Every company is searching for the optimal formula for successful product development. A great idea is not enough: it is just the beginning when you figure out the product’s features and market fit. The main development process can stretch for a long time, and the initial idea can be changed under the influence of various factors.
The product manager works with the product’s idea at all development stages, and his or her main task is to ensure a common vision of the product for every team member. To achieve this goal, the product manager can use a product roadmap, a strategically important document.
Let’s consider the product roadmap role in software development, its kinds and characteristics. Also, we’ll take a deeper look at how the product manager can synchronize developers’ work with the help of the product roadmap.
Let’s see the main product managers’ duties to understand what else they should do except creating the roadmap:
Both the product manager and product owner deal with the product; yet, their roles are different.
The area of responsibility of the product owner is the product value, backlog, user stories, technical and business requirements. But the critical difference is that there is no product owner’s role in scrum projects.
The product roadmap is the result of strategic planning and describes common stages of product development. It should be a link between the vision of the product and the business goals of the product. Generally, the product roadmap consists of several parts of executive strategy:
Product vision: your perception of the future product.
Strategy: a detailed description of what the company should do to achieve the goals and meet the product vision.
Goal: a particular and time-limited task that you can measure with certain metrics.
Initiative: a broad term that covers features you should implement to achieve the goal.
Feature: a part of the product functionality or third-party application.
Time-frames: periods of time needed to achieve the goal or implement the feature. The product roadmap, as a rule, assumes only approximation in timing.
Status markers: they are used for tracking how the working process goes.
Metrics: helpful KPIs that you can use for measuring data important for product development, for example, organic traffic or churn rate.
The kind of product influences the choice of metrics and roadmapping participants