How a Roadmap App Fits into the Product Management Ecosystem

Imagine the perfect word processing application: intuitive interface. Excellent functionality. Easy workflow.

But now imagine this app has one major setback: It doesn’t play well with other tools. You can’t save a file as a PDF. It doesn’t allow you to insert images or content from other applications into the document you were working on. And you can’t share a native document over Dropbox or other file-sharing cloud applications, which makes it difficult to collaborate with your colleagues.

Even if this word processing app were otherwise terrific, chances are you would probably still be reluctant to start using it as your default document-creation tool. That’s because a major part of any application’s value is its ability to integrate well with your other tools.

Tweet This:
“A major part of any application’s value is its ability to integrate well with your other tools.”

That might sound obvious. You’d be surprised how many product managers and product owners still use static-document tools as their product roadmap apps — tools that neither integrate smoothly with the other applications in their workflow nor help facilitate roadmap collaboration with their colleagues.

And if there is one group of professionals in an organization who need every advantage to help them collaborate effectively with other teams across the company, it’s product management.
According to our 2017 Product Planning Report survey, 43% of respondents listed “communicating product strategy” as their biggest product management challenge of 2017.

Those product managers are onto something. They have no doubt discovered after diligently trying to make spreadsheet or slideshow apps work for their product roadmaps. Such static-document tools can actually create more problems than they solve. Virtually any web-based roadmap app will offer more value to a product team than tools that were designed with neither product managers or roadmaps in mind.

But this doesn’t mean that any roadmap app will do. You’ll want to look for at least a few key traits before selecting one.

3 Things to Look for in a Roadmap App

1. Integration with the other apps in your product management ecosystem

One of the biggest drawbacks of using presentation software (PowerPoint, Keynote, etc.)
to build and maintain your product roadmap is that the document itself will always be a standalone representation of the roadmap. It is not a roadmap integrated into your larger development process, whose updates can easily be reflected in your team’s other tools.

For example, if you need to add an epic to your .pptx-based roadmap file, you will first need to go in and manually update that file. Then you’ll need to go into the other downstream tools your team is using, such as JIRA or other project management apps, and make the updates there as well. The same is true for roadmaps created in spreadsheet software, word processing software, or any other non-native roadmap app.

This can lead to all sorts of problems, and not merely the obvious drawback of creating duplicate work.

When you have to make a manual update to a standalone roadmap and then reflect those changes elsewhere, you’re more likely to miss updates or details in the translation. You’re also much less likely to go back into your roadmap document in the first place. It might understandably feel like a waste of time to make an update there if you’re just going to have to make the same update again in other tools.

This is why you want to insist on a roadmap app that integrates smoothly with project management and tracking tools, online collaboration and communication apps, etc. Only when your roadmap app feels like it’s adding value to your whole product development process — as opposed to just creating another set of tasks — will you and your team truly get the full benefit from your product roadmap.

2. Functionality and display designed for powerful roadmap presentations

Another drawback of using the wrong tool to build your roadmap is that these tools aren’t developed specifically for product managers. So they won’t allow you to create the most effective presentation for your roadmap meetings, or to make an on-the-fly adjustment to your roadmap’s view or level of detail when the moment calls for it.

Product roadmap meetings can require you to present your roadmap from several different viewpoints or with various different levels of granularity. For example, a focus on revenue projections for executives and a much more technical level of focus for your engineers.

These meetings also often move quickly from a high-level strategic discussion to a down-in-the-weeds explanation of why you’ve chosen to prioritize a given feature, and then right back to a strategic conversation.

How can you create and maintain a single version of your roadmap if you will need to share it with so many different audiences, or change views on the fly during a meeting? Will you create many versions of your roadmap spreadsheet or slideshow, each highlighting a unique set of details? And what happens when, in a stakeholder meeting where you are presenting a high-level roadmap view, an executive asks you for a progress update on a specific item, or for your strategic reasoning or evidence supporting a given feature?

This is another advantage of the right roadmap app. They are designed by product managers, for product managers — with moments like these in mind.

Tweet This:
“When choosing a roadmap app, look for an intuitive interface designed for powerful presentations.”

The roadmap app you should insist on will be one that allows you to both populate your roadmap with as much detail as you want — progress status, strategic thinking for each initiative, costs associated with each initiative, goals, and objectives for each initiative, etc.— and then to display only as much detail as is necessary, and to immediately jump into these details when the situation calls for it.
Download Get Budget Approval on Your Product Stack➜

3. Great for sharing across the organization and for augmenting your strategic discussions

Yet another challenge to using general-purpose software instead of a native roadmap app is that, in almost every case, these tools will offer little to no direct value in helping you and your team develop strategy and determine priorities.

Let’s say you’re going to use a spreadsheet application to build and maintain your product roadmap. Is that tool going to be of much use in your brainstorming session with the various key players involved — executives, marketing, sales, developers, support?

Not really. In fact, you would probably use an altogether different set of tools for capturing and reviewing the ideas, insights, and requests that came up in such a meeting. Maybe you’d write them all down in a word processing document, or have someone in the room capture every idea on a whiteboard.

But this brings me back to the point I made in the introduction: You are creating additional steps in the process. You will capture ideas in one place, discuss and prioritize them in another, and then create your roadmap draft in a different tool entirely.

This is extremely inefficient. Moreover, the spreadsheet software you’ll be using to draft the actual roadmap document won’t be of much help to you as your team tries to weigh the strategic value of initiatives against competing initiatives.

What to do?

With the right roadmap app, you will also find built-in tools such as a Table Layout for idea capture, and a strategizing platform, to help the team with prioritization and planning. One of the most popular features in our product roadmap app is the Planning Board. This allows your assembled cross-functional team to strategically evaluate epics, features, and other initiatives by applying your choice of scoring metrics.

A roadmap app can function as a seamless and valuable addition to your product management ecosystem. Brainstorm ideas, capture everything, prioritize certain items based on reasoning or evidence, and then build and share the roadmap that results from this strategic work — all within a single, purpose-built roadmap app.
Build Your First Visual Product Roadmap ➜

What does your current Product Management toolkit look like? Any specific apps that you can’t live without?