Where is your product heading? - Roadmaps


Where is your product heading? - Roadmaps

The roadmap.

The one document that is intended to bring to life all the work that the product manager does. The thing that shows anyone who’s interested in what the business will be working on in the future, where the focus will be, and when the request they made will finally make its way into production.

The 2019 Product Management Festival survey found that product roadmapping was a top priority for 62% of respondents, double that of market and product research, so it’s key to the success of all product managers.

However, when it comes to defining what a product roadmap is, let's turn to those who make product roadmaps their business:

Roadmap definitions

Product Plan — A product roadmap is a high-level visual summary that maps our the vision and direction of your product offering over time. A product roadmap communicates the why and what behind what you're building.A roadmap is a guiding strategic document as well as a plan for executing the strategy.

Aha! — a product roadmap helps communicate direction and progress to internal teams and external stakeholders. It is a document showing the high-level initiatives and the plan for executing the work that aligns with the product strategy.

Atlassian — A product roadmap is the key to communicating how short-term efforts match long term business goals.

Roadmunk — It’s a statement of intent. It’s a visualization of where you’re going, and it can come in many forms. But it’s also a living document, which can change.

As you can see, there’s a consensus that a roadmap is a visual way to communicate your product's direction of travel. Where you’re going tomorrow and into the future.

What should we communicate?

The first place to start when it comes to creating and managing your roadmap is to consider your audience. Who do you envisage will be looking at your roadmap?

Is this an internal tool that will be used by the teams to see what work is on the horizon? Is this for the leadership to verify that we’re following the overall organizational strategy? Is this intended as something that will excite current and potential customers as to what new features are just around the corner and therefore worth their while to keep using / start using your software? The audience you want to view your roadmap makes a huge difference to how you go about mapping the future.

  • For internal development teams you might want to have more detail, include more tech focused developments, or highlight more granular progress towards completion.
  • For leadership teams you might want to focus on business value being delivered and mapping the features to the strategic goals, as well as showing granular progress.
  • For external audiences you might want to describe the value being delivered to the customer, show more high level elements, and make sure it’s on brand and using customer friendly terminology.

(yes, you can make an argument for all of these to apply to all the audiences, but they’re examples, intended to get you to think what your specific audience needs)

Of course, given the fact that they often have different needs and wants, this might mean that you actually maintain multiple roadmaps in order to cater for the different audiences, but that’s fine. It’s a bit of extra work, but the goal of your roadmap is to communicate to the person viewing the roadmap so you need to ensure that they understand what they’re seeing and that it’s relevant to them.

If it’s too hard to find what they need then they won’t pay attention to any of it.

What tools are available?

In no particular order:

Product Plan

A popular roadmap tool, which I first used about 3–4 years ago, Product Plan has a simple enough to use interface, dropping blocks into swim lanes, in a similar fashion to a Gantt chart. You have flexibility to have multiple swim lanes which we tried by team and by product, depending on what the priority was in our business. It also linked to our Jira application and each feature on the roadmap can show an indication as to how far through development it is, based on the Jira stories that are marked as completed.

Aha!

The self-proclaimed ‘world’s #1 roadmap software’, Aha puts your goals at the centre of your roadmap as you ‘achieve more when you start with strategy’.

The visualisation of the roadmap is similar to Product Plan, but behind the scenes there are more feature management tools, which can take on part of the role of your backlog, and which can feed into feature voting and prioritisation tools.

Roadmunk

Full of feedback collection tools, Roadmunk provides direct routes from customers and customer success teams into the product roadmap. Once feedback is gathered you can use the in-built tools to assess the feedback, review and prioritise, before features make it onto your roadmap.

Product Board

Productboard is a product management system that seeks to align everyone on the right features to build next. They state that it is designed on the ‘Product Excellence’ methodology and used by 3000+ organizations.

As with Roadmunk, you can receive feedback direct from customers and plug them straight into your roadmapping tool, and there are inbuilt tools for collaborating on your roadmap.

And one last tool …

If we’re focusing our roadmap on communicating vision, then all the tools have similar approaches. They all contain versions of timelines that show blocks of features, grouped by team or product.

The tools all have variations on the tools that surround the roadmap, with some focusing on gathering and prioritizing feedback, whilst others look at managing and assessing delivery. What's most suitable depends on what your audience are keen to see.

If we’re focusing just on the presentation of the vision for the future, when it comes down to it, we could choose to convey our direction of travel in ways that don’t involve a paid for roadmap tool.

A Google Sheet can show you chunks of features over time, is free, and allows you to link off to different places for more information. This example shows a couple of ways that could be set up in a few minutes. You could even have a super high level Google Slide version that sales teams can thrown into their sales decks. No special tools involved, just a focus on the message that you want to convey.

Ask yourself what you actually need your roadmap tool to do, before you jump on board with any particular approach.

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