A successful product roadmap is, in a sense, a work of art. So to answer the question, “How long should creating a roadmap take?” let’s start with an anecdote about Pablo Picasso.
According to legend, when a woman recognized Picasso in the park, she rushed over to him and begged him to sketch her portrait.
Picasso agreed, and as the woman sat down next to him, the artists flipped his notebook open to a fresh piece of paper. A couple of minutes later, he tore off the sheet and showed it to the woman.
She was overjoyed and told the artist that he’d depicted her essence perfectly. But when Picasso told her the price—$5,000—the woman became confused. “How could you charge that much?” she asked. “It took you one minute.”
“No,” Picasso said. “It took me my whole life.”
In a similar way, creating a product roadmap requires a lot more than just the time it takes you to literally document all of the key details and plans you have for your product. Let’s look at some of the things you’ll need to have in place before you begin sketching out your roadmap. Then we’ll discuss the three possible answers to the question of how long it should take to create your roadmap.
Creating a Roadmap: What You’ll Need
Before you can begin building a tangible product roadmap, you’ll need to have the following elements in place:
- An overall vision for your product (what you hope it will accomplish in the market)
- A high-level plan for bringing that vision to reality
- Evidence or some other type of strategic justification for each major element of your product’s strategic plan
- A clear understanding of your audience for the roadmap (and, if you’ll be presenting it to multiple audiences, you might need variations of the same roadmap)
A lot of planning, conversations with stakeholders, and legwork goes into the pre-creation stage of developing a roadmap. Also, as you can see from the graph above, creating a roadmap is an ongoing process that never truly ends as long as the organization is still improving, updating, and supporting the product. This graph, from our 2018 Product Planning Report, shows product managers edit and update their roadmaps throughout their products’ lifecycles.
With all of this in mind, here are a few different ways to approach the question of how long you can expect your roadmap creation to take.
3 Answers to the Question, “How Long Should Creating a Roadmap Take?”
1. It takes your entire career.
That’s probably a frustrating answer, but it’s important to understand this reality.
Picasso was able to perfectly sketch a stranger’s portrait in just one minute only because he had spent tens of thousands of hours practicing his craft.
Similarly, creating a roadmap is always going to represent the cumulative experience, practice, and knowledge you’ve gained as a product manager over your career.
Developing a successful roadmap is one of the most difficult aspects of a product manager’s role. You’ll need to juggle competing priorities, say no to requests from people in your organization, and maybe even your customers, and figure out how to most effectively use limited time and resources to bring a successful product to market.
The good news is that you will become more skilled at doing this as you gain experience as a product manager. But what that means, of course, is that creating a roadmap effectively will, to paraphrase Picasso, take your entire career.
2. It takes as long as you’ll need to plan, strategize, and earn your company’s buy-in on the roadmap.
Creating a roadmap is not just a matter of sitting down at your desk and typing out the details. That’s the very last—and, ideally, the shortest—part of the process (which we’ll discuss in more detail below). It’s about doing your market research, brainstorming with your teams, weighing priorities, developing a strategic plan, and checking the feasibility of that plan against the resources you’ll have.
When we surveyed hundreds of product managers for our 2018 Product Planning Report, one of the questions we asked was what aspect of creating a roadmap took these professionals the greatest amount of time.
As the graph below illustrates, the two most time-consuming elements of building a roadmap are determining which initiatives (themes, epics, etc.) earn a slot on the roadmap, and scoping and ordering those initiatives. Combined, these two aspects of creating a roadmap account for 60% of the time product managers spend developing their roadmaps.
3. It takes minutes—if you’re using the right, purpose-built roadmap tool.
Finally, some good news!
The physical act of creating the roadmap—like Picasso sketching that woman’s portrait—should be quick and easy, assuming you’re using the right tool for the job.
As you might have seen in the bar graph above, 25% of product managers who use drawing software to tweak edit, and update their product roadmaps list this as a top challenge.
That certainly doesn’t seem like the most effective use of a product manager’s time, but it makes sense when you consider that drawing tools like Visio, while terrific applications for their intended uses are not designed for creating roadmaps. They, like presentation and spreadsheet software, output static files—whereas the dynamic nature of product development requires that product roadmaps be tweaked and updated frequently.
If you’re using the right roadmap app, none of those updates will constitute a top challenge for you—as they do for product managers who use drawing software. Instead, updating will take you just minutes.
Want to start using a web app that lets you import templates to create a roadmap in minutes? Just click on the screenshot above.