How to create a product roadmap

Ewa Rutczyńska-Jamróz
27 October 2022
10 min read

A roadmap is an invaluable asset whenever you want to achieve something or reach a certain destination. It's the same when you want to launch a new digital product. A product roadmap acts as a guidepost and will not only facilitate tasks for the project team, but will also serve as a great communication tool for all stakeholders.

So, what is a product roadmap? And how to build a product roadmap? What are the benefits of a product roadmap?

In this blog post, we share insights on how we use this tool for turning ideas into successful commercial products.

What is a product roadmap?

A product roadmap helps you see the big picture of the product development process in a visually appealing way. It's a representation of strategic vision in the form of concrete tasks of the development team. It clarifies all important aspects including goals, business objectives, product features, resources involved, and time schedule. 

It should answer all critical questions that can come up during the development phase. Building a product roadmap makes sense both in terms of creating a new product and in extending functions in one that already exists.

A product roadmap will help you bring strategic thinking to the next level because it summarizes the most important aspects of the product development process in the most transparent way.

This makes it the perfect tool to support communication within the team and with all project stakeholders. It is indispensable during meetings for communicating vision, tracking progress, and making trade-off decisions. It ensures the focus is kept on what is really important and prevents time wastage on more irrelevant tasks.

The most important thing you should remember about a product roadmap is that it is not a static tool, so you must be prepared for changes and/or adjustments to be made to it. Keep this in mind before you start building your product roadmap.

Think of your product roadmap not as an operational list of tasks, but as a strategic tool that will bring your business vision to the next level.

How to create a product roadmap

One thing we already know is that the process of building a product roadmap can be very dynamic. It's also a multidisciplinary and multistep process that involves the engagement of various functions of the organization and covers many topics from the product development area.

When to create a product roadmap

But before we focus on how to develop a product roadmap, let's consider when the best time for its development may be. 

Again, a product roadmap refers to the strategic vision of product development. Therefore, a product roadmap is not something that you must do from the outset. Quite the opposite. You need to clarify business assumptions, test product hypotheses, and conduct user research. 

These are the actions that will create grounds for a product roadmap.

At Startup Development House, a product roadmap is a deliverable of the Product Discovery process. Here, we make and validate hypotheses related to the customer, problem, and solution areas. We try to find answers to the most critical questions:

  • Who is the target audience?

  • What are the true needs of the end-users?

  • What features should the product represent?

  • What is the best way to use the product?

Finding answers to these questions is not easy and requires numerous activities such as:

  • analyzing the market competition;

  • ideation and inspirational workshops;

  • market segmentation;

  • user interviews and analyzing collected feedback;

  • creating personas;

  • prototyping;

  • user and usability testing.

Each step in the process enables us to discover more and more about the end user and the business concept so that ultimately, we can create a product roadmap for the next couple of months. By using a product roadmap, we and our clients have an understanding of what features will be developed, when, and how much it will cost.

So when is the ideal time for building a product roadmap? It is when you have your mission, vision, strategy, and business objectives in place. In other words, when you know what you want to achieve and how you wish to achieve it. So long as this is determined, you can start working on your product roadmap.

This will summarize your product strategy and turn it into specific actions within a defined period of time.

What does it take to build a product roadmap?

Step 1: Summarize your product strategy

The first step in building a product roadmap is to define a goal. This is crucial depending on whether you are about to create a new product or extend an existing one. You must be sure of why you want to do it and what your product vision is, including persona descriptions and a clear articulation of your offer.

You can define these elements during the Product Discovery process.

Step 2: Prioritize ideas

You probably know the feeling of being so optimistic about a new business concept that you want to offer this concept across the broadest possible scope of customers. 

However, this is not the best way to go about it.

You should list each idea that springs to mind all results from market analysis or inspirational workshops, etc. You then need to filter them through the goals resulting from the product strategy and prioritize them. Staying focused is your best option, especially when taking into account budget and time limitations.

But this doesn't mean that you must abandon any ideas that score lower. You just might come back to them later.

Step 3: Define product features

Now it's time to decide what features will be developed in particular iterations. Try to list them all and prioritize. Again, an understanding of the personas and the true needs of the end user are key.

The features that are not a priority at first should be put on hold in the product backlog.

At this stage of the product roadmap you, the internal team, and all stakeholders will have a pretty clear idea about the product concept.

Step 4: Plan tasks

Once you know what features are chosen for the first iteration, it's time to transfer them into specific actions and releases. It's also time to set roles and responsibilities as well as plan dates.

