A product roadmap is an action plan or vision for a product through time – it lays out an overall business goal and the steps it will take to evolve your product toward that goal over time. The process of creating a product roadmap is called road mapping.
How Do You Create a Product Roadmap?
Product roadmaps come in a variety of formats, with the approach you take varying based on the needs and development approach of each organization.
Product Roadmap Approaches: Waterfall vs Agile
The type of roadmap created will follow the type of software development methodology being followed. The two most common methodologies are:
1. Waterfall Development
Waterfall methodology focuses on creating a product strategy and following linear, sequential steps that execute on that original plan.
In this approach, a product roadmap is very clear: create a design, define features, and put together a detailed plan that moves through stages of development and testing until the product is complete over a period of weeks, months, or even years. The project roadmap is precise, clean, and easy to manage because it is well defined and does not change.
2. Agile Development
Agile development follows an interactive and incremental method to align the final product with its desired outcome. Rather than defining the product based on its set of technical requirements, Agile looks at “user stories,” a non-technical way to define the product and its goal. Agile allows for the scope of requirements to change, with continuous testing allowing the shape of the project to change and evolve over time.
An Agile product roadmap creates a plan of action that organizes features into abbreviated work cycles known as “Sprints,” working toward product increments and the collective product backlog. Due to the nature of continuous testing and feedback, the product backlog will evolve and change over time. Agile prioritizes speed and flexibility, so most projects have up to 5 sprints of approximately 2.4 weeks each.
|Market||Stable, mature||Dynamic, young|
|Horizon||Long-term projects||Short-term projects|
|Planning||Linear & sequential||Incremental & iterative|
|Testing||At the end||Concurrent|
|Road mapping||Communicates a plan||Communicates a strategy|
Product Roadmap Checklist
In order to better understand the strategic product roadmap process, here’s an overview of how to create a product roadmap for the Agile development methodology.
Step 1: Define Your Strategy
In this first step of the product road mapping process is to define the why behind your project.
- What pain points are you trying to solve, either internally or externally?
- Who is the product for?
- What strategic goals would you solve with your product?
- What does the market look like?
- What is your unique value proposition?
The analysis of the problems, customers, and market could range from brief to a comprehensive presentation to receive the go-ahead to pursue product development.
Step 2: Define User Stories
After defining the broad product strategy – the why of the product – the next step is to begin working on features or ideas for the product. In Agile, these ideas are called user stories – an informal, user-centric expression of a possible feature. User stories can be generated by team members, potential customers, or other stakeholders.
Through discussions, user stories may add acceptance criteria, also known as conditions of satisfaction. These criteria represent the minimum outcomes from the story for it to be complete.
Step 3: Manage and Review User Stories
At this stage, there could be tens or hundreds of user stories that could make up the final product, some of which may be grouped together into larger stories (epics) or themes (groups of epics).
Recent research from Pendo demonstrates that up to 80% of features in cloud software are “rarely or never used.” To avoid this, the product owner on an Agile development team will move through user story prioritization leveraging MoSCow parameters: must have, should have, could have, and won’t have. In Agile, product owners may revisit this prioritization or introduce new user stories with changing market requirements or feedback.
Step 4: Define Product Backlog
User stories provide a non-technical way for us to share what we are building and how, with the product backlog representing how we organize these stories into units of work. The product backlog is made up of an ordered list of everything a product needs to be completed. Due to the nature of Agile, the list is constantly evolving with new feedback and ideas.
Collectively, these units of work will add up to a minimum viable product, which includes all the major user stories and epics while leaving out some of the “could have” features of lesser importance.
Step 5: Break the Product Development into Sprints
In Agile, leveraging the Scrum framework, development is based upon a series of incremental products developed in time-boxed events: sprints of equal duration. Sprint cycles can be as short as a week or can be longer, with the next sprint beginning as the previous sprint is completed and reviewed.
