By: Leanne Armstrong
Whether it’s the Google map you pull up on your phone – or the old-school, impossible-to-refold paper variety – a roadmap is essential when you need help getting from Point A to Point B.
Similarly, any time you strategize around a step-by-step plan lined with checkpoints, detours, and milestones, an easy-to-read directional tool is your best bet for arriving at your destination (or goal) by the most efficient route.
Since product development is very much a stage-by-stage process, working with a well-crafted roadmap can improve your odds of creating and launching a new or reimagined product successfully.
As a valuable strategic tool, a product development roadmap makes it easier for you and your team to:
- See and exchange new ideas
- Work together effectively as the creative process unfolds
- Communicate around your progress in real time
Expert opinion cites poor communication as one of the top reasons why strategic planning sometimes fails.
And since one of the most effective ways to communicate ideas, objectives, and tactics to others is with the help of a visual map, knowing how to put one together is a worthwhile skill to master.
In this practical guide, we’ll expand on some of the unpacking we did in our previous post by laying out specific instructions and sample templates you can use to create your own product development roadmap.
Why you need a product development roadmap
Given how important it is to define and meet user needs and design criteria in product development, trying to accomplish those goals without a detailed product development roadmap doesn’t make good business sense.
Developing a new product or service can be a complex process that take months (or even years) to accomplish. And with the magnitude of recent world events and disruptions especially, any product development planning you do going forward will need to be more streamlined and agile than ever.
Some of the most attractive reasons for developing a product development strategy template to help plot your course include the ability to:
- Set up major milestones, and break out steps and sub-steps for each stage of your product development process.
- Document, assign, and coordinate tasks among team members in various departments to optimize product development flow.
- Monitor, update, and adjust your direction and progress to accommodate shifting priorities or stakeholder feedback.
Product development includes all the steps, and all the departments necessary for taking a new or improved product from concept to market.
Without a clear sense of where everyone’s headed – and what lies along the route you’re hoping to take – members of your design, quality control, marketing, and sales teams are likely to get lost, lose track of one another, or end up going in circles.
The best product development roadmaps are visually impactful
Before we look at instructions for creating your own roadmap, it’s worth reviewing the key characteristics that make such a document meaningful.
For starters, it goes without saying that the best maps are:
- Impactful, and
- Easily shared
There’s no point, for example, in relying on a cumbersome, complicated text or spreadsheet-based plan with limited user access if your goal is to maximize buy-in, comprehension, and teamwork.
Instead, working with digital maps, diagrams, and flowcharts (like the ones in MindManager) to document your goals and how you plan to achieve them will bring clarity and structure to your strategy.
Ideally, the framework you choose for your product development roadmap will also:
- Provide a top-down, 360-degree perspective that reduces complexity, accelerates understanding, and improves communication.
- Make it easy to gather and integrate product resource, budget, and development task-related data.
- Facilitate the sharing of information across cross-functional teams.
Armed with the right tool or software to capture your company’s product development flow?
Then let’s jump in and create a couple of product development strategy templates you can use to move your product from the drawing board to the end-user.
Building product development roadmaps, step-by-step
Whether you’re designing a brand-new product, or improving on one that already exists, you’ll probably need to work through 5 key stages in the product development process.
- Coming up with or refining a new product idea
- Conducting research on your market and competition
- Designing, testing, and fine-tuning your product
- Launching your creation
- Measuring your marketing and sales success
Since each of these stages is typically complex enough to warrant its own planning process, we’re going to break down two of them (idea creation and product design) as examples of how to create the product development roadmaps you’ll need.
How to create a brainstorming roadmap for product development
Whether you’re fleshing out an original idea, or revamping an existing product or service, a concept map is a great tool for visualizing your brainstorming process.
Here’s how to make a digital concept map part of your product development strategy template in 4 easy steps.
Step 1: Begin with the central topic you want to explore with your product development team, and frame it in a bubble in the middle of your map.
For example, if your group wants to bat around ideas for enhancing your company’s existing accounting software (so you can add an upgraded version to your product line), your central topic might be:
- Software Enhancement
Step 2: Connect branches from your central topic to specific ideas for creating or improving your product.
When the ideation dust settles in this particular example, the Software Enhancement topix now branches out to 3 viable improvement ideas:
- Add a New Feature
- Incorporate a Help Chatbot
- Provide Access to a Dedicated Support Team
Pro Tip: The beauty of using a digital map is that it allows your team to visually share, discuss and play with ideas as quickly as they arise.
Step 3: Continue adding subtopics to your map to show illustrate more specific thoughts.
In this scenario, your team members end up linking:
- Add a New Feature to Payroll
- Incorporate a Help Chatbot to Benefits and Limitations
- Provide Access to a Dedicated Support Team to Cost, Training and Call Center (which is subsequently linked to Cost, Hours of Operation, Reliability and Customer Value)
Step 4: Add tags, colors, relationship lines or images to highlight and define the relationships between certain ideas.
For example, your team might use:
- The keyword “Market Research” to join Chatbot’s Benefits to Call Center’s Customer Value
- The same color topic for both Support Team’s Cost and Call Center’s Cost
The deeper you drill into your product enhancement, and the more details you add, change, or rearrange on your concept map, the easier it will be for your team to visualize what’s going to be involved in moving forward with a specific idea.
How to create a design process roadmap for product development
A process map is a workflow-style diagram that can be used to lay out and visualize a specific process – in this case, the design process for your new product.
Here’s how to make a digital process map part of your product development roadmap in 4 easy steps.
Step 1: Begin laying out the steps in your product design process by choosing a starting position on your map, and framing the name of your product inside the central topic
In this example, your team has chosen to Add a New Feature to enhance your company’s existing accounting software product, and so you label your starting position:
- Payroll Add-On Version
Step 2: Use arrows as you add each step in your process to indicate the direction of your product development flow. These steps can be represented as rectangles containing short descriptions.
To simplify our example, the major steps in designing your new payroll add-on feature might be:
- Design payroll user interface
- Write program code
- Build new software version prototype
- Test functionality internally
- Upload payroll tables
- Test user experience externally
- Incorporate feedback into final design, and re-test
Step 3: If your design process requires a decision at any point, put it inside a diamond on your map. More than one arrow should extend from the diamond, each leading to a different outcome.
Now your map might look something like this:
- Test functionality internally <Satisfactory? Yes or No>
- Test user experience externally <Satisfactory? Yes or No>
When your team reaches the Test Functionality step, for example, they decide whether the new payroll feature is working quickly and flawlessly enough to meet established criteria.
- If it isn’t, they go back to a previous step in the process, make revisions, re-test, and repeat until they achieve a satisfactory result
- If it is, they move on to the next step in the process
Step 4: End your map with a bubble-framed representation of the overall objective of your product design. In this case, your team opts for the statement Enhanced Software Finalized & Ready to Launch! to signify both their success and the move ahead to the next product development stage.
Remember, you’ll find it much easier to create the product development roadmaps you need with a powerful visualization tool like MindManager.