5 Basic Roadmap Design Tips With Examples

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Roadmapping7 Dec 6 mins read Tomas Prochazka

If there’s one thing the team here at airfocus would hang our collective hat on, it’s roadmaps

After all, there’s almost no underestimating how useful roadmaps are.

Roadmaps offer a single point of reference for anyone involved in the project to understand the goals that drive it.

Product managers and project managers both rely on roadmaps to give teams a clear strategic overview, helping keep everyone aligned.

And roadmaps can be used as a communication tool, too — offering at-a-glance action points based on strategy and letting all stakeholders know whereabouts in the journey you are today.

With so much to gain from good roadmapping practice, the design of your roadmap is incredibly important.

  • Roadmaps should be easy for everyone on the team to understand, regardless of experience or expertise.

  • You should be able to gain value from a roadmap, in just a few seconds.

  • Roadmaps should be simple to redesign in the event of a market change or strategic shift in the project.

… And this guide is packed full of great examples of roadmap design you can borrow.

5 roadmap design tips (+ examples to get you started)

Creating a roadmap is really an exercise in information design; it requires the deliberate use of visual elements in conjunction with copy to help your vision become an actionable plan.

So how can you make a great-looking roadmap that clearly conveys the information your team needs? Let’s take a look at some design tips to get you on your way.

1. Roadmap design tip: Use photos of team members to assign tasks 

Source: airfocus

This is a simple but effective roadmap design trick, with an example from our very own airfocus. 

When a user registers in airfocus, they are encouraged to add a profile picture. This isn’t so they can show the rest of the team how good their new haircut looks (although that’s welcome), it’s so that they can quickly see which tasks have been assigned their way. 

Plus, it makes life easier for the rest of the team: if they need to speak to someone in charge of a specific task, they can identify who that person is in an instant.

2. Roadmap design tip: Use tags or labels to indicate scope, time, effort, and size of task

Source: Asana

It’s always handy to be able to break big tasks down into smaller, more digestible chunks. However, the smaller those chunks become, the more difficult they can be to organize and navigate. 

Adding tags or labels to those tasks adds much-needed rationalization. It also aids discovery, as roadmap users can search for the tasks related to a sub-project or stage of development. For bonus points, try using tags and labels to indicate the size or time and effort required to complete a task in your roadmap — that empowers team members to manage their time, while still working towards the greater goal.

3. Roadmap design tip: Apply a color code to each roadmap category or sub-team

Source: Creately

This roadmap example shows how powerful color coding can be for split-second assimilation of a roadmap’s structure.

There’s a reason color coding is one of the most common ways of organizing on Earth: it’s a tried and tested method that just works every time. Try it on your roadmap design next.

4. Roadmap design tip: Categorize by product 

Source: SlideTeam

Another roadmap design tip that’s super easy to roll out: try categorizing your tasks by product. For some businesses, this will mean breaking it down via elements of the IoT mix, as seen in the example roadmap design above. For others, it might mean having just two categories: mobile app and web app.

This will make it easier for everyone to see the progress of each product as well as the project as a whole. But, more importantly, it’ll help highlight any bottlenecks regarding a certain team or workflow.

5. Roadmap design tip: Simplify it all to 'Now, Next, Later' 

Source: Scrum.org

Organization should make things easier to navigate. And, as you’ll have seen from the roadmap design examples so far, less is often more. If your team is struggling to stay on track as a result of unclear timelines and contradicting priorities, then take it back to basics with the ‘Now, Next, Later’ roadmap format.

Once the ‘Now’ tasks are complete, you can move on to the ‘Next’. ‘Later’ tasks might be things with a three-month horizon or are three years down the line — but removing these far-future tasks from the day-to-day detail helps teams to focus. 

How to design your roadmap: which are the best tools?

As we touched on before, roadmaps need to be able to change easily — they are living, breathing, organic documents, within which timelines will creep and priorities will shuffle. 

The design tips and roadmap examples that we shared above tick off the ‘value at a glance’ and ‘easy to understand’ criteria, but when it comes to adaptability it’s all about the software you use.

Excel for roadmap design: pros and cons

Microsoft Excel is software most professional teams have access to. You can format cells as dates and establish Gantt charts that track your tasks and progress. But that’s kind of where the positives end for using Excel as roadmap software.

Excel has very little to offer against the design tips in this guide and there’s no way of prioritizing your tasks and assigning them to other team members.

PowerPoint for roadmap design: pros and cons

Compared to Excel, PowerPoint has more built-in design features — you can easily apply your corporate branding to the roadmap, for example, and icons, logos, and other visuals are just a click away. 

But, like Excel, PowerPoint is far too rigid, making even small updates to your roadmap a laborious task.

airfocus for roadmap design: pros and cons

airfocus was designed for roadmaps. Our platform offers a range of customizable and editable roadmap templates, so you can get to work sooner.

And, with airfocus, you can create a roadmap for almost any situation you could need, including project roadmaps, startup roadmaps, product launch roadmaps, agile sprint roadmaps.

The possibilities are endless — and easy to apply. Say you want to view your roadmap as a board one hour and a table the next. No problem! It doesn’t even take an hour to change — the software reconfigures your roadmap format right in front of your eyes.

The 6 steps to roadmapping

Now that you know the design secrets of great roadmaps and where you’ll go to build one, all that’s left to do is jump in. Here’s how:

  1. Establish goals: You can’t start paving the road ahead if you don’t know the destination. First, determine the purpose of your roadmap, as well as who should be involved.

  2. Gather inputs: Once you have your goal, it’s time to figure out what problems need to be addressed and what developments need to be planned for. To do this, simply speak with stakeholders, customers and use your existing research.

  3. Create themes: Themes are high-level goals or plans for the product you are developing. You can take the problems raised in step 2 and cluster them into themes for easier organization.

  4. Prioritize themes: Now you have your themes, establish criteria and create a scoring framework to rank themes (RICE, ICE, and weighted scoring are our favorites).

  5. Visualize and share: Plot the themes into a timeline and you have your roadmap ready to distribute to your teams!

  6. Revisit and update: It’s unlikely that your project will stay within the same parameters throughout the development cycle, so it’s important to revisit your roadmap regularly and update it if appropriate.

By combining these basic steps with a great roadmapping tool, you can create accurate roadmaps with ease.

Do you want to be a product management master?

If you’ve read this far, then you’re obviously as serious about stellar product management as we are.

At airfocus, we absolutely love that energy and it’s why we’re so passionate about sharing our knowledge with you.

So next up in your insight-finding mission, why not check out ‘The Ultimate Guide to Product Management’ — an ebook that covers absolutely everything you need to become a product management master. In the ebook, you will learn how to be an effective product manager, as well as what not to do (we wrote it from experience!).

Download it for free today!

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