Are your product managers always focusing on communicating when things will be ready instead of formulating a plan about how and why they choose to focus on certain things?
If so, your team needs a debrief on roadmaps vs. timelines vs. deadlines.
Let’s look at these terms and how each has its role in the product and people management process.
Roadmap: A roadmap is a document that communicates the goals that the company (or product) is aiming for.
Timeline: A timeline is a visual that sequences chronological events with firm start and end dates.
Deadline: A deadline is a set due date for a project or event.
Bonus word: Timing. Timing is when a product team chooses to focus on a specific project.
Ultimately, roadmaps, timelines, and deadlines (and timing) are inherently different from one another.
While a product roadmap establishes a company’s goals, it is (or should be) free from time limits. This makes it completely different from a timeline with both start and end dates. Timing and deadlines, however, are what may add some context to the roadmap itself.
With that out of the way, let’s move away from definitions to how product managers can (and should) leverage each throughout their day-to-day management process.
Roadmaps communicate to your team what the objectives are and how they can achieve them.
They are above all living documents - that means they are dynamic and always open to change. The reality is, there are many unplanned variables that pop up and cause projects to veer off-course.
Your roadmap needs to be able to adjust for a pivot at any given moment. Above all, it’s important to remember that roadmaps are not delivery plans, but a guide for your product’s direction and intention to solve certain problems for your customers.
This enables teams to focus on the right problems at the right time and easily share their roadmap with key team members and stakeholders who need access to it.
Here’s a cheat sheet for product roadmaps:
Roadmaps aren’t represented by timelines
Roadmaps don’t have beginning and end dates
Roadmaps aren’t delivery plans
Now that we know that roadmaps aren’t based on timelines, the question is, “Why are so many product managers using them?”
Here are some of the reasons product managers stick with timelines:
Timelines are helpful for communicating with stakeholders outside of the product or internal team (like board members)
Timelines can give an accurate overview of who in the team is doing what and when making them a handy management tool
Timelines can help you understand cross-team dependencies.
Timelines are usually part of hardware-based teams, as these types of teams require extensive cross-team coordination within and with external partners. This means that things like shipping parts become a dependency that needs to be kept within a strict timeline.
However, a timeline doesn’t show actual progress, simply the planned start and end dates. They also don’t offer the chance for team members to take on extra work or automatically block or unblock workflows.
If roadmaps communicate goals, can you communicate a deadline on a roadmap?
Even though roadmaps focus on goals and outcomes, they can communicate deadlines.
It’s important to remember however, just because some items on your roadmap have deadlines, that doesn’t mean that all items on your roadmap have deadlines.
In fact, deadlines in some projects may cause team members to rush through assigned tasks and feel pressured to put out a project before it’s ready. Deadlines can also contribute to overall team stress and increase errors that they wouldn’t have made otherwise.
Product managers need to use their discretion with deadlines. You can supplement a lot of that communication around deadlines with a roadmap that focuses on providing all the information necessary, including due dates and strategic initiatives, without having to put things on a timeline.
If you must use a timeline, especially when it comes to presenting to stakeholders, there is a solution. Try presenting both a timeline and your roadmap that communicates the ins and outs of your product. The solution doesn’t have to be either/or. And sometimes, using both timelines and roadmaps is the best way to illustrate the big picture.
Remember: a roadmap is about communicating your goals. A timeline is about your outputs on those goals. A good product manager knows when to let a project run its course without external pressure.
It doesn’t take an expert to know that being a product manager can be stressful. There’s often more to do than you have time for, so anything that makes life easier is always appreciated.
Product management software has been an incredibly helpful tool for PMs. It allows them to spend less time worrying about documents and more time focusing on adding value to the product. A purpose-built tool like airfocus can help product managers clearly define and manage their roadmaps, timelines, and deadlines.
Alongside a huge range of features guaranteed to make any product manager’s life easier, airfocus has a great selection of templates to get you started in seconds. These templates help you format your roadmaps and timelines in a way that makes tasks and deadlines crystal clear.
This also helps product managers manage their roadmaps, timelines, and deadlines better, since they don’t have to spend time trying to understand or explain things to other team members.
A product timeline is like a GPS tracker for your product's progress. It helps you see if you're on track and need to speed up or slow down. Think of it as a separate tool that complements your product roadmap and other strategic plans.
A product timeline can help you manage your product strategy, backlog, workflows, and roadmaps. It's like a Swiss Army Knife for product managers! The work becomes even easier when you use a timeline template from airfocus that can adapt to any team’s workflow.
So even if you're not meticulously tracking every single date and deadline in your roadmap or backlog, a product timeline can still give you a bird's-eye view of your progress. And let's be honest, time is money, so you want to use it wisely.
Roadmaps are crucial for product management. They provide a clear direction for the development team and stakeholders, outlining what features or improvements will be implemented and when. They also help align everyone on the product's goals and priorities, facilitating better communication, decision-making, and progress tracking.
Of course, creating a roadmap every single time you need one — and remember, you will need to create multiple roadmaps per product — takes up valuable time. Not great when you’re already pushed for time.
airfocus can help make roadmapping simple. We offer several different roadmap templates, including:
Roadmap to opportunity workflow - Connect initiatives to your more granular opportunities.
Technology roadmap - Plan and prioritize tech initiatives against value and cost drivers.
Objective-led roadmap - Align your team around objectives using the now-next-later format.
All our templates are customizable, allowing teams to use them however best fits their workflow. So if you’re a beginner to product management just looking for the essentials on your roadmap, or you’re looking for something a little more intensive, you can find what you need with airfocus.
airfocus is the first modular product management platform that enables you to build a product management stack that fits your needs.
Quickly build, run, and even scale your product workflows on one flexible platform, from start to finish. We keep your information secure through our SAML single sign-on (SSO), cloud security with ISO 27001 certification, data encryption in transit, and secure EU data centers.
Companies just like yours trust our:
Quick response time (averaging at less than 10 minutes!)
Comprehensive consults conducted by our team of product strategy consultants
Extensive downloadable help documentation
Series of free webinars to enhance your preexisting know-how of product management
And, if you need a more hands-on walkthrough to get started with roadmaps, download our “Roadmapping From A to Z” ebook.