A Complete Guide to Product Management Roadmaps

Building effective products is no easy task. Everyone can dream of making the next big thing but product managers who deliver are the ones who plan effectively. Effective planning requires outlining flexible strategies, setting ambitious goals, and prioritizing tasks that lead to the best results.

That’s why many product managers use product management roadmap. Product roadmaps allow product managers to plan the development of a new or existing product. It provides a clear focus on creating value for users and prioritizing tasks that align with your business goals.

In this guide, we’ll discuss product management roadmaps in detail, learn how to create one for your company, and explore some great software and tools for product roadmaps to get you started.

What is a product management roadmap?

A product management roadmap is a strategic plan for mapping out the vision and direction of your product. The product management team makes the roadmap, manages it, and circulates between a variety of stakeholders.

Product management roadmaps provide stakeholders with an idea of what the problems are and the strategy that will be used for solving them. It visualizes what you have to do and where to go when developing a new product or improving an existing one.

These roadmaps help prioritize tasks and give teams clear instructions on what to focus on. Without a proper roadmap, you risk the chance of missing deadlines, not having a clear idea of what to do, and wasting time on something that doesn’t even align with your goals.

There are two types of product management roadmaps:

  • Internal Roadmaps – Maps that deal with internal stakeholders such as Sales, Marketing, Design, Engineers, etc.
  • External Roadmaps – Maps made for external stakeholders such as customers and media. They provide a general idea of the product and its expectations to excite audiences and get feedback.

Both are important so you can cater to every stakeholder.

Why is a product management roadmap important?

A product management roadmap is crucial for any product’s success. It helps create an effective product strategy that sets you up for success.

A product management roadmap is beneficial for several reasons:

  • It helps in prioritizing tasks that are most important to product development
  • Aligns features with a strategic objective and product vision
  • Helps assist in agile product development to ensure product goals are met within short time frames
  • Takes into account all stakeholders’ feedback to ensure better implementation
  • Focuses on creating value for the end-user
  • Gets everyone on the same page by providing a general idea of what to work towards
  • Reduces waste – anything that doesn’t add value is filtered out
  • Provides team members with a clear direction on what to focus on next

Although product roadmaps make the product development process a lot smoother, they can be ineffective if not done properly. This is why learning how to build an effective roadmap can streamline your success.

How to Create an Effective Product Management Roadmap

A lot goes into creating a product management roadmap. Building an effective product roadmap can be broken down into the following parts:

  • Components of a product roadmap
  • Define goals and strategy
  • Discuss insights and ideas to achieve defined goals
  • Plot user stories and prioritize features
  • Break large tasks into epics
  • Organize your roadmap with releases
  • Make a visual representation of your roadmap

Let’s discuss each point in more detail, following them step by step.

Components of a Product Roadmap

Before building a product roadmap, you must first understand what goes into making one. To create an effective roadmap, consider the following components.

Product

What are you offering your customers? Knowing exactly what kind of product or service you offer will help convey important information in your roadmap. 

Goals

What are you trying to achieve with your product? Measurable objectives with a specific timeframe will help establish the product vision and strategy that make your idea a reality.

Epics

Epics are extensive or complex tasks that can’t be completed within the release. These are usually broken into smaller more manageable user stories and features that are delivered gradually.

Releases

A release is the launch of a new product or feature. Their delivery may be completed alongside a few features and mark the completion of epics.

User Stories

User stories are any new feature or component of the product that adds value for the end-user. These are mapped out from the user’s perspective.

For example, if you’re planning on creating an email form for your website, you need to look at it from your user’s eyes. Consider what they will do when they first land on your website, what they expect, and the context of their actions.

Features

Features are new and improved functions, components, and capabilities added to the product. These provide a detailed description of the functionality of the product and how it will work.

Features are similar to user stories which explains why they are frequently used interchangeably.

Minimum Viable Product (MVP)

The MVP, or minimum viable product, is a basic prototype of the final product which includes the main functional components. These include just enough features to make it functional so that end-users can use it.

MVPs are used to gain customer feedback and improve the product. Making an MVP is an important component of the product roadmap as it will help the team make changes based on customer feedback, which increases the likelihood of launching a successful product.

Timeline

The timeline of a roadmap shows the dates of when the product is expected to be complete and ready for launch. Timelines can range anywhere from years to days, depending on the project.

Timelines vary from business to business and depend on your business goals. Startups may want to produce more products in a shorter time to gain recognition in the market. Established brands may have longer timelines as they need to be more cautious with their quality.

Define Goals and Strategies

The first step to creating a product roadmap includes defining your goals and strategies. It is important to outline your strategic goals clearly as they will be the backbone of your roadmap. To do this, you’ll need to have a solid product vision, clearly knowing who your customers are and what they need.

