— May 21, 2019
A product roadmap is a high-level, visual representation of the direction your product offering will take over time.
A good product roadmap will provide your colleagues and stakeholders with the “why” behind your product and should serve the following purposes:
- Lay out the overarching strategy
- Provide high-level instructions for executing the strategy
- Serve as a starting point for discussions on various options and scenarios
- Align internal stakeholders and facilitate a cohesive message to external stakeholders
Maps are a fundamental part of our lives therefore, a product roadmap isn’t exactly a new concept. You can’t get where you want to go if you don’t have a clear direction. Building a product without a roadmap is like setting off for a trip without any idea of a destination. While this sounds like a fun adventure of self-discovery, we guarantee you that doing this with your product will not fill you with an “Eat, Pray, Love” feeling, but more of a “Stress, Scramble, Cry” vibe.
Many other departments can use roadmaps as well to ensure they fulfill their duties related to the product. There are even different types of product roadmaps to cater to different needs/end users. The types of product roadmaps we’ll be covering in this post are:
- Engineering product roadmaps
- Executive-level product roadmaps
- Internal product roadmaps for sales
- Customer-facing product roadmap
We’re going to cover the details on each roadmap type in detail shortly, but for now, let’s address the elephant in the room: are product roadmaps flexible? In product development, there are fixed and fluid ideas, and you don’t necessarily want to be locked into one way of thinking if the market has changed. We’ll also discuss how to tackle these long-term and short-term roadmaps in this article.
What is Agile Product Development?
Agile product development describes the process used to map out short-term goals. The time and effort that go into completing these short-term goals are widely known as a “sprint.”
In the days before agile product development, product roadmaps were more of a stable thing. Today, they’re a bit more fluid to keep up with the changing needs of customers and business initiatives. When a customer is on a contract, it’s of the utmost importance to make sure the product is consistently delivering value. Nowadays, product roadmaps are a living document that you adjust as necessary to account for new opportunities.
Types of Product Roadmaps
Imagine you’re explaining your product development plan to your CEO. Would you say the same things as if you were talking to a product engineer? Probably not, right?
In your conversation with the CEO, you’d focus on how the plan will help the company increase revenue and achieve broader business goals. The engineer doesn’t care about these things. At least, not as it pertains to their role. They want to know how the product roadmap will impact their workflow and what features the product will need to have.
Having different types of roadmaps allows you to frame your product story in a way that pertains to the various roles that are involved in turning your roadmap into reality.
Engineering Product Roadmap
You may prepare a high-level picture of your product for your board members, but the roadmap you use for engineers will be much more granular. Imagine taking a microscope to the high-level roadmap to see the details of how you’ll achieve those goals.
This roadmap typically addresses a shorter timeframe because it has more details. This roadmap will likely have information on product releases, features, and milestones.
Tips for producing a product roadmap for engineers
When you’re producing an engineering roadmap, you’ll want to be as clear and concise as possible. Naturally, you’ll want to include all the product-related information that’s relevant to your engineers and aspects so they can clearly see how each piece impacts the product as a whole. Don’t forget to add these to your product roadmap:
- Insight into other teams’ activities as it relates to the overall building process
- Clearly-defined responsibilities
- Release dates and other important deadlines
Executive-level Product Roadmap
Your product roadmap for executives should present high-level plans that explain how the product development activities align with the company’s overarching objectives. This is helpful for executives to quickly make connections and for everyone involved in the development process need to know how their activities connect with business goals.
This isn’t to say that your product roadmap should mold fit to the business objectives, in fact, they should shape each other. Use product analytics and customer feedback to strengthen your argument for or against product developments that you believe are not in the best interest for your business.
Tips for producing an executive-level product roadmap
The key to producing a successful roadmap for execs is to anticipate and address any questions or objectives they may have. Focus on things like:
- Customer data
- Market share
- Potential Return On Investment (ROI)
Product Roadmap for Sales
The purpose of a sales-focused product roadmap is to supply your Sales team with the product development information they need to enhance and close deals.
Best case scenario, your software will not just solve a prospect’s pain points now, but aid in their growth. Therefore, prospects are interested in the product roadmap and what’s on the horizon. The better a salesperson understands your product roadmap, the smoother the selling process will be. It’s important that your Sales team knows what lies ahead so they can set the right expectations with their prospects. Janna Bastow, co-founder of ProdPad, puts it this way:
“Sales teams who don’t know how to sell the product you have or what you’re working on, end up making these seat-of-the-pants sales…and unfortunately, you’re seen as the bottleneck. If they’re repeatedly falling back on promising new features to lure in big clients, they’re having the wrong conversations with customers.”
Tips for producing a clear product roadmap for sales
A good Sales-centric product roadmap will clearly illustrate the product benefits and future developments. It doesn’t need to go deeply into detail but should include:
- Version information
- Product benefits
- Release timeline (can include the order of new releases without actual dates)
To add further clarity to your roadmap, take the time to walk your Sales team through it and also make yourself available to hop on calls with prospects. It’s inevitable that things will change, but be sure to clearly communicate this so it doesn’t come back to bite you later down the line.
Public Product Roadmap
An external or customer-facing roadmap goes hand-in-hand with the sales-focused roadmap. In simplest terms, it zooms out one layer more to only include the details that are pertinent (and that you want to be exposed) to a customer or future customer.
Public roadmaps are a divisive aspect of product management. Some people are all for them and think they are beneficial, others think that they cause more harm than good. This is up to your company but a public product roadmap can help set expectations and drive deals.
If you do choose to create a public roadmap, it’s equally as important that you walk every team that will be using it through your vision. This way they can understand and provide context when talking with customers.
How to prepare for your product roadmap presentation
Presenting a roadmap is a lot like presenting any other idea or concept. Expect questions, objections, and pushback.
There’s a chance everyone will buy in without hesitation, but we all know that best-case-scenario is rare. Especially when you’re presenting to executives, their job is to challenge you. In advance of the meeting, anticipate any questions or objections and prepare actual customer use data to support your plan. Be prepared to answer the following questions:
- How does your roadmap tie into overall business goals?
- How will these efforts increase company growth?
- How will you measure the success of these features?
Creating a data-driven product roadmap
Final parting words: The best companies create customer-centric, data-driven product roadmaps. Okay, you might be like, “woah, that’s a lot of buzzwords” so let’s break it down:
Customer-centric: Your product roadmap is focused on creating a better product experience for your customers. It incorporates user feedback and there is an emphasis on driving adoption and engagement.
Data-driven: Your product roadmap is based on data, not opinions. Your product analytics drive decisions and you’re consistently iterating on things that are working and things that are not. You can clearly demonstrate how your product has impacted the company.
Keep these components in mind when building your product roadmap and you’ll be well on your way to creating a super successful product.