Among the many components to building an effective operational strategy is the creation of a product road map.
A product roadmap is a visual tool that communicates the high level initiatives of a solution and the planned steps to develop it. Practically, a roadmap describes 3 core elements.
What the specific product or service your business or organization produces. How you plan to develop your solution over a period of time, namely the progressive order of your solution’s iterations. And, why you plan to develop your product according to a defined strategy.
Above all else, a good product roadmap should provide direction.
The plan should clearly inform both internal and external stakeholders in accessible terms the strategic guide for the development of a solution and the deployment of resources to create it.
In many cases, a product roadmap is a visual summary that maps out the vision of a solution over a period of time. The plan should closely correspond to the board strategy set by the executive leadership of your company or organization.
The goals of a product road map include:
Describe the vision and strategy of your solution.
Produce an outline that guides the execution the strategy, including a timeline.
Align internal stakeholders to the vision.
To facilitate discussion on how to execute the plan within it’s proposed timeline.
To help community to external stakeholders, customers included, the strategic direction of your company’s solution.
The more a product roadmap is clearly articulated and defined the easier it will be to align all stakeholders to the vision of the solution and it’s operative strategy.
Simply put, the underlying purpose of a product roadmap is to ensure that all of the elements that contribute to the development of your company's product or service are working towards a common recognizable goal.
Here, we examine many of the core elements that contribute to developing a valuable product roadmap that effectively communicates a defined strategy to an intended audience.
Developing a product roadmap, particularly for technology companies, should be a continuous exercise of adaptation and review throughout the lifecycle of the solution.
Product roadmaps should not be static documents, but routinely edited to reflect the processes that support the development of a solution.
Requirements and features of the roadmap should be generated by as many stakeholders directly involved with the solution as possible including; management, engineering, operations, sales, customer support, relevant partners, and even customers.
The product management team, responsible for constructing the product road map, should list all of the priorities contributed by the stakeholders and make sure that that the plan aligns with the goals of the organization.
Constructing a product roadmap demands matching short-term and long-term business goals with the resources required to meet them. This technique applies to both existing and new solutions, and can be created in a variety of ways to showcase different kinds of information to specific audiences including:
High level strategic initiatives.
Releases or deployments in monthly, quarterly, yearly, other other time intervals.
Detailed feature lists and explanations.
Maintenance review cycles.
Release or deployment roadmaps and maintenance review cycle roadmaps typically serve the engineering, operations and manufacturing teams tasked with developing the solution.
Detailed feature lists and explanation roadmaps can serve a variety of audiences including; engineering, sales and customer support teams, as well as customers.
Product roadmaps that focus on the high level strategic initiatives are sometimes called theme-based roadmaps, and typically serve the executive management of a company or organization.
Theme Based Roadmaps
These roadmaps are called theme, rather than feature, roadmaps because themes provide greater flexibility for product managers and leaders to re-explore the objectives of a solution and modify them to meet new executive or market demands.
Applying the term theme also induces stakeholders to think collective about how to improve and adapt the solution to better solve it's intended problem, rather than focus on it's individual features or components.
Broadly speaking, theme-based roadmaps provide a long-term perspective of a solution’s development by breaking objectives into 3 categories:
The objectives under development in the present.
B. Near Term
The objectives which are coming up.
The longterm objectives that provide direction, but need more research and definition.
Theme-based roadmaps typically do not provide specific dates because they are intended to be subject to frequent change and non-specific.
This kind of roadmap is intended to provide a bird’s eye view of the organization's objectives with regard to the solution it develops and markets.
Product Roadmap Example
No matter the methodology employed for a product roadmap, clearly understanding the key company goals, the initiatives that will drive their completion, and how a solution aligns to them, is fundamental to all product roadmaps.
Practically, a product roadmap illustrates the release and development cycles of new and existing products. A thorough roadmap should also indicate the effect each product line has on your organization’s performance.
A high-level thematic product roadmap should follow and elaborate from this very basic structure:
Example Product Roadmap
A, A1, A2, A3, etc.. Refer to the released iteration of a solution.
The market share indicates how impactful a particular product line is to your company’s economic performance.
Wherever possible entrepreneurs should measure everything their company does with effective measurement and assessment tools. The practice will promote objectivity and recognition among all stakeholders that the bottom line of the business is the most important.
