Product Roadmap Explained

What is the Product Roadmap

The Product Roadmap is the strategic-planning tool that outlines the vision, direction, priorities and progress of a product over time. In other words, the roadmap is showing how the product is likely to grow across several major releases.

One important role of the roadmap is to provide the right input for the product backlog. When the Product Backlog is created and prioritized, the Product Manager should always look at the roadmap in order to choose the right items to be worked and completed. 

How to create a Product Roadmap

Usually a Product Roamap follows a similar format to a Gantt chart, known especially for its intensive usage in the Waterfall methodology used for project management. It’s basically a type of an orizontal bar chart that displays duration and timing of product releases.

Gantt Chart Product RoadmapSource:

However, the visual format and the content of a Product Roadmap is not always following this format. It depends on the Product Manager vision and also to whom this is addressing.

Here is a very useful guide of how to create a detailed product roadmap.

Product Roadmap Format

Roman Pichler is recommending using two formats for your roadmap: Feature-based & Goal-oriented and he suggests you should choose the one that works best for your product. The Feature-based roadmaps are mapping specific features onto a timeline, grouping them into releases. On the other hand:

Goal-oriented roadmaps focus on goals or benefits. Sample goals are acquiring users, retaining them, increasing engagement, activating users, generating revenue, and removing technical debt. Features are viewed as second-class citizen. They are derived from the goals and usually used sparingly.

The main difference between the two formats is the provided level of details. While the feature-based roadmaps provide more details and they are best suitable for mature products where the changes are fewer and more likely to be anticipated, the young products are more uncertainly so they should use roadmaps that focuses on the product goals.

Can I have more than one roadmap for my product?

In my opinion yes, and you probably should. If we follow Roman Pichler’s recommendations I would say you need a Goal-oriented roadmap for your stakeholders and one Feature-based roadmap for your product team. Given the level of details presented in each of these two formats, I’d say you don’t need to bother stakeholders with all the details from a feature-based roadmap, while those are necessary so your development team to understand what fits into each release and help you select the right work for the upcoming sprints.

Some people are referring to the roadmap designed for the development team as the “Release Plan”.

As a good example of a Product Roadmap I will use my favorite development product – Adobe ColdFusion. Here is how the Product Roadmap for ColdFusion 2020 (download PDF here) looks like:

Adobe ColdFusion 2020 Roadmap

They have a 3 page roadmap posted on their website showing ColdFusion transformation over the years, the Roadmap to the 2020 planned release and Adobe’s commitment to ColdFusion. This shows transparency, clarity and commitment to the product. 

However, I am pretty sure they are using a totally different format for their internal usage.

How often the Product Roadmap should be updated?

Even if the Roadmap is one of the first documents defined for a product, this doesn’t mean it has to stay fixed until the end of the development process. The Roadmap must be flexible and updated regularly, especially in an agile development environment.

The most important two important factors that influences the changes in the roadmap are the market conditions and the product audience. They will dictate the priorities and the roadmap should be adjusted to reflect that.

If you build a product that doesn’t evolve with the market or with the stakeholders needs, then you are not building the right product.

Photo: VW Beetle shot on a highway near Los Angeles in 2017.

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