Ask almost any product manager if they have a roadmap for their product, and they’ll say yes.
But ask them to show it to you and you may be surprised. It may be stored in their head or on a crumpled piece of paper with a few scrawled notes and arrows.
We all know how essential the roadmap is for product management success, but there is a right and not-so-right way of creating and updating your product management roadmap.
The purpose of a roadmap is to visualize how you plan to meet your objectives. No matter how they look, roadmaps need to show where you are going and how you’re going to get there.
We can summarize how roadmaps help us using the neat acronym ROADMAPS.
Route: A roadmap shows us how we will reach our desired outcomes. There are many ways to achieve a goal, but the roadmap explains the route we have chosen for our team.
Outcomes: A roadmap connects where we are now with the outcomes that we want to achieve. These outcomes are clearly defined and agreed upon.
Alignment: A roadmap clearly communicates the outcome and the route to the whole team so everyone can pull in the same direction. New team members can quickly understand the aims and how they will be achieved.
Dependencies: Ideally, a roadmap should visualize the initiative dependencies so different teams can plan around them effectively. Without proper documentation and management of dependencies, projects can derail and have serious delays.
Management: A roadmap gives product managers the ability to manage the next steps. Looking ahead they can see what resources will be needed, whether all dependent tasks have been completed, and mobilize the necessary teams at the right time.
Accountability: A roadmap can act as a promise of what will be delivered — by who and when. Roadmaps keep teams accountable for their responsibilities and keep product managers accountable to stakeholders who are counting on them.
Prioritization: Roadmaps can bring to light complex dependencies, bottlenecks, and limitations. Creating a roadmap allows product managers to think through these potential problems before making any promises about when or how objectives will be met, and prioritize tasks and resources appropriately.
Sharing: A roadmap facilitates communication with internal and external stakeholders as well as teammates. Sharing the roadmap allows others to track progress and help teams reach their goals, or alert them to problems they may not have thought of. The visual nature of a roadmap allows everyone to understand it at a glance.
Although there are many ways to visualize a roadmap, there are common components that all of them will contain in some form. When each of these is present, the goal of a roadmap is more easily achieved.
The business goals: These tell us why we are going to put in the effort.
The objectives: Where we are heading. These connect clearly with the business goals and include how we measure success.
The tasks: These describe how we plan to achieve the objectives. Tasks need to relate clearly to objectives.
Timings: Knowing when each task will be completed lets us order and prioritize them. This also allows us to estimate when objectives will be completed.
Responsible parties: This clarifies who will be involved in each task and defines who will be responsible for successfully completing the tasks.
Roadmaps need to be kept up to date. They are living documents, and it’s not just the progress that changes. Even the best-laid plans shift over time, and a roadmap can be a crucial document for communicating changes, realigning teams, and making sure everyone stays focused on the objectives.
Let’s review some diverse types of roadmaps, and how they incorporate these components to communicate valuable information to different stakeholders.
Also called a goal-based roadmap, an outcome-based roadmap focuses on the goals of an organization first. Taking a hierarchical approach, the team will create a list of measurable objectives under each goal that they believe will combine to achieve that goal. Each objective is then considered and a list of tasks with deliverable items is created that will achieve that objective.
Goal-oriented product roadmaps are useful because they allow stakeholders to directly connect tasks to business goals.
When communicating feature and product release expectations, a timeline roadmap can be especially useful. Focused on the estimated start and finish dates it will often display tasks in sequential order with dependencies and grouped by objectives.
These roadmaps allow teams to plan around releases and deliverables. However, timeline roadmaps can focus unhelpfully on timings — concentrating more on completing tasks than the overall strategic goals.
Instead of prioritizing dates, a status-based roadmap has three columns that simply contain tasks that need to be worked on now, tasks that are coming next, and tasks that are coming later.
The simplicity is useful for aligning teams with clarity but building a status-based roadmap requires the product manager to be very conscious of the business goals and objectives behind the tasks.
16 other roadmaps for product teams to use:
Short-term and long-term roadmaps
Objectives and Key Results (OKR) roadmap
With so many styles and templates available for roadmaps, it can be confusing to decide on how to structure a roadmap, but here are some questions to consider.
Who is the audience? Show stakeholders the information they need and hide the information they don’t.
How important is the timeframe? Does it need to show precise delivery dates, general timeframes, or just the order of tasks?
What level of detail is required? Are we focused on how tasks relate to each other, or how they are connected to objectives?
Defining your product’s goal is essential to keep its development on the right track. But this process takes time and research.
Let’s explore the key steps:
Call a meeting: Bring your product team and key stakeholders together to discuss the product vision, strategy, and objectives. Exploring these elements as a group reduces the risk of confusion and miscommunications that may cause costly mistakes down the line.
Take action: Collect the critical information and transform it into a series of actionable wins for your product development team. Consider key objectives and milestones on the roadmap. Every team member should be able to understand their role. But stay realistic — don’t expect your team to do more than they can.
Put it together: Design your roadmap to achieve the goal. Want to save time and make sure your roadmap covers the essentials? Use a template like airfocus’ outcome-based roadmap template. This includes a roadmap board, backlog with a customizable prioritization framework, product timeline, and priority chart. Use the roadmap to plot out your outcomes and priorities.
Share your roadmap: Show your roadmap to your product team and walk them through it. Explain the objectives, the problem(s) you want to solve, the timelines, and each department’s responsibilities. All team members must know what you expect of them and what they’re working to achieve.
When you have your roadmap completed, be open to questions and queries. Be prepared to change goals and timelines if issues arise that could compromise the product’s quality.
Let’s roadmap a famous product to better understand how to build your roadmap for your product’s goal.
Consider Zoom. This video conferencing platform gained real momentum during the pandemic and attracted around 300 million meeting participants each day in June 2020.
Zoom’s website proclaims that the company mission is to, “Make communications frictionless and secure.” Its vision? “Communications empowering people to accomplish more.”
The company’s objectives are clear, and its outcome-based roadmap for Zoom Meetings might focus on how it will empower users to easily host video conferences. The product team would break down the various objectives that drive toward the main goal. One possible objective might be to “implement scheduling features to minimize missed meetings and maximize user satisfaction.”
In this guide, we’ve shown the value and purpose of roadmaps — but this has just scratched the surface.
If you want to be sure you’re building the best roadmap for your audience, and that you’re taking full advantage of your goal roadmap, head over to our Ultimate Guide to Roadmaps. This A-to-Z comprehensive guide covers the best tools available for building roadmaps, and top strategies for successfully implementing them. Get stuck in!