It is important to recognize that developing a product, and it's subsequent iterations is in many cases an ongoing problem solving exercise. Entrepreneurs should track how well the issues that arise are resolved over time to ensure the timely delivery of their solution to the marketplace.
Generally speaking, the process of a product development initiative should match the follow chart.
Product Development Cycle
The goal is to make sure that all of the problems and challenges are adequately identified at the beginning of the product development cycle, and then adequately solved over time before the solution's release date.
Allowing for too many unresolved problems to emerge in the middle or late in the product development cycle will adversely affect the release of the solution.
Similarly, attempting to resolve all the issues too quickly may allow for unforeseen problems to emerge after the release of the solution and when it is too late to address them.
Entrepreneurs and product managers should therefore apply a disciplined approach that strikes a balance between rushing to deliver the solution and complacency.
There are a number of different methodologies entrepreneurs can adopt for their product roadmaps, particularly depending on the industry your organization operates in and the type of solution you offer.
However, at a fundamental level, all roadmaps applying the following process;
First, establish the vision for your solution and determine how you intend it’s development to unfold. This requires defining what your operations and/or engineering teams will build in the present and where the solution is headed in the future.
To develop an impactful vision of your solution, always keep the needs and desires of your customers, as well as your go-to-market plan, close in mind.
The definition should capture the essence of your solution, it’s purpose, objective, competitive advantage, marketing strengths, and value to the customer. The clearer your definition is the easier it will be for your team to effectively understand their objectives and develop a successful product.
Depending on intended audience of the product roadmap, the next step is to select the appropriate features and the level of detail to include in your plan.
This is the area where entrepreneurs should work to clearly identify what aspects or features of their solution the business should be focused on at a specific time.
To discover which features to develop to focus on when, consider applying the following simple strategy;
Collect tactical suggestions from your internal stakeholders about what improvements your solution needs based on what problem the solution is attempting to solve.
B. Customer Feedback
Examine the feedback customers are sharing about your solution, what strengths they are identifying and what weaknesses are causing them problems and dissatisfaction.
C. User stories
Apply case scenarios with staff to discover possible gaps in your solution. Pose the question; As a customer, I want X in order to achieve Y.
It is common to apply different levels of detail and release dates to the same product plan depending on whether it is intended for internal or external audiences.
Internal stakeholders include your engineering team, while external stakeholders include your customers. Once you have identified the purpose of the product roadmap, and your intended audience, you can more easily determine the appropriate features to include in the plan.
For customers, it is good practice describe the thematic purpose of your solution's new release and the key features that will motivate them.
Entrepreneurs can also create specific product roadmaps for different customer groups depending on the how relevant various features of your solution are to their specific needs.
For internal stakeholders, it is is common to provide much more detail and convey the strategic importance of each linear objective in your plan.
The next step is to prioritize the order in which the features of your solution should be developed.
This is the area to explain why a particular feature of your solution should be developed according to a determined order.
This can be a real challenge as different stakeholders will offer compelling arguments about how to approach the ongoing development of your company’s product or service.
To make the process easier, rank the customer requests and feedback your sales and customer support teams collect against your management’s strategy for your solution.
This approach will make discovering which features to prioritize more objective. Another valuable approach is to use visual color coded indicators to designate different priority levels that correspond to different stakeholders.
The best way to match customer request with features is to first develop a goal-oriented product roadmap that simply outlines what your solution is designed to accomplish over the course of several releases and/or iterations.
Then rank the requests against your goals according to how impactful their release will be on customer satisfaction and sales.
The last step is to effectively communicate your roadmap to each of the stakeholders directly involved in developing your solution in order to align each group to the broad strategy.
Transparency is important to inform stakeholders, particularly for engineering teams who need to know every detail about what must be developed.
While every group in your company will want to see the granular data of your product road map, each group will see the information in their own way. It is the responsibility of product managers to collaborate with each group and make sure that every group is on the same page.
To facilitate the efforts of product managers, entrepreneurs should consider employing appropriate software tools to develop and disseminate their product roadmaps.
Depending on your organization and the solution you develop, software can be a very effective tool to align all stakeholders and continuously make adjustments to the product plan that everyone can see seamlessly.
