Your step-by-step guide for how to create a product roadmap
By: Nicholas Mistretta
Product roadmaps are an essential component of the product development, sales, and marketing process. They allow you to visualize and plan how you and your team can go from A to Z, or idea to market. In today’s article, we’re going into more detail on how to create a product roadmap. But first, let’s backtrack a little.
If you read our introductory guide to product roadmaps, you already know that a product roadmap is basically a plan of action that can evolve over time. It outlines the stages of development along a timeline. And it includes information on how each team’s short-term and long-term efforts align with the greater business goals of the organization.
The purpose of a product roadmap is simple: It allows each team to better understand what their individual role is and how it fits into the overall strategy of the product creation and product launch. It includes everyone from internal and external stakeholders to sales, marketing, and the end-user, and of course, the development teams tasked with creating the product.
Steps for how to create a product roadmap
Let’s begin with some broad strokes to help clarify exactly how to create a product roadmap.
There are several things to consider when creating a product roadmap and these include:
- Market trajectories for the product
- Customer value propositions – why people will want the product
- The strategic plan and goals of the product
- Any effort constraints
Once these considerations are understood, you can begin prioritizing initiatives and defining stages of the product roadmap.
The contents of a product roadmap are dependent on its audience. Who is your product roadmap for? Is it for the development team? Is it for the marketing team? You can easily see how those two roadmaps will look much different, as each team has unique needs.
A product roadmap could also include multiple products. While this would be foolish for the development team and likely lead to confusion, it would serve an executive team audience well if they’re trying to factor in larger organizational goals and how each product fits into those goals.
A single roadmap could also span multiple teams, as each has a role to play but at different stages of the process. How you create your product roadmap depends on a number of factors, beginning with the size and structure of your organization and the product that is being created.
Commonalities do exist, however, between all roadmaps regardless of their audience. All product roadmaps should:
- Be easy to understand for its audience
- Include visuals as a picture is worth 1000 words
- Include the right amount of detail
There is a fine line between too much detail and not enough. Too many details could inspire its audience to gloss over important aspects, while too little detail could create questions that will need to be answered. While it sounds like common sense, your aim is to provide just the right amount of detail in your product roadmap.
Step 1: Define your strategy
This step is the why portion of your product roadmap. Why are you creating this product? Why should customers care? This also could be served by answering – what problem does this product solve or what need does it fill?
Your product strategy will set the vision of your product, the goals, and the initiatives, and how it supports your overall business objectives.
Let’s say your company is in the fitness sector. Products you create help keep people in shape. Until now, you targeted mostly men who were already in shape and looking for a competitive edge. But now you decided to create a product that targets everyday women looking to get in shape.
When defining your strategy, you want to know who your customers are. Next, you’ll want to define exactly why they need your new product and what the market looks like.
Step 2: Manage and review ideas
You have defined your new target audience: women. You’ve been getting requests for years to create a fitness product that women can use to get in shape easily. Now it’s time to rank each idea that you’ve accumulated.
Scoring each idea will remove subjectivity from the equation and allow you to come up with metrics that will eventually comprise your strategy. Ideas that have more significance and promise rank higher than those that don’t.
Step 3: Define requirements and features
Your strategy already addressed the why. Now your features will define the what. You may recall from the introductory guide that the how is not your problem at this point. The how will be tackled by the development team later.
You have to figure out what features support your strategy. Then you’ll create user stories around those features and build them out to give them context. You want to provide your engineering team with as much information as possible so they can come up with a solution for your new target audience.
In step 2 we already decided that the new product must be easy to use for women who aren’t athletic and something that doesn’t require too much effort to dissuade large numbers of women from trying it out.
You’ll create a features board that will help you define and prioritize what you want to build. This will then be handed off to the development team.
A word about using a top-down approach
Using a top-down approach provides a hierarchy for your road-mapping process. First, you create a theme. A theme provides the structure of the story. It should match the highest-level strategic goals for your product.
Next, you create an epic. An epic is a subset of a theme. An epic is built on a number of smaller tasks. Lastly, you create the story. The story is a subset of a product, feature, or epic.
A theme-based roadmap is just one way to organize all of your data. Its advantage over a features-based roadmap is in answering the question of why you should build a product in this particular way. Some people think it helps teams make better strategic and tactical decisions. But again, it will be dependent on your circumstances.
Step 4: Organize your ideas into releases
If using a theme-based roadmap, you can organize your features into themes or epics, depending on how you want to design and implement your work efforts. After sorting it out, you set the timing for the releases. These can be set according to a specific product launch or by developmental capacity for more intricate products.
For each product roadmap you create, you want to consider a few questions first:
- What is the purpose of this product roadmap?
- Who will see it?
- What information should be included in it?
- What is the product roadmap timeline?
Remember, the most important thing is that you create a roadmap that is easily understood by its intended audience.
Remember: your roadmap is not static
As products evolve, they tend to become more complex. They are expected to do more, solve more problems, serve a wider audience or a new audience. Sometimes they’re integrated with existing products or sometimes they spawn an entire line of products.
Since we’ve been going with a fitness theme, think about all the iterations Bowflex has gone through in three and a half decades. They started in 1986 with a single rudimentary home gym alternative to free weights. Now they have numerous product offerings that range from a smart activity tracker to cardio machines, adjustable dumbbells, and more complicated home gyms.
The difference between startups and mature products
Your product roadmap will evolve as your product matures. Products always seem to become more complex with time. They are expected to do more, to integrate with more products and services, or to serve a wider audience.
Therefore, when creating a product roadmap, the entire approach will be different based on whether your company is a startup or an established brand or product. From timelines to goals, it’s important to understand that differences in approach do exist.
When it comes to the horizon, startups have a much harder time predicting what’s coming down the road. Future requirements and opportunities for new products are unclear. Therefore, their product roadmap timelines are shorter. You can’t get too far into the future without including an asterisk or two.
Mature products, on the other hand, can have more long-term plans and long-range timelines. Those companies will have a better understanding of the market and their place in it. They also have a better understanding of their customers’ wants and needs.
The frequency of releases also is approached differently. Startups must keep the pedal to the metal and consistently ship out new and existing products to keep the revenue flowing. There is greater urgency. Whereas, established products can space out new releases with less urgency.
Startups can also afford to be more agile and take more risks. They can be experimental. An established product has a legacy to consider and more to lose.
Goals, too, will be different. The goals of a plucky startup are simply to prove they belong and are viable. They just want to gain some traction and grow. A mature product’s goals will include more nuanced objectives and more diverse targets.