool. Knowing your resources and how they’re dependent or not on the completion of tasks and the schedule is important, but shouldn’t appear on a product roadmap. It’s also very detailed and can add unnecessary complexity, making it less easy to understand at a glance.

essential product roadmap items

Key Elements of a Product Roadmap

What specifically are the essential items to have in a product roadmap?

  • Measurable Goals and Objectives: Goals are the high-level statements that give a larger context to the product in terms of what it’s trying to achieve. Objectives are more specific and result in tangible deliverables.
  • Collaboration and Communication: There are likely many teams, and certainly lots of different people and departments, that are all working together to create the product. Therefore, the product roadmap must facilitate that collaboration through clear communication of the overall strategy of the product and keep everyone on the same page.
  • Align with Corporate Objectives: The high-level view of a product roadmap is designed to dovetail with the overall objectives of the corporation to make sure the product is aligned with where the company is going. (Read more about aligning projects to strategy.)
  • Leave Time to Learn and Research: This graphic view of the schedule, which is laid out from left to right, must also include whatever research and learning curve is needed to make sure everyone on the product team is knowledgeable about what they’re doing and how they’re doing it.

Why Use a Product Roadmap?

It should be obvious that product roadmap is a great tool to make sure that everyone knows what the product is about, how it will be executed and who is doing what. But it never hurts to reinforce the benefits for a little extra motivation.

Fast Communication

The product roadmap is a great way to quickly communicate the product strategy and goals at a high level and with a visual clarity that makes it easy to understand for everyone. This includes managing the expectations of stakeholders as well as communicating with all other important parties. A product roadmap is a living document and should be updated regularly, so it’s a great tool to send to anyone in the product group or customers to keep them up-to-date on progress.

Keeps It Grounded

As constraints and variables occur, the product roadmap keeps your decision-making tethered to the goals and objectives of the product, so you can prioritize tasks and make decisions quickly and accurately.

The Challenges of Product Roadmaps

That doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges that product managers must be cognizant of when creating a product roadmap. If a product roadmap isn’t realistic there can be delays, cost overruns or mismatched expectations later in the product.

If teams don’t share their progress, then the product roadmap can’t be accurately updated. A product roadmap is a living document and should be updated regularly. The product roadmap shouldn’t be updated too frequently, however, as it’s a long-term goal document. So, update regularly but don’t get lost in minutia. Also, keep the goals realistic or they become too hard to handle.

Tools for Making a Product Roadmap

There are many tools that can help one create a product roadmap, from the simple to the more dynamic. Because the product roadmap is a visual tool, though, it’s not something that can be slapped together on a Word document or even a spreadsheet.

However, a spreadsheet can be a good place to collect all the information needed to go into the product roadmap. There are software solutions that can take that raw data and import it to display on a visual timeline. ProjectManager.com imports spreadsheets and instantly creates a Gantt chart, which is a visual timeline.

product roadmap with a gantt chart

The Gantt chart will display all the milestones of the product, the tasks will be points on the timeline with lines across that timeline to indicate the duration of the tasks. If any tasks are dependent on one another, they can be linked. All of which offers a graphic and clear overview of the product.

For a different visual expression of the product there are Kanban boards. Kanban is a scheduling system for lean manufacturing where columns are created and under which tasks that are related are collected, which are called Kanban cards. These cards can then be moved across the board to indicate where they are in the process.

product roadmap designed with a kanban board

Both product roadmaps are features of ProjectManager.com, but they’re only part of the tools provided by the software. With ProjectManager.com, the product roadmaps are online and easy to convert and share. They are living documents that are updated in real-time and offer collaborative tools to keep teams communicating effectively. With the real-time dashboard, the data can be filtered and made into charts and graphs. It’s like having a product roadmap fueled with octane.

The product roadmap is one of the many essential documents that help start and keep product management on track. ProjectManager.com is a cloud-based project management software that has features to create product roadmaps in a visual style that works with your product. Plus, it offers tools that take that product roadmap to the next level. See how it can help you by taking this free 30-day trial.

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