Goals depend on the context of your product – is it a new product or do you plan on upgrading an existing one? If you’re making a new product you’ll need to prioritize your core features first. These provide the main functionality for the product and help in developing the MVP.

Creating MVPs for new products is especially important as you’ll need first-hand feedback from users to know what to improve.

Different companies have different goals so take into account the size of your business and what you wish to achieve with the launch of your product.

Discuss Insights and Ideas to Achieve Defined Goals

Once you’ve set your goals and objectives, it’s time to get the whole team on board. Planning a strategy to achieve goals requires input from all sides. This will give you different outlooks on what problems to tackle and how to tackle them.

With a shared understanding of the project requirements in mind, everyone will have a good idea of what to do and how their tasks align with the bigger picture.

When you sit down with your team members and are discussing ideas, remember not to map out every single detail. Brainstorming helps us explore our creative side but the whole point of making a roadmap is to prioritize only the tasks that help achieve business goals.

Here are some things to consider when planning your product management roadmap:

  • Only add features that convey value to the users. If it doesn’t, take it out.
  • Can the importance of the task be measured and supported by facts or data? Don’t include something just because it feels important.
  • Would the idea fit in the roadmap? Some ideas look great on paper but don’t align with company goals.
  • Security features should be a no-brainer inclusion; they prevent technical issues with the end product.

Once you’ve sorted out what to include in the roadmap, it’s time to start making sense of it.

Plot Out User Stories and Prioritize Features

Now that everyone’s on the same page, you should have features to input into your product roadmap. However, you can’t just throw everything on a chart and hope it sticks. You need to plot out user stories and know which features to focus on first.

Start mapping user stories from the top-down. This will help in creating a logical flow of the user journey and how they may interact with your product. Adopting a user-centric approach will help you view the product from the user’s perspective and identify specific features that need to be included.

After mapping out the user stories, you need to prioritize which features need to be added first. First, focus on core features that are crucial for functionality. This way you can ensure optimum functionality of the main features, which will allow you to develop the MVP.

There may be other features that may be great to include but it’s better to keep them in the product backlog for now. Use the product backlog to keep other essential details of implementing epics and features.

Slot Tasks as Epics

After adding essential details such as features and user stories, group related items into epics. Epics will help your team understand how different tasks relate to each other and how they tie to the organization’s long-term goals.

Epics may range from two to six levels depending on the size and features of the project. Larger projects are much more complex which is why they’ll have deeper layers of tasks to dig into. If it’s a small project, don’t divide them into too many epics as they may overcomplicate even the easiest of tasks.

Organize Your Roadmap by Releases and Create a Timeline

After mapping out all the requirements and grouping them in order, it’s time to decide on a timeline.

In this section, you need to specify the launch dates of features and set deadlines on when you expect to release them. Develop your core features first and then work on timing the other tasks.

The timeline will depend on your company’s priorities. As discussed earlier, startups and established brands have different timelines depending on their priorities. Decide what works for you and stick to it. Make sure to make your product roadmap flexible as sometimes unexpected circumstances may occur  which can throw the team off track.

Make a Visual Representation of Your Roadmap

Your product management roadmap is complete and now all that’s left is to visualize it. Product management tools and software are designed for this specific purpose. They help you visualize priorities, color code important tasks, and convey important information in a visually pleasing way.

When presenting your roadmap, you’ll need to know your audience. Having a properly defined product vision is going to help you understand your customers. Knowing your audience can help you address concerns and questions before they come up.

You also have to consider who’s going to be viewing your roadmap. Having different views for the product roadmap will help satisfy all stakeholders and gain valuable feedback from each group.

For example, engineers and developers should have a full view of the product roadmap as their job is technical. Without a full picture, they won’t be able to fully understand the context behind the features.

The marketing team on the other hand, can be given a status-oriented roadmap. This is a simple outline of where the product stands and is expected to go, however no specific launch date is specified. This can help prevent the marketing team from making false promises or over-committing if the team is unable to complete the product within the given time frame.

Use product road mapping tools, templates, and software to make the process smoother. Some software we discuss below also offers dynamic sharing which can help you craft different visualizations of your roadmap.

Types of Product Management Roadmaps

There are several different ways to create your product management roadmap. Choosing the one suitable to your business depends on the purpose behind your roadmap.

Here are three of the most common types of product roadmaps.

Status-Oriented

A status-oriented roadmap tracks the current status of the team and what they’re expected to do in later stages. These don’t have specified deadlines but rather keep everyone updated on the progress.

This is the most basic kind of roadmap making it simple to understand and easy to build. It’s divided into three sections:

  • Now – What the team is currently focused on. States clear objectives that aren’t subject to change.
  • Next – What the team has to tackle later on in the project. These are roughly defined because they won’t be implemented for some time.
  • Later – These are considerations for the longer term when the team is deep into the project. They are most likely to change as progress is made.

