Your product roadmap is an important tool to guide the progression of your product, vision, and the work of your engineering team. Without it, you’ll work without direction and your team will struggle to understand the company’s vision.
In this article, we’d like to explain the product roadmap: what it is, how it works, and how you can communicate it to your team, customers, and stakeholders.
What Is a Product Roadmap?
A product roadmap is a broad overview of your product’s progression, including goals, features, resources, and timelines. It explains what the development team is currently building, the problems you’re addressing, the technologies you’re using, and how the product fits into the overall business goals.
The product roadmap serves four general purposes:
It maps out your vision and strategic goals, presented visually.
It explains how you’ll deliver that vision and strategy.
It communicates information to align stakeholders.
It establishes your priorities so that you focus on what’s important.
Your roadmap isn’t a project management tool, but it does help people (within your organization and outside it) understand the future of your product. It’s also a great way to communicate with customers and stakeholders so they can understand the planned evolution of your product.
The roadmap is created by the product owner with advice from the product manager and leaders from non-product teams. For instance, the CMO may suggest a particular feature to be included in the roadmap to help his team sell the software.
Roadmaps are not set in stone. This is important in an agile software environment. Product owners can make small or large changes to the roadmap based on new information. A market trend may cause the product owner to tweak the roadmap slightly, but a pivot may force him to throw the roadmap away and start anew.
Why are product roadmaps important?
Product roadmaps lay out a strategic plan that details the steps to take to achieve your desired product development outcome. Having such a roadmap is crucial because it helps your product development succeed by ensuring the following.
Vision and effort alignment
A product roadmap helps product managers, developers, and sales and marketing teams align efforts and resources effectively. Effort and resource alignment is vital because it ensures everyone involved in the development process works toward the same outcome.
It accomplishes this by keeping everyone on the same page and providing a clear direction and path for everyone to follow. With a well-aligned development team, product development is less likely to experience delays or complications caused by team member conflicts or misunderstandings.
Smart prioritization and resource allocation
A roadmap specifies development objectives and how to accomplish them. The information simplifies prioritizing features and fixes during product development. Your team can focus on building features that offer customers the most value. These features will appear in the first iterations of your product so users can experience value early. Leave the lower-priority and less valuable features for future iterations of your product.
Effective feature prioritization also enables your team to allocate resources in a manner that minimizes waste and ensures development success. For example, your team can avoid blowing the budget or wasting time building less valuable features. Instead, they will focus limited resources on building prioritized high-value features that will make target users perceive your product as a worthwhile investment.
A well-written roadmap facilitates effective internal and external communications. For example, a roadmap that clearly states your project goals simplifies communicating product strategy and development updates with stakeholders. Communicating product development and strategy updates with stakeholders is just as crucial as keeping team members updated.
Stakeholder investment and interest are what fund and drive product development. So, communicating project successes and potential returns on investment will help keep stakeholders engaged and committed to your development project’s success. Also, target users count as stakeholders, and communicating upcoming product features can keep them excited and engaged to prevent churn.
Flexibility and adaptability
Product roadmaps provide a structured plan for achieving product development goals. However, the stated plan isn’t set in stone. The roadmap forecasts and considers potential emerging opportunities, threats, and other market changes. For example, if user preferences change, your product roadmap should adapt to the changes to ensure your finished product fits your target market’s current wants and needs. A roadmap that follows this line allows you to be flexible with product plans so you can take advantage of new opportunities or minimize risks.
Staying adaptable to avoid threats and leverage new opportunities can help prevent time-to-market delays. It also keeps product development customer-centric by listening and responding to changes in user behavior and preferences. Taking user preferences into consideration throughout development increases your likelihood of releasing a finished product that meets user expectations.
Types of product roadmaps & product roadmap templates
Various product roadmap types are available. The right roadmap for your project will align with your project's unique characteristics, goals, audience, and available resources. Below are three popular product roadmaps and templates for SaaS development.
1. Goal-based roadmaps
Goal-based roadmaps state specific metrics or goals your development process aims to achieve at different stages. Unlike other roadmaps, it doesn’t specify tasks to complete during development. Instead, it outlines your desired outcomes (goals) or results (feature or metric) for each stage of your project. Your team can then work toward fulfilling each stated outcome or result.
A goal-based roadmap is ideal for aligning the efforts of your development team and stakeholders so everyone can work toward the same goals. It provides a clear sense of direction and purpose throughout the project lifecycle to prevent delays, distractions, and resource mismanagement. However, a goal-based roadmap is only suitable if you have clearly defined product development outcomes or objectives.
Here’s a template for a goal-based product roadmap.
Source: Roman Pichler
2. Feature-based roadmaps
A feature-based roadmap states specific functionalities or features to develop and implement at different stages of your development project. Such roadmaps typically contain a detailed breakdown of proposed features and the order in which to develop them. It also states the development time or estimated release date for each feature.
