A product roadmap is a high-level visual summary that maps out the vision and direction of your product offering over time. A product roadmap communicates the why and what behind what you’re building. It’s a guiding strategic document as well as a plan for executing the strategy.
The product roadmap has several ultimate goals:
- Describe the vision and strategy
- Provide a guiding document for executing the strategy
- Get internal stakeholders in alignment
- Facilitate discussion of options and scenario planning
- Help communicate to external stakeholders, including customers
Ideally, your roadmap should convey the strategic direction for your product. And it should also tie back to the strategy for the company. Within that framework, of course, is the general order of what you’ll be building.
Clearly articulating the product vision and strategy can make it easier to secure executive buy-in and to ensure everyone is working toward a common goal.
How Agile Development Affects Today’s Roadmaps
Before the prevalence of the agile development methods, a product roadmap underwent much less fluctuation during the product’s lifetime. In fact, depending on the organization, a roadmap’s timeframe might be locked in for 18 months or longer.
In the age of agile development, however, a roadmap has become much more of a living document, with far shorter timeframes and more frequent adjustments to accommodate changing priorities and market opportunities.
Product Roadmap Examples: It Depends on the Audience
Before you set out to build a roadmap, you need to identify its audience so you can tailor the content, focus and presentation to their needs.
In an executive-facing roadmap, for example, you will want to emphasize the product vision and focus on its alignment with your business goals. With a roadmap for engineers, however, you’ll want to focus on specific features.
Here are four examples of roadmap constituencies, and the primary function the roadmap serves for them.
(Note: for these examples we’ll assume your product is software, but the fundamentals of product roadmaps could apply equally if the product were physical or any other category of good or service.)
Internal Roadmap for Executives
For this audience, your executive stakeholders and larger leadership team, your aim is to secure buy-in for your product vision, and to maintain support and enthusiasm throughout its development cycle.
These roadmaps should focus, therefore, on high-level strategic concepts — such driving growth, new market penetration, customer satisfaction, or market position.
Internal Roadmap for Engineers
These roadmaps often focus on features, releases, sprints, and milestones. They are typically more granular in scope and shorter in duration than the executive-facing roadmaps. For those using agile development methods, these roadmaps are often at the epic or feature level. However, product goals and themes should still be a component of these roadmaps.
Include as much transparency as possible in your engineering roadmaps. Even though your developers will focused less on product vision and revenue potential, it is smart practice to include relevant milestones and requirements the other departments are facing, so your developers understand your specific deadlines and requirements.
Internal Roadmap for Sales
Your sales team will want to know how the product will help them sell more, so your focus here should be on a combination of features and customer benefits. Focus on how the product will benefit your reps directly, as well as the user benefits they can communicate to their customers and prospects. Whenever possible, group similar features/items into themes that sales reps can discuss with prospects.
Use caution when sharing internal roadmaps with Sales. It is not uncommon for sales reps to share internal roadmaps with customers, as a way of closing a deal, generating interest and keeping leads warm. To avoid having your sales team commit a product to a specific release date, it is a good idea to exclude release or launch dates in roadmaps you share with Sales.
External Roadmap for Customers and Prospects
When designing a product roadmap for your customers and prospects, your focus should be entirely on the product’s benefits to them. Because these are external documents, customer roadmaps should be visual, attractive and easy to understand.
It’s a best practice to not include release or launch dates in external-facing roadmaps. Just as a sales rep sharing an internal roadmap with prospects can commit your team prematurely to a release date, your external roadmaps can lock you into the same risk of over-commitment. Unless you are certain about the product’s availability date, it is smart practice to avoid including dates in an external-facing roadmap.