The status-oriented roadmap is best used for presenting to customers and prospects. Since they don’t include any launch dates and focus on major tasks, they may be used to get end-users interested in the product without over-committing to a specific feature or product.

Theme-Oriented

Theme-oriented roadmaps are based on the broader market goals the team hopes to achieve. They are made to tell stakeholders which problems you will solve within a given timeframe.

These are usually based on a quarterly or yearly timeline, incorporate both short-term and long-term goals, and relate to one another.

If you plan on making a theme-oriented product roadmap, make them from the top down. First, choose a major theme, then create epics and sort related tasks together. Lastly, those epics can be broken down into specific features and user stories.

This kind of planning helps the product team understand related tasks and how they align with business goals.

Outcome-Oriented

An outcome-oriented roadmap is a type of product management roadmap created to drive behavioral change in the organization. These are similar to theme-oriented roadmaps but focus more on the outcomes rather than the end product and its features.

Similar to setting OKRs for your business, an outcome-oriented roadmap sets goals for team members and lets them decide on the best plan of action to achieve these targets. This kind of road mapping may lead to innovative ideas and more efficient workflows.

Outcome-oriented product roadmaps are shared with internal stakeholders and are the best type of roadmap to drive long-term growth in the business.

Different Roadmapping Tools and Software

Once you’ve decided on how to approach your product management roadmap, you’ll need a tool to construct it. Sure, you can create your roadmap on a good ol’ excel spreadsheet, but it isn’t made specifically for product management which means it won’t offer you the features and flexibility needed to excel in your product road mapping efforts.

Below are some of the best road mapping tools and software to use to make your product management roadmap.

  1. Product Plan

Product plan is a popular road mapping tool used by big names such as Hubspot and Pepsi. It has numerous features and helps you create and maintain product management roadmaps.

It has an appealing design with color coding to help visualize priorities and maintain a check on completed tasks. You can integrate Product Plan with Github, Jira, Microsoft Teams, Trello, and many other common project management tools.

The tool may be expensive but is well worth the investment as it gives you a versatile library of templates for product road mapping, product portfolios, OKRs, Technical Strategy, and others.

ProsCons
Intuitive designLimited customization, mostly drag and drop of preset features
Integrates with other product management toolsExpensive
Color-coded visualization to easily keep track of progressCan’t upload initial spreadsheets
  1. Monday.com

Monday.com is an online product road mapping tool which is great for visualizing and tracking day-to-day operations. Its fast and smooth system allows you to create agile roadmaps and maintain and visualize an effective workflow. With it, you can include milestones, project analysis, and Gantt and Kanban views.

With 40+ tools, several ready-made templates, and a simple user-friendly design, monday.com is suitable for most businesses – big or small.

What really hits home is their dedication to providing informational resources to customers. It has a knowledge base answering questions on how to use the software and also offers tutorials and webinars with 24/7 support.

ProsCons
Tutorials and webinars to get you up to speed on how to utilize the softwareBasic plan is limited
Simple, user-friendly designBasic tracking features compared to other tools in this price
24/7 support
  1. Roadmap Planner

Roadmap planner is an excellent tool to communicate your ideas and map them out. It helps you to plan tasks and set objectives for your business in the short and long run. The best thing about the software may be its ability to be used offline without an internet connection, which means there won’t be any interruptions.

Unfortunately, it does not have a Windows version and is quite difficult to use. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll fall in love with this software as it provides users with most if not all the tools they need to make effective roadmaps.

ProsCons
Built-in templates to fast-track your road mappingOnly available on Mac
Can be used offlineDifficult learning curve
Frequently updated with new features

Choosing the Right Product Management Roadmap Software for You

The above list is just to give you a good idea of what the industry-standard software looks like and the popular options available to you. Choosing a product road mapping tool or software depends on other factors specific to your business. Make sure to assess the following to make sure you’re choosing the best software for your business:

  • Ease of use – Choose software that is easy to use and navigate. Having a product road mapping tool with a simple interface will save you a lot of time and headache by laying out the tools you need within your reach.
  • Value for money – If you have many employees in your product management team then costs can quickly rack up. This is why you need to ensure you’re getting the most bang for your buck by going with the tool that provides the features important to you while keeping costs low.
  • Customer support – Small disruptions, such as an unexpected version release, may cause problems for your team and break the flow of your work, which is why going with a company that offers good and active customer support is crucial.
  • Functionality – Does the tool have everything you need and can it do more than just visualize ideas? Focus on the functionality and see if the tool operates smoothly and has other desirable features such as customization options, project analysis, and dynamic sharing.

Takeaways

Product management requires extensive planning which is why you should have a firm grasp on how to plan for success. Building effective product management roadmaps can help you focus on creating value for users while prioritizing tasks that align with your business goals.