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Introduction to Product Roadmaps

Communication is one of the most important aspects of any product manager’s job, especially when you’re part of an agile development team. And for most product managers, the product roadmap is the number one communication tool, used to illustrate the direction their product is heading in.

It’s one thing to come up with a superb plan for how your product should be developed and even put that plan into action. But without a well organised product roadmap it’s difficult to communicate your plans clearly – internally and externally. Of course, there are numerous different types of roadmap – each serving a specific need. In this article we’ll get into the nuts and bolts of roadmapping and describe various examples, from the feature-focused roadmap to a more strategic goals-based roadmap and much more.

The evolution of roadmaps

Back in the day, before the introduction of dedicated product management software like Craft.io, product roadmaps were usually static documents created in presentation software like PowerPoint. During the fourth quarter of the year, each product manager would build a roadmap for the coming year, showing what they planned to develop in each quarter. The product manager would use it to present to their basic plans to management, colleagues and customers and then they would leave it and probably not even refer to it during the year.

Undoubtedly, we have come a long way in a relatively short time. These days it’s easy for product managers can use tools like Craft.io to create an organic online roadmap that can be continuously updated throughout the development lifecycle.

There are many advantages to using an online roadmap over a static document, including that it:

  • Is packed with important information.
  • Offers the flexibility to show different detail levels.
  • Is directly connected to the list of features and user stories.
  • Can display multiple products that can quickly be removed as needed.
  • Can be shared with any colleague or stakeholder with a couple of clicks.
  • Includes liveshare – so the viewer always sees the most up to date version.

What is a product roadmap?

So, what exactly is a roadmap? When it comes down to it, a roadmap is basically a timeline that can be as long or short as you want it to be. It shows the plans for a particular product or group of products from the product manager’s perspective.

Craft gives users the option to create two distinct types of roadmaps:

  1. A long term, high level Strategic Roadmap – focusing on the overall product goals and initiatives.
  2. A short term Feature Roadmap timeline – focusing on the specific features and functionalities to be developed.

The feature roadmap is actually an alternative view of the list in the feature table which makes it easier to see exactly what features are planned to be developed when.

How is a product roadmap used?

One of the biggest plus points of an online roadmap is its flexibility. Because the roadmap is linked to the features list and includes various filtering options, it’s simple for a product manager to quickly adapt the level of details in a roadmap and its focus. This allows the product manager to use the same roadmap for different audiences and different purposes.

Who is a roadmap for?

We can split the potential audience for a product roadmap may into four distinct types – internal management, external stakeholders, internal stakeholders and the product manager themselves. The product manager might therefore want to create different versions of their roadmap for each audience, or at least use the filtering options within the online roadmap to show different elements.

1. Internal Management or Leadership

The classic reason for creating a roadmap is that the product team need to present their future plans to senior management. As you may expect, senior managers don’t have a lot of time on their hands and are far less interested in the details than the overall ideas. Therefore, a strategic roadmap showing the goals and initiatives for the upcoming period would be the best choice here.

Using a product management platform like Craft has the advantage of allowing the product manager to easily go into detail and illustrate any dependances and connections if they want to. It also allows all the roadmaps from separate products to be shown on a single timeline, giving management a better feel of the overall picture. The liveshare option ensures that after the meeting, management can be sent a link to the roadmap and it will contain any future updates.

2. External stakeholders

After presenting the product plans to senior management, product managers often have meetings with some of their leading customers to let them know what they have coming up.

This roadmap will often contain the same elements as the internal management roadmap, but the presenter may want to hide certain things such as specific features or goals that they don’t want to reveal or commit to. Another useful tool in the Craft roadmap is the option to make it “dateless” which allows you to present the roadmap without committing to any specific dates.

3. Internal stakeholders

Another reason a product manager needs a roadmap is to make sure that their colleagues are up to date with the overall plans. Communication disconnect within teams is never a good thing so it is extremely important for everyone to have access to the timeline so they can see what they will be working on next and where the product is heading.

The audience here is the product manager’s colleagues who are on the same or similar seniority level as the PM, for example the development team, account managers, fellow product managers, the QA guys and product marketing. While the product manager may have an annual or quarterly meeting to update their colleagues, really this is the definition of an organic, live roadmap that the stakeholders can check whenever they want to see what’s going on. It is often as detailed as possible.4.

4. The Product Manager themselves

While the roadmap is usually used as a communication tool, to let other people know what the plans are, it is also extremely useful as a personal tool for the product manager can use to check where they are at and what’s coming up. This goes for both the strategic type of roadmap and the more focused feature roadmap.

Using a roadmap tool gives product managers a birds-eye view of their product from various perspectives, helping them see exactly what is happening when. And when they take advantage of the option to add other products’ roadmaps into theirs it allows them to compare timelines and see how their product fits into the company’s overall product plan.

What should a product roadmap include?

The strategic roadmap is a visionary tool that lets the viewer know the overall strategy for the product. Usually it will be split into releases and display:

  • The goals for each release.
  • The initiatives for each goal.

It can be as detailed or simple as you like and, usefully, Craft’s roadmap tool offers three levels of detail that you can switch between directly from the dropdown at the top of the page:

  • Detailed view – shows all releases, goals and initiatives.
  • Comfortable view – shows only releases and goals.
  • Less details view: – shows only releases.

Here’s an outline of the elements that can be shown in a roadmap:

Products

A product is the highest level in the product hierarchy. It describes the container for all the features. It could be an entire piece of software, such as Gmail or Facebook, although a product manager might be responsible for a specific section of a large piece of software.

Releases

Most strategic roadmaps have a practical purpose – they are used to show what goals and initiatives are expected to be achieved when. Therefore the roadmap is usually split up into releases – a new version of the software that is released to the public. Releases can be given names, such as “MVP,” or simply numbered – version 2.0, version 2.1 etc. Each release contains a number of goals and each goal contains initiatives that are going to be put into action to achieve that goal.

Goals

Considering that this roadmap is all about strategy, it’s no surprise that the main factors in each release are the goals. These are basically KPIs (key product indicators) that you can use to measure success of the product. For example, a goal could be to sign up 5,000 paying users. A Goal does not have to be connected to one release – it can also be spread over a number of releases.

Initiatives

Initiatives are the overall projects that will allow the product manager to acheive the goal. Each initiative is not a specific development, rather a group of developments or overall idea, such as “Create a mobile version”. Features, sub-features and more items can be connected to initiatives but they should not show up in the strategic roadmap as they are too specific.

Features

Features, also known as epics, are specific elements within a product. For example if the product is a chat tool, a feature could be the chat window. Each feature can contain sub-features, also known as user stories, which describe the individual steps a user takes when using the feature and why they want to do that. While features do not show up on strategic roadmaps they can be connected to a goal or an initiative

Time

As a timeline, time is obviously very important for your roadmap! Each release, goal and initiative needs to be placed on the timeline so the viewer can see when the team is expected to start working on each one and when they are expected to be completed. When using a

Product roadmap examples

It is always worth checking out other examples of roadmaps before you start creating your own one. The roadmap you create depends on the way it will be used and the specific audience. For example, if you are creating a roadmap to present to external stakeholders you may prefer to exclude the specific dates. Check out craft for online product roadmap template.

Plan Your Roadmap with Craft – get a Free Trial

Craft’s Product Management Platform includes a powerful, dynamic roadmap tool, designed to help product managers communicate their plans and make better product decisions. Try it out right now with a 14-day free trial or book a personal live demo with one of our product experts.