Some effective software solutions include:
One of the important things to keep in mind when constructing a product roadmap is the audience the plan is intended to serve. The focus, presentation and level of detail provided in a roadmap should appropriately match it’s intended audience.
Too much detail can produce confusion, while too little will fail to accurately inform the stakeholders tasked with executing the plan about how to achieve their objective.
Some product roadmaps should focus on the vision of the solution, while others should focus on specific features. To develop an appropriate roadmap for difference audiences, consider applying the following insights.
A Roadmap for Executives
A product roadmap intended for executives represents an internal document that aims to acquire the approval from an organization's leadership on the strategic development cycle of the solution.
The product roadmap should focus on the high-level strategic concepts including; growth drivers, innovation, new market opportunities, customer feedback and satisfaction, and market position. The time-line of these roadmaps are typically broken into quarterly milestones.
A good product roadmap intended for executives should illicit enthusiasm and commitment to it’s proposed strategy.
A Roadmap for Engineers
A product roadmap intended for engineers should focus on the specific features and requirements of the solution, the proposed or implemented development stages, and the strategic milestones.
Engineering product roadmaps are internally focused and of a much more granular nature compared to the executive roadmap. An effective engineering product roadmap embraces transparency to effectively inform engineers of what needs to be worked on.
These plans are typically shorter in scope, with monthly or by-weekly milestones. Even so, the strategic long-term vision and economic goals of the solution should be present and effectively communicated in the plan so that engineers can be aware of executive requirements and deadlines.
A Roadmap for Sales
A product roadmap intended for a sales team should focus on a combination of features and customer benefits so that sales representatives can be well informed on how market the solution to customers and generate sales.
These product roadmaps should communicate all of the solution's features and functionally according to a defined thematic narrative that sales representatives can share and meaningfully convince customers of the value the product or service provides.
A common pitfall regarding product roadmaps intended for sales teams is providing too much information regarding the release of future product features.
Sales represents will typically use this information to convince and upsell buyers. To avoid possible sales commitments that might not be met, exclude any dates in the roadmaps provided to sales teams.
A Roadmap for Customers
Product roadmaps intended for customers should focus exclusively on the benefits your solution provides to them. Existing customers will want to know new upgrades and updates to your solution and it's product family.
Leads or potential customers will want some insight into what your company is working on that might be useful to them in the future, and which could impact their purchasing decisions.
These roadmaps should be visual, attractive to the eye, and very easy to understand.
As with sales roadmaps, exclude any dates about future product or feature releases unless you are absolutely certain of the shared milestone.
A Roadmap For Investors
Product roadmaps for investors should focus on strategy, and how your solution fits into the vision and brand of your company. This roadmap should offer insights into what direction your business is taking and what you plan to accomplish in the future.
These roadmaps should be simple and thematic in nature. Too much detail can produce unwanted questions and invite doubt into your proposed strategy.
When tailoring your product roadmap to a specific audience the important thing to keep in mind is the level of information being provided. Always seek confirmation from your team to determine what should be provided or omitted from a product road map.
The risk of creating confusion among stakeholders, or of promising features that cannot be delivered, can negatively impact your organization’s reputation and economic performance.
Impact of Agile
Compared to the product roadmaps of businesses and organizations during the 20th century, today’s roadmaps experience a much higher degree of fluctuation. Product roadmaps used to be rather static, and presented definitive operative timelines of 18 months and longer.
The product roadmap has changed significantly during the 21st century because of the implementation of agile methodologies.
Agile has been adopted by business large and small, particularly in technology, to more effectively meet the needs of customers in economies where innovative and technological change has dramatically accelerated. This phenomena has in turn affected the evolution of product development and iterative cycles by increasing their frequency and shortening individual iterative life cycles.
Because so much of the products and services people purchase and/or subscribe to have varying levels of technology imbedded into them, modern product roadmaps have become living documents with much shorter more flexible timeframes to more easily accommodate to changing priorities and new market opportunities.
Therefore, depending on the industry your company operates in, it is becoming increasingly commonplace to produce product roadmaps with shorter, sometimes monthly, objectives that correspond to quarterly roll-outs.
With respect to developing a solution, contemporary entrepreneurs must think in shorter and more flexible timeframes, while also maintaining a clear strategic long-term vision for their solution and organization.
