What is a Product Roadmap?

Everything you need to know about product roadmaps and how to create them.

October 24th, 2019   |    By: The Startups Team

What is a product roadmap?

A product roadmap is an illustration of how you get from your company’s big-picture, high-level goals to the actual actions you need to take to achieve those goals. It not only shows what you’re building, but why you’re building it.

A project roadmap has two main audiences: External and internal stakeholders. (Like investors and employees, respectively.) You might even want to create two different roadmaps — or, at least, two different versions of your roadmap — for each audience.

For external stakeholders, the goal is to make sure everyone is informed about what you’re going to do and how you’re going to do it. It may also be useful when you’re trying to procure more investment.

For internal stakeholders, a product roadmap is essential for making sure everyone on your team is on the same page, both when it comes to high level thinking about when it comes to the steps you’ll be taking to reach each goal.

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What should be included in a product roadmap?

Each product roadmap is going to be different, depending on who the audience is. You’re not going to how your investors the same thing you should your employees, right? So keep that in mind as you’re creating your product roadmap: Audience is really important.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t certain things that all — or at least most — product roadmaps should include.

In general, a product roadmap should take the stakeholder from high-level concept down to the granular level of how those high-level concepts will be fulfilled.

1. Products

The product section should include — you guessed it! — your product or products. Whether that’s software, hardware, or a physical, non-tech product or products, here’s where you describe exactly the product your company is offering.

To guide us through this process, lets say your product is easy, confidential, at-home STI testing. In addition to the tests themselves, it will also include a user-friendly app for timely and secure communication with your clients.

2. Themes

When we’re talking about “themes” in a product roadmap, the definition is a little different from the one you’re probably used to. In project management, a theme is a high-level, broad, strategic goal. You’ll use other parts of the product roadmap — especially epics and features, below — to illustrate the exact steps you’ll be taking for each theme.

Going back to our at-home STI testing kit, a theme might be offering quick turnaround for customer’s test results. In the theme section, you need to outline not only what the theme is, but also why it’s important to focus on. This case, for example, you could show that quick turnaround on test results will boost sales of the tests, as people’s anxiety around their status will have them searching for the fastest answers.

3. Epics

If we’re moving down from broad themes to individual steps that need to be taken, then epics are the next most specific group after themes. Think of it primarily as an organizational tool: A epic is a group of features or user stories (see below) that are related to one another. You’ll have multiple epics in each theme and multiple stories or features in each epic.

For you company that does at-home STI testing (product) that’s trying to ensure a quick turnaround for test results (theme), then there are multiple epics that might fit.

For example, you’ll need to create relationships with labs around the country (epic 1). You’ll have to figure out how to get the actual samples to the correct labs, without contaminating them and in a timely manner (epic 2). You’ll also need to figure out a way to quickly and securely communicate the results with your clients (epic 3). Those are just some possible epics to consider for an at-home STI testing kit.

4. Stories

A story is a grouping of specific steps that you’re going to take to reach your goal or, in product management-speak, your theme. This is one of the most detailed sections of your product roadmap, where you outline exactly what’s going to be done.

For example, if you’re trying to make sure that your clients for your at-home STI testing kit get their results quickly, let’s start with epic 3 — securely and quickly communicating results with clients. A story for that might be designing a user-friendly messaging system to communicate with your clients. Another story might be the back-end work needed to ensure that the messaging system — and, if it’s included in an app, the app itself — is actually secure.

5. Features

And the most specific part of the product roadmap is the features, which can also be viewed as tasks. The features are the specific elements that will lead you toward your theme. If you follow the top-down format of creating a product roadmap, your work on the previous steps should clearly guide you toward the features you need to create.

8. Timeline

It might seem obvious, but we’re going to say it anyway: A clear timeline is an essential part of a product timeline. Whether that timeline covers a few weeks or a decade depends on your product, your goals, and the purpose of and audience for each specific timeline. For example, you might want to show investors a timeline that leads all the way to your exit, while it may make more sense to share a monthly or yearly timeline with employees who are executing the listed tasks.

9. Milestones

Setting and noting when your team meets specific milestones is a great way to ensure not only that you’re staying on track, but also that the product roadmap continues to be a useful, living document.

How do you build a product roadmap?

When it comes to the actual tools for building a product roadmap, Lauren Maffeo of the product roadmap software company Aha! uses — you guessed it — software from Aha!. She prefers a visual roadmap, which clearly lays out the many details that need to be communicated. And her argument for using software instead of something like PowerPoint is that it makes the roadmap more agile, a pretty essential quality if you’re planning on making your product roadmap a living document. (Which we recommend.)

