By: Leanne Armstrong
As a plan of action that’s purpose-built to evolve alongside your product, a product roadmap is your key to unlocking a successful development process. In previous articles in this series, we learned that creating an agile product roadmap is an effective way to go from idea to market and back again—especially for products that are likely to change or advance over time.
But to build a roadmap, it takes tools that can help you:
- Connect vision and strategy to implementation of your new, improved, or internal product
- Clarify direction, priorities, and progress
- Outline various development stages and show how each team’s short-term and long-term efforts align with overarching product goals
If you think that sounds like a tall order for a single map, you’re right! That’s why product roadmap tools come in a variety of forms.
Over the course of your process, in fact, you’re likely to use different tools at different stages and for different purposes – all with the goal of meeting the unique needs and roles of cross-functional product teams.
In this guide, we’ve assembled a roundup of powerfully practical product roadmap tools you can use to keep stakeholders, developers, and sales and marketing teams on the same page, in touch with the bigger picture, and working and communicating more efficiently together.
With the right tools, you can create a complete product roadmap plan that also serves as a “living document” that you can update whenever necessary to reflect client input, customer feedback, changes in market demand, or shifts in the competition.
Whether you need:
- A strategic map to nail down the why, what, and when of your product
- A timeline to provide perspective on short-term efforts vs long-term goals, or
- A product roadmap template to outline what you’re going to deliver (and when) during different development stages…
… You’ll find them all here!
Don’t be deceived by the simplicity of their style, however. These nine product roadmap tools tools pack a powerful punch in the product development arena.
1. Strategic planning tools
Tools like strategy maps are essential for giving everyone involved in the planning of a product (think your clients or executive team especially) easy access to high-level details. And they function especially well when combined with other strategy planning tools—like Ansoff matrices, for example.
You can think of your strategy roadmap as a critical course-plotting tool: a diagram-based guide that lets you share and evaluate your strategic process by showing how initial ideas will lead to specific product goals.
2. Ideation tools
Ideation tools like mental or idea maps, company knowledge repositories, concept maps and other creative aids are ideal for bringing innovation to life. Because they make coming up with or assessing product ideas more efficient, ideation tools are a real boon for your creative or development team.
This can be especially true, for example, when you need to create a portfolio roadmap as a way to show all your planned product releases in a single view.
3. Decision-making and analysis tools
Product development decision and analysis tools come in all shapes and sizes, including diagrams that can help you:
- Evaluate the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats associated with your product idea (SWOT diagrams)
- Examine the costs and benefits of proposed product enhancements (cost-benefit analysis diagrams)
- Compare different product development options, outcomes, and decision pathways (decision tree diagrams)
Not only do product roadmap tools like these ones help streamline decision-making, they’re pretty indispensable for conducting competitive analyses and market assessments.
4. Timeline tools
Executives and stakeholders in particular need to see what the timing around a product roadmap plan is expected to look like from a development, testing, and launch perspective. But tools like Gantt charts and other timelines are also a great way to give every team or department a big-picture overview of the process. And they’re especially useful when you want to create a features roadmap to outline when new product features will be delivered.
5. Task management tools
Project and department managers—or anyone else charged with overseeing the various components of a product launch or development plan—can benefit tremendously from collaborative task management tools like:
- Project planning templates
- Work breakdown structures (WBS)
- Visual task management systems
Any visual tool, in fact, that can help you coordinate the people, tasks, and resources necessary to map your way from idea to market should be considered an invaluable addition to your product toolbox!
Flowcharts make such versatile product roadmap templates, every team with a role to play in product development should be taking advantage of them. In the hands of your design or development team, for example, flowchart diagrams make it easy to visually standardize key processes through the application of a series of established symbols and shapes.
Using flowchart tools to create product roadmaps clarifies the direction of individual events and illustrates where certain product-related decisions will need to be made.
7. Workflow diagram tools
Building action guides for product development teams who work “on the floor” becomes a simple matter when you use tools designed to facilitate workflow. By breaking complex tasks down into a sequence of events, for example, workflow diagrams make a great reference document for:
- Production and manufacturing teams
- Product marketers
- Sales and customer support personnel
Full-on workflow management systems and software, meanwhile, can support and optimize multiple product workflows to meet the needs of various teams simultaneously.
8. Swim lane diagrams
Speaking of various teams and their roles, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention some of the ways you can use swim lane diagrams to construct product roadmaps.
Swim lanes can help you:
- Capture and demonstrate the responsibilities of different teams (and where they connect or intersect)
- Visually compare and monitor workstreams that are unfolding at the same time
- Create a releases roadmap to coordinate all the product market release activities across teams by communicating all the steps or actions required
Pro Tip: If you’ve noticed a bit of overlap between some of these product roadmap tools, don’t worry. You can choose the best tool for your needs by carefully considering the purpose of the product development roadmap you need to create, who’ll be viewing or using it, and what information they’re going to require.
9. MindManager: An all-in-one product roadmap tool
Creating a product roadmap that’s easily understood by everyone is another key consideration when picking the right tool for the job. So it only makes sense that when you need to build a visual map, you might prefer to use an all-in-one, visual mapping tool.
MindManager’s built-in and customizable maps, plans, and diagrams give you a wide range of options to work with – including every one of the product roadmap tools described in this guide.
Here’s a sample of a typical product roadmap template you can create with MindManager’s easy-to-use, drag-and-drop features.
Let’s say you’re at the idea stage of wanting to “build a better mousetrap,” except in this case, your mousetrap is an electric bike. At this point, you just want to get your initial thoughts down “on paper,” so you start constructing a simple visual roadmap.
You label a topic on the left side of your screen with the name of your product (EZ-Bike), and extend a main branch line out to the right. At various points along this line, you plan to add and label additional nodes and branches representing key points and sub-points you’ll need to consider, but for now your focus is all on design.
The beauty of a digital map is that it lets you lay out, structure, and rearrange new ideas quickly and easily. So, after sitting down with your development team, you add the following items to your product roadmap:
And since you’re already starting to think about improving on your basic model, you also add a Future Goals pathway, knowing you can:
- Build and link your original roadmap to a second map dedicated entirely to EZ-Bike 2.0 as new ideas emerge
- Integrate key research and resources (such as website links, company documents, and budget calculations) directly into all your maps
- Share your maps in real time, thanks to MindManager’s co-editing feature
Remember: Because the expectation for many products can be alarmingly high (think: upgraded features, more integrations, or faster new releases, for example), making it as painless as possible to update your product roadmap plan is vital.
MindManager’s product roadmap tools aren’t just great for keeping your planning and processes agile, they also offer valuable integrations like MindManager for Microsoft Teams.