A product roadmap is an outline of upcoming product releases for a specific timeframe. The roadmap details the overall implementation of the product strategy.

What’s included in a product roadmap?

A product roadmap includes:

  • Themes
  • Timeframes of releases
  • Descriptions of features that are being built
  • The problems the features will solve

The product roadmap aligns your company’s product vision with the product’s external stakeholders. Stakeholders are people with an active interest in your company or product, including investors, prospects, customers, internal teams and boards of directors.

A product roadmap answers the following questions:

  1. What are you going to do next?
  2. What are your products’ future capabilities?
  3. What problems are you going to solve?
  4. What features will be available in the next release?

Goals of product roadmaps

Vision

Without vision, releases will seem random and will lack connection to a broader picture. A product roadmap provides stakeholders with that vision, which is a big picture of what you are trying to achieve. It also helps your stakeholders to understand your direction as it relates to their own.

Product strategy

A product roadmap provides the particulars on executing the product strategy. While your product strategy outlines who you are selling to and what problems you will solve for them, the product roadmap explains how you will do it. The roadmap sets out the plan for upcoming releases, and what features each one will include. Because it is specific, it tangibly aligns your organization to the product strategy.

Big Picture Context

The product roadmap provides a big picture context of the features. It provides the background of each feature and how it relates to larger goals. Without context, it can seem like you are building without purpose.

The roadmap also details when certain features will be built, and in what order. For example, if you are building a customer management tool with a “contact import” feature, it would be important for the larger theme of “working with other tools.” By itself, it doesn’t have as much impact.

The product roadmap allows people to see the larger picture of where you are headed with a small feature. If stakeholders (internal or external) cannot see which direction you are going, they might not believe that you will reach your goals.

Types of product roadmaps

Date-based roadmap

A date-based product roadmap outlines future releases by date. It is difficult to maintain, and does not account for changes in planning that occur naturally in business.

Investors and prospects prefer date-based roadmaps, as they answer questions on what will you deliver by when.

Tips for effective date-based roadmaps:

  • Only outline large projects.
  • Commit to certain events only, and do not add items that you are not confident you can deliver in the timeframe allotted.
  • If you are to be held to a date, ensure that you have flexibility in the smaller deliverable items.

Theme-based roadmap

A theme-based roadmap outlines the product’s themes or goals within a specific timeframe. Themes or goals are based on market problems you plan to solve. The themes tell your stakeholders which problems you will solve in what timeframe. A theme-based roadmap tends to have fewer releases and more overall goals that will be met.

Technology roadmap

To deliver a new product (and maintain an existing one), you might have to establish technical building blocks. The releases outlined in a technical roadmap might not produce customer-facing features, but will provide the necessary foundation to do so in the future.

A technology roadmap tends to be done in conjunction with other roadmaps, especially if the technical items must be done prior to customer-facing features.

Sample product roadmaps

The following examples depict sample roadmaps for a word-processing software project.

Time-based roadmap

Quarter: Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4
Features: Customer import Cut & paste Photos Clip art
Mail merge Track changes Word graphics
Print function Tables

Theme-based roadmap

Theme: Document management Customer management Graphics manipulation
Features: Print function Import Photos
Cut & Paste Mail merge Word graphics
Clip art

Technology-based roadmap

Release: Data imports Graphic support
Features: Import function OLE DB integration
Database support Graphic library integration

How to make a product roadmap

The following articles will help steer you through the process of developing your product roadmap.

  1. Inputs to product roadmaps: Inputs (or ideas) for your product roadmap come from different sources, and they may come with certain timeframes you need to consider.
  2. Validating inputs to product roadmaps: By examining and validating your inputs, you will ensure they make sense for your product roadmap.
  3. Using your product roadmap effectively: Using your product roadmap effectively can help you achieve several key goals.
  4. Prioritizing your product roadmap: Once you validate the inputs to your product roadmap, you can prioritize this information and your next steps.

References

Murphy, J. (2004). Product Road Map: The Real and the Ideal. Product Management Challenges. Retrieved June 21, 2010, from http://www.pragmaticmarketing.com/publications/topics/04/0402jm_d