As you know if you’ve been a product manager for more than 15 minutes, it’s a messy role. Doesn’t matter how organized you are, or how diligently you work to keep everything prioritized correctly and progressing according to plan. Chaos finds the product manager.

For example, you’re probably getting bombarded with ideas from everywhere, all the time—ideas you have to categorize, evaluate, and record somewhere. That somewhere is probably your backlog, which itself is almost certainly a hot mess, because who can keep that thing from growing out of control? And we’re guessing your calendar looks like a Jackson Pollock of overlapping colorful blocks, because you’re running meetings for a good part of every day (and probably not as effectively as you could).

But your product roadmap? No way. It needs to be immune to the chaos!

Your product roadmap should be like the Zen garden of your working materials. Yes, it needs to serve as the strategic guide for your product. But it should also be a place—maybe even the only place—you can go anytime to find a clear, clutter-free, calming reminder of the plan and goals you’ve set for your product.

That means your roadmap shouldn’t contain too much information. Nor should it look like a backlog, a feature list, or your project-management plan.

If your product roadmap is anything less than a Zen-garden-like guide—heck, if it’s anything less than beautiful—you need to ask yourself a few questions. Here’s how to tame the product roadmap chaos.

5 Questions You’ll Need to Answer Correctly to Tame the Product Roadmap Chaos

1. How many people are able to update and edit my roadmap? (Hint: the fewer the better.)

One way to lose control of your roadmap is to allow other people in the organization to make changes to it without your knowledge.

When this happens, the roadmap loses one of its most important functions: to represent a unified strategic vision and plan for your product.

Our suggestion: Share your product roadmap across your organization as much and as often as you’d like, but maintain strict control over who can edit and update it. It’s your team’s roadmap, and at any moment you should know exactly what’s in it—because you put it there.

2. Am I putting too much detail in the roadmap?

Remember, you’re going for a high-level, Zen-like view. You won’t get there if your roadmap looks like a series of cluttered screens detailing every task, story, resource, and budgetary issue.

If for some reason you feel compelled to include a lot of detail in your roadmap, one idea is to create several custom roadmap views. If you need to share more detail, for example, when you review the roadmap with your developers, fine.

But when it’s time to retreat to your Zen roadmap and re-inspire yourself with your brilliant original strategic plan, switch back to that custom view and let all of the nonessential, nonstrategic details disappear into the background.

3. Am I maintaining my product roadmap as a static document?

If you’re trying to maintain your roadmap in a spreadsheet or presentation file, one problem is that it can sometimes feel too tedious and time-consuming to edit.

This means you end up making choices about what to include in your roadmap based not on strategic thinking, but according to how much space you have, or whether you really feel like reformatting that damn text box on the third slide for the zillionth time!

Static roadmap documents can get cluttered quickly, and it can be too daunting a task to unclutter them. So our advice? Don’t use them. Get a purpose-built roadmapping tool that lets you drag and drop containers and bars, and create or remove material in seconds.

4. How am I dealing with input about my roadmap?

Do you just add an item to your roadmap every time an executive asks you to? Do you always feel compelled to prioritize something on the roadmap when a sales rep begs you to, because “It’ll help me close a big deal”?

That’s a fast path to product roadmap chaos!

Remember, you’re going to be hit with a firehose of product ideas all the time. Many won’t be good. Some will be horrible. So you’ve got to become effective at saying no, and you’ll also want to develop some of the other lesser-discussed but valuable product manager skills.

Once you’re able to put these skills to work on-demand, you’ll find you have much more control over your product roadmap, not to mention just about everything else.

5. Am I managing multiple products on my roadmap? Is that a mistake?

Finally, perhaps the problem is not that you’re trying to manage too much detail about a single product. If your roadmap simultaneously covers several products, consider scaling back.,.

If you’re using a single static file as a roadmap (i.e. PowerPoint), this can be especially dangerous. It will be too cumbersome to adjust, because if you need to make updates to one product—and those updates affect the resources or timelines of other products on the roadmap—you’ll need to manually make all of those adjustments each time. Not to mention, it’ll be easy to miss one, and create conflicts among your products’ plans as a result.

With the right roadmapping tool, however, don’t be afraid to manage multiple products on the same roadmap. Just as the right tool can help you share variations of your roadmap with different audiences, such a roadmap tool can also let you maintain a single roadmap for several related products.

So to summarize, here are the 5 takeaways we recommend working into your roadmapping processes:

  • Limit editing access so you always know exactly what’s in your roadmap and why.
  • Keep your roadmap contents high level and strategic; leave the tactical details for your to-do lists, your backlog, and maybe your project-management app.
  • Don’t try to create or maintain your roadmap using static files; invest in a native web-based roadmap app.
  • Be a fierce guard of what makes it onto your roadmap, and what doesn’t earn a slot. To do this, learn to say no.
  • Maintain a multiple-product roadmap only if you have a roadmap app; if you’re stuck with spreadsheets or slideshow files for now, give every product the breathing room of its own file.

And relax.

That’s our advice. What’s yours? How do you tame the product roadmap chaos? Please share your tips, hacks, and suggestions in the comments section.

Post Comments

2 Comments

  • Eugene T
    June 28, 2018 at 3:44 am

    Thanks for writing this article. I find that creating a roadmap is never easy; it’s hard to put something in stone especially when working on agile projects, but at the same time we all need to know budget, lining up resources etc.

    Currently we use an excel spreadsheet and it’s very cumbersome at times and it’s grow to have too many columns. We try to keep this roadmap as fluid as possible and it’s getting really hard. There’s no good way to do this on a spreadsheet! But at the end of the day, it really matters the needs of the stakeholders and team and how to communicate it. Sometimes it’s a white board for co-located teams. Sometimes it needs a digital solution too.

  • Shaun Juncal
    June 28, 2018 at 10:25 am

    Thanks, Eugene! Glad you found it useful.

    We have definitely seen most roadmap owners frequently updating their roadmaps (given the fact that things change so quickly in an agile environment). Based on our 2018 Product Planning Survey (http://assets.productplan.com/content/2018-Product-Planning-Report-by-ProductPlan.pdf), a majority of PMs update their roadmaps weekly or monthly. Having a tool that makes this easy is super helpful.

    Like you said, at the end of the day it’s about easily communicating the roadmap to your team/stakeholders.

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