Feature-based roadmaps are ideal for ensuring product teams clearly understand the features to build and the order in which to build them. Since the roadmap also states the timeframe to deliver each feature, it helps keep product development on track, preventing time-to-market delays. A feature-based roadmap is suitable for any SaaS product team that prioritizes a detailed approach to product planning and execution.
Here’s a template for a feature-based product roadmap.
3. Outcome-based product roadmaps
At a glance, an outcome-based or outcome-driven roadmap may seem like a goal-based roadmap, but it’s not. An outcome-based roadmap aligns your product development process with specific outcomes or desired results. It accomplishes this by first defining and prioritizing key customer outcomes or benefits your product must deliver. Your team can then work toward developing the product to deliver each outcome or benefit in your stated order of priority.
Using an outcome-based roadmap ensures your product development process achieves and delivers meaningful user value in a timely manner. It also increases your likelihood of delivering a user-centric product because it prioritizes customer satisfaction and success.
Here’s a template for an outcome-based product roadmap.
How to build your product roadmap in 7 steps
Well-developed product roadmaps typically have these features:
Product vision: The type of product you want to build to accomplish your goals.
Strategy: The path your team will take to bring your product vision to fruition.
Goal: The objectives you hope to achieve during product development, such as the features to build and users’ problems to solve.
Timeframe: The time period to achieve your stated goal. The goal could be to develop and implement a specific feature within a stated time frame.
Metrics: The indicators for measuring how well you’ve achieved your goals. Commonly used metrics include churn rate, new or active users, and conversion rate.
With the above in mind, let’s now look at specific steps to follow to create a functional roadmap for your product development project.
1. Define product vision and strategy
Clarify your product vision by stating what problems your SaaS product will solve and what you hope to achieve by developing the product. Next, create a clear product strategy that spells out how you intend to achieve your stated vision.
2. Understand target users and market
Perform user research to understand your target audience and their needs, pain points, and preferences. Also, study your competitors and market trends to see how they might affect your product’s success.
3. Set goals
Outline specific, achievable, and time-bound goals for your product. The goals should align with your product and be measurable with metrics like retention rate, user acquisition, revenue growth, and more.
4. Prioritize features
List potential features and improvements to add to your product to increase its value. You can get feature and improvement ideas from user feedback and competitor analysis. Prioritize the features with the help of prioritization techniques like the RICE method or the MoSCoW method.
5. Create your roadmap
Select your preferred roadmap type and build it. The roadmap should outline the features to build, the priority order in which to complete them, and the timeframe to develop and release each feature or improvement. Features and improvements with the most strategic importance, user value, and dependencies should have the highest priority and come first on your roadmap.
6. Document and share
You should have a written roadmap that your team can easily access. Share your well-documented product roadmap with your stakeholders and development, sales, and marketing teams. If you make any changes to the roadmap, be sure to update each team about the edits. Also, be open to feedback from everyone to ensure alignment across your teams and buy-in from stakeholders.
7. Execute and measure
Implement each feature and improvement listed in the roadmap in the order you prioritized them. Update the status of each feature as you implement them to avoid miscommunication. Also, frequently measure each released feature or improvement with relevant KPIs to verify you are on track to achieve your stated product vision and goals.
How to evolve your product roadmap over time
As products progress, so should the roadmap. In the age of agile development,the product roadmap has become a living document that will change and evolve as you work through it.
Ideally, you should never complete the roadmap. If you begin to reach the end of the roadmap, the product owner should extend the roadmap with more features, optimizations, or improvements.
Extending the roadmap usually isn’t a challenge. Development tasks tend to pop up faster than you can implement them, especially as a product evolves and becomes more complex. Mature products tend to serve additional cohorts (new verticals and types of customers) and integrate with more products and services.
Furthermore, roadmaps evolve differently depending on the maturity of the organization. A roadmap for a young startup with a new MVP will look different than the roadmap for a mature, enterprise product that has solid footing in the industry. We can see those differences in four areas:
Goals: Young products strive for viability and as much growth as possible whereas mature products usually have more nuanced objectives.
Release frequency: Young companies need to ship often in order to acquire data and learn whereas older products typically set a slower pace.
Future requirements: Startups need to be agile, so their roadmaps generally don’t go too far into the future. Established products who understand their customers and the market can make longer plans for the future.
Coming up with ideas for the product roadmap is actually quite easy. As the product expands, there will be more opportunities for features and optimizations. Refactoring old code pops up on roadmaps all the time, especially when new technologies are released.
The biggest challenge, however, is prioritization. Deciding the order of which you’ll develop features and optimizations requires careful consideration.
Product owners and product managers have to work together to create as much value and derive as much productivity as possible in the shortest time. There are countless prioritization methods or weighted scoring models to choose from (such as OKRs, MoSCow, or RICE Scoring Model), but basically, the goal is to organize the roadmap to create the biggest impact.