Planning tasks very much depends on the methodology you work with. When it comes to software development, Agile methodologies work well, including Scrum.

You can learn more about Agile and Scrum from our previous blog posts: Understanding Agile methodology and Agile vs Scrum.

Step 5: Visualize your product roadmap

Remember that your product roadmap plays an important communication role. It should be visually polished and properly prepared from an informative perspective.

You will use it often and throughout different sorts of meetings, so you have to make sure that it will be done in the appropriate format. You can prepare your own or rely on the various product roadmap examples and templates that are available (e.g. Miro).

Step 6: Updates

Work on the product roadmap never really ends. Or at least not until the product launch. You have to stay open to changing market conditions and business priorities. User and usability testing provide access to very valuable feedback and tips for improving the business concept which can influence even the selection of the product's features. 

If you want to increase your chances of gaining support, you must accept volatility. Keep planning, consulting changes, and making pivots whenever necessary so that you stay on track with your business goals.

 What should a product roadmap include?

To ensure your product roadmap includes all necessary elements, let's briefly summarize them.

Key elements to include in your product roadmap:

  • goals that refer to product strategy and represent the most critical accomplishments;

  • initiatives that describe work to be done to accomplish the goals;

  • chosen features for the particular iterations that result in value for real users;

  • releases that represent selected functionalities to be delivered in the defined scope of time;

  • time schedule of particular releases, usually covering a few months of product development.

What makes a good product roadmap?

Here, we summarize the main benefits of road mapping. You will see they are many, in fact. However, the product roadmap brings benefits only when done properly.

To the extent that ineffective roadmaps may actually do more harm than good, and can often be both a waste of time and a source of confusion within the team.

So if you really want to make the best of the product roadmap, do it with due diligence by following our tips below.

The key tips for you are as follow:

  • don't burden yourself with too many goals;

  • ensure your goals are followed by success metrics;

  • think about who the roadmap is dedicated to and adjust its content/format accordingly;

  • consult the draft of the roadmap with your team;

  • be open to modifying the roadmap on a regular basis;

  • follow the findings from the user and usability testing;

  • pay attention to the roadmap's visualization - it should be eye-catching and easy to read;

  • make sure that your product roadmap doesn't just stay on paper: communicate it with all parties involved.

What are the benefits of a product roadmap?

The overall benefit of the product roadmap is to provide clarity on the product strategy, including explaining the "why", "what", and "when" of the product vision. It helps everybody to stay focused on what is most important. But the list of benefits doesn't end here.

This is how your product roadmap can help:

  • by obliging you to define the product strategy, set goals and success metrics;

  • through its clarification of where you are going;

  • it aligns your team around defined objectives;

  • by keeping you focused;

  • it helps to communicate the product strategy to the internal team, customers, and other stakeholders;

  • by measuring progress;

  • it inspires and keeps the team motivated;

  • by helping you manage clients' expectations and building mutual trust -- especially when you represent a software house that is assigned to create a product.

Who benefits from the product roadmap?

The range of the product roadmap's beneficiaries is very wide. What's more, it is not limited to internal stakeholders. It is a guidepost for everyone involved in the product development process. In particular, the product roadmap is most appreciated by:

  • the development team - who must understand the big picture and know exactly what needs to be done to implement the product strategy;

  • the management board - which needs to understand how the product aligns with the business strategy and have the opportunity to track progress;

  • customers - for understanding what the process of product development will look like, and how long it will take -- here, a perfect tool for managing clients' expectations and ensuring project transparency;

  • marketing and sales - so that they learn about the end-users profiles and the benefits of the product, and thus prepare an effective go-to-market strategy;

  • investors - who must be clear on the value proposition, make the product development process credible and track progress.

At Startup Development House, we turn ideas into real-life products. We produce product roadmaps as a result of the Product Discovery process. We perceive it as a great tool for us and all clients to provide clarity on the product strategy and make the next steps of the product development process as transparent as possible.

Although the product roadmap is for us a strategic tool, we pay the greatest attention not to the document itself, but to the process. We believe that once it's done properly, building the roadmap will not require much effort.

It will be about summarizing all-important conclusions from such activities as defining personas, landscape analysis, in-depth user interviews, and prototype testing.

We believe that the most important thing about creating the roadmap is to invite all the parties involved in the process. In particular, we strive to hear all customers' voices and let them guide us.

Do you have an idea for an application or other digital product? Contact us and we'll walk you through the inspirational and explorative Product Discovery process.

At the end of this journey, you will have your own product roadmap to begin a new one toward success.

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