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.
Let’s remind ourselves what a roadmap is, what the goal of a roadmap is, and some examples of goal roadmap templates.
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?
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!