For instance, even though a specific feature isn’t applicable to most of your customers, you may prioritize it high because it’s necessary for one high value customer. This type of prioritization can bring in revenue, allowing you to hire more developers to work on your other roadmap items faster. It all depends on your needs.
Furthermore, roadmaps can create problems if they’re based on old information, inaccurate data, or bad assumptions. You can mitigate this risk with constant testing and measuring, and by updating your roadmap regularly.
You may have a lot of ideas, but that doesn’t mean all of them deserve to be placed on your roadmap. It’s important to think strategically. Some things should be cut out or kicked to your backlog until they become deserving.
To decide if an item deserves a place on your product roadmap, ask yourself these questions:
Does the item have an owner? Each item should have someone who understands the issue and can champion it from beginning to end. This doesn't necessarily have to be someone on the product team.
Does the item have a value for users? Development time has a cost, of course, so anything you add to the roadmap should produce some kind of tangible value.
Can you produce evidence of that value? You should be able to measure the value each roadmap item adds. For instance, if the intent of a new feature is to improve retention, you need a solid way to measure retention.
Does the item play a role in the overall strategy? An item may create value, but that doesn’t mean it serves the overall value of the product. A quick money-making feature that doesn’t serve the strategy may be a waste of time.
Further, there are plenty of worthy items that don’t get anyone excited. Integrations and security features could be extremely worthy, even though they don’t amaze anyone. Eliminating technical debt can be enormously impactful, even though no one outside the engineering team can see it.
6 product roadmap tips & best practices
Wrongly building or implementing a roadmap can jeopardize product development in multiple ways, such as wasting time and other resources building low-impact features. Avoid such an outcome by following these product roadmap tips and best practices.
Begin with a clear product vision: Only build a roadmap after you have a clear product vision. Your roadmap should take you to your desired outcome or destination. The product vision serves as the North Star for plotting a roadmap to lead you to your desired outcome.
Focus on customer needs: Use customer feedback to identify and prioritize the features and enhancements to implement during product development. Ignoring user feedback may lead to creating a roadmap that prioritizes implementing features that add minimal or zero value to your product.
Segment your roadmap: Break your roadmap into clear time-based segments. Doing this ensures that you follow a structured timeline to complete each objective. However, ensure that you set realistic development timelines for each objective. Unrealistic timelines will leave you with a roadmap you have trouble following.
Be agile and adaptable: Your roadmap shouldn’t be set in stone. Leave room for flexibility so you can adapt the roadmap in response to changes in the market or user preferences. Sticking with a roadmap that no longer reflects market realities puts you at risk of building a product that can’t bring your stated vision to fruition.
Communicate transparently: Openly and transparently communicate with internal teams, stakeholders, and users about the roadmap's progress and changes. Open communication facilitates receiving relevant feedback that can help you optimize your roadmap.
Make data-driven decisions: Don’t make roadmap decisions based on assumptions. Instead, rely on data and analytics to make well-informed roadmap decisions. For example, monitor user behavior and feedback to guide prioritization and track relevant KPIs to measure the success of roadmap initiatives.
What is the difference between product strategy and a roadmap?
Product strategy and product roadmap are different but closely related concepts. A product strategy states your SaaS company’s long-term vision, goals, and market positioning. It provides a high-level view of your product's direction, target market, value proposition, and competitive positioning.
On the other hand, a product roadmap is a visual representation of your plan for developing specific product features, enhancements, and initiatives within defined timeframes. Its purpose is to provide actionable steps to actualize your stated product vision and goals through product development. It details the "what" and "when" of product development, providing a timeline and prioritization of development tasks.
Another notable difference is a product strategy typically spans multiple years to provide businesses enough time to achieve long-term visions and goals. On the other hand, product roadmaps have shorter durations (months) to ensure time-bound product development that optimizes time to market.
Communicating the Roadmap
Your roadmap isn’t just an internal resource to guide development. It’s an asset that should be shared with others to help them understand your company’s progress and plans. Plus, sharing your roadmap is a great way to get feedback before you start building.
Beyond your executives, product team, and engineers, you should share your roadmap with customers and stakeholders. Stakeholders could include investors, partners, or anyone else who has an interest in the success of your company.
How do you communicate your roadmap to these players and keep everyone updated? We recommend Frill, though there are other options. Frill allows you to collect ideas and create a public-facing visual roadmap.
That said, while it’s good to collect feedback on your roadmap, don’t try to cater to the whim of every interested party. Consider their feedback honestly, but make sure the roadmap aligns with your strategy and vision.
Hopefully this clarifies product roadmaps and how they work. We’ve only covered the basics, so you still have more to learn. We’ll leave you with this piece of advice: Don’t neglect your roadmap, even if you work alone. It’s a useful tool to keep yourself organized and looking ahead.