We’ll go over the tools for creating a product roadmap in the next section, but before we get there let’s look at Lauren’s advice for building a product roadmap.

1. Define your product strategy.

Start by making sure you have clearly defined your strategy by setting product vision, goals, and initiatives for each product. Since major initiatives drive your goals, you should also link these together. When this step is complete, you will be able to see the relationships between your product lines, products, goals, initiatives, and releases all on one screen. This helps you find “orphan” goals or initiatives that can be linked to high-level objectives.

2. Choose which releases to highlight across products and product lines.

Decide which releases to add to your visual product roadmap. For customer views, you can show the theme of the release and key features about which they will be interested. Internal stakeholders will want to understand the strategic importance which is conveyed through goals and initiatives.

3. Select which features to highlight.

Your roadmap should be customized based on who will be viewing it. You can choose whether to present your “internal” or “external” data depending on your audience. The external release date can be different if you do not want to share your internal release dates. It can also be rounded to a broader timeframe to be less precise (e.g. show releases by quarter).

To further illustrate how each highlighted feature delivers specific functions or customer requests, you can show default and custom fields. This allows your audience to see a custom view that is relevant to their business objectives.

4. Bring releases and features together for a unified view.

Now it’s time to view your roadmap timeline. At this point, you have already chosen the releases that you want to share, and selected the features that you want to highlight. If you have done this in a roadmapping tool – congrats. Now you never have to edit an Excel chart or PPT slide again!

Zoom in and out to get the exact view that you want. This approach to roadmapping helps you create powerful visuals to share with your stakeholders. Each layer of the roadmap represents a different set of data. Start with your products at the core, and work out to your releases at the edges.

5. Share your product roadmap.

When you have the view you want, save it and/or share it with key stakeholders. In Aha! we do this by utilizing what we call Notebooks. They allow you to take nearly any view and publish it via a PDF or secure web page. You can now proudly share your product plans and roadmap, easily keeping everyone up to date.

Tools for creating a product roadmap

While you can absolutely create a product roadmap with the spreadsheets, Keynote, or PowerPoint software already on your computer, there are a bunch of companies these days that offer specific product roadmapping software, for a reasonable price.

Some sites might give you a list of the “top” tools, but we think it’s better for you to do some exploration on your own to figure out what format (and price point) works best for your team. With that in mind, here are some options for product roadmap software. (The descriptions are all from the company’s websites.)

Aha! Aha! is the world's #1 roadmap software. We help more than 250,000 users build and market products customers love. The company was founded in 2013 by Silicon Valley veterans and product management experts Brian de Haaff and Dr. Chris Waters. Aha! is one of the fastest growing software companies in the U.S. The company is self-funded and profitable, with an entirely remote team.

GanttPRO GanttPRO is a perfect tool for building product roadmaps online. It's based on Gantt charts & appreciated by 350K+ users worldwide. Project/product managers and CEOs trust it to keep their planning simple, team members - engaged, & clients/partners - in the loop. The short learning curve and nice UX/UI design allow managers & team members to start working right away. Task, resource, cost, deadline management, team collaboration, workload, templates, export, & more - get them for FREE on a trial!

Hygger We integrate all project management processes into one solution for more transparent and productive team collaboration.

Proofhub Easily plan, collaborate, organize and deliver projects of all sizes, on time, using one project planning software with all the right tools put at one place. Plan and collaborate while having a seamless user experience that keeps everyone in the loop and focuses on the necessary with little to no learning curve. Access Freshbooks, Google Calendar, iCal, Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive and Outlook, bringing them all together within ProofHub.

ProductPlan Cloud-based roadmap software solution that provides roadmap planning, building, and sharing.

Roadmunk Build beautiful and collaborative roadmaps in minutes. Get started quickly by importing data from Jira or Excel (csv), or take inspiration from our 35+ roadmap templates that you can make your own. Visualize strategy for your entire product portfolio with comprehensive sharing features, item dependency mapping, master roadmapping, and a two-way data integration with Jira. Present your plan confidently and seamlessly by exporting a boardroom-worthy roadmaps to URL, PNG, PowerPoint or paper.

Jira Jira Software is the #1 software development tool used by agile teams. Millions trust Jira as the source of truth for every step of their software project's life-cycle. Built on 15+ years of agile evolution and continuously updated to support the latest trends in software development, Jira helps teams deliver value to customers faster by releasing earlier, more often, and more iteratively.

Taskworld Introduce your team to a visual way of tracking work, sharing ideas and measuring performance.

About the Author

The Startups Team

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