The sprint backlog is a subset of the product catalogue – a fixed set of tasks that would complete a single development cycle (sprint). Each sprint is time-boxed, at the end of which is created a product increment (a completed unit).
Step 6: Share Your Roadmaps with Every Key Stakeholder
Agile development is user-centric, prioritizing early and regular input from key stakeholders. Throughout the road-mapping process, prioritize regular buy-in from key stakeholders to ensure the strategy is still relevant and that user stories continue to align with goals.
Common stakeholders who want to review the product roadmap are:
- Executives – High level executives and management are interested in the overall product strategy, particularly data on market size or profitability.
- Marketing – Interested in product features, user stories, and how your product will differ from the market on a high level.
- Sales – Interested in timelines and ‘go live’ dates and specific lists of benefits or differentiators.
- Customer service – Your support team will need to be aware of and trained on the new products and all its features.
- Agile team – The engineers, designers, developers, and testers need to buy into the idea, as well as understand the details of the product backlog and user stories in order to design, develop, test, and provide feedback throughout the process. Their input is also crucial for planning your sprints.
- Customers – Customers need to vet your “big idea” as well as the resonance of your user stories – and are critical UX testers.
The Agile product roadmap is a living document that needs to be viewed in a variety of ways and levels of detail, depending on the audience.
Step 7: Measure Progress and Adjust the Roadmap
As this step suggests, the product roadmap needs to be able to adapt and respond to changes in requirements and insights from the continuous testing and feedback of an Agile development approach. At the end of the product backlog, and during Agile development sprints, it is important to measure the outcomes of work to inform the process or to ultimately demonstrate that the goal has been met.
Product Roadmap Examples
Buffer has taken the unusual approach of being completely open in their product roadmapping. Not only do they share potential and in-progress ideas, but they regularly put their wireframes and prototypes in front of their user base for direct customer feedback:
View the live Product Roadmap here, created using the free Trello collaboration software.
There are many product roadmap tools out there to help define and communicate strategy as well as lay out the product backlog and sprint timelines, including the Aha! Roadmaps suite:
FAQs About Building Product Roadmaps
What inputs should be used to build a product roadmap?
In the early strategy and development of the product backlog, refer to inputs from customers, competitors, team members and other stakeholders, as well as data sources that include market analysis, key metrics, technology trends, and a common pool of ideas (user stories).
Who is responsible for a product roadmap?
The product roadmap is typically the responsibility of the product owner or manager – the person who understands the customer need and is able to decide upon the product backlog and prioritize the user stories with the focus on the goal and return on investment.
What are the best practices for building a product roadmap?
The primary purpose of your roadmap is to effectively communicate the big idea, so a roadmap should be simple and straightforward. The format and level of detail of the roadmap will depend on the product, stakeholders, timeline, and team. As a living document, choose a format that appeals to key stakeholder groups, asking:
- What is the purpose of the roadmap?
- Who needs to view the roadmap?
- What information needs to be shown?
- Can the information be displayed visually?
- How do you express the timeframe?
- How do you communicate a product roadmap?
Communication of the roadmap will differ depending on the stage the organization is in, whether it’s getting that initial buy-in, developing the sprint cycles, or collecting feedback. In every stage, it’s important to create a culture of communication so that ideas and feedback continue to support the goal.
What does a product roadmap look like?
There is no one single way a product roadmap can look. Some popular roadmap structures include the GO product roadmap (goal oriented product roadmap), the feature-based product roadmap, a Kanban roadmap, or even a simple Trello board, as above.
Soaq, a leader in corporate content for internal communications, approached Net Solutions with an idea to create a video-on-demand platform to boost employee engagement – a YouTube for internal communication. A series of brainstorming sessions landed on several user stories, including machine learning video suggestions and flexible segmentation. The result was the creation of the Soaq flagship product and a relationship for continual improvement.
For every successful product, it is not just about choosing a flexible development methodology, it’s also about creating a flexible roadmap to help plot a path to success.
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