This dichotomy presents a real challenge to entrepreneurs and business leaders, which makes developing a clearly articulated product roadmaps all the more necessary to effectively implementing operative strategies that align with the economic goals of the business.
The following 10 additional points offer valuable insights into developing an effective product roadmap.
1. Focus on Benefits & Goals
When operating in a dynamic agile environment, keep a theme based product roadmap to guide the creation and implementation of more specific roadmaps for your operation and engineering teams.
Consider adopting the following simple format:
- The release date or timeframe.
- The name of the product release.
- The reason for developing the new release.
- The high-level features necessary to fulfill the release goal.
- The metrics used to determine whether the release was a success.
Before constructing your product roadmap, carefully describe and validate the strategy your organization will adopt to develop your solution.
Carefully analyze the strategic path involving the resources needed to create the solution, the mechanics you will employ to produce the solution, and all of the involved stakeholders.
Use diagrams to facilitate communicating the necessary steps involved in your plan.
A product roadmap should relate to it's intended audience a coherent narrative about the creation, release, and probably growth of your solution.
Each iteration of your solution should logically build towards future releases and clearly align with your organization’s vision, and tailor the narrative to meet their needs of different audiences.
Entrepreneurs should resist the temptation to provide too much detail in their product roadmaps. An effective roadmap should be simple to understand, and include only the essential information about your solution's features that match your goals.
Business leaders should avoid the list of features syndrome. Creating a long list of features does not make for a good product roadmap. Instead leaders should focus on themes, and include the most important, high-level, features that personify the theme in the roadmap.
For technology companies, the granular details of each feature, user stories, scenarios and U.I. designs should be included in the product backlog rather than the roadmap.
An effective product roadmap should excite and induce commitment to executing the plan.
All stakeholders must agree with and buy into the roadmap. Collaborating with each stakeholder to leverage their knowledge and engage them throughout the development of the plan is a wise approach that will make each party feel valued, and increase their commitment and drive to executing the roadmap.
While it is important to seek the engagement of all stakeholders in the development of a product roadmap, it is equally important to understand when to say “no” and how to say it.
A product roadmap should be focused on only the most important features that define your solution in the eyes of your customers, and not include every good idea that comes to mind.
7. Sharing Dates
Remember that depending on the audience of your roadmap, the inclusion of dates or time intervals can have positive and negative effects. Internal roadmaps should include dates to facilitate the timely development of the solution, while external ones should omit them.
Instead of sharing dates with external stakeholders, display iterations of your solution in a logical sequence.
An effective roadmap must have measurable goals. If the objective is to increase sales, then decide by how much you expect sales to increase.
Without strategic and measurable targets, it will be impossible to accurately determine whether or not the goals of your product roadmap are met.
Budgeting is crucial for any product road map to determine whether there are enough resources to accommodate the development of the solution.
For new solutions that may have ambiguous costs, consider applying a top-down cost analysis that estimates the probably costs associated with developing your solution.
Ask the leaders of each function/department to submit their estimation of the likely costs they will incur to produce your company’s solution. Or, use previous examples and experiences of developing similar products or services as guides to estimating the costs of your new solution's development cycle.
Avoid, bottom-up cost analysis as the approach will likely produce confusion and take a lot of time to calculate.
The last element entrepreneurs should consider is periodically reviewing the actual progress of their solution’s development against the planned product roadmap.
Leaders should routinely update the roadmap so the it accurately reflects the progress being made by the development, engineering and/or manufacturing teams, and use the analysis to determine whether or not there are development areas that need improving, additional support, or restructuring.
Depending on the type of business you operate and the lifecycle of your solution, consider the following chart to guide your reviewing policies.
The last element entrepreneurs must consider when developing a product road-map is that the exercise is heavily dependent on implementing good design principles.
A product road-map is not a text document. It is a visual flow chart, and should be well designed.
Therefore, either apply sound design practices to make the plan visually appealing and clear to understand, or seek the help of talented designers to help produce an effective roadmap.
Test the roadmap with different audience to examine whether or no the information being displayed effectively communicates it's underlying intention.
While using software is highly recommended, it is also important for entrepreneurs and executive leaders to be able to draw a simple product roadmap on paper or a whiteboard for the purpose of brainstorming ideas and discovering the right strategy.
If you have doubts, explore examples of effective product roadmaps available across the web and apply the principles they offer to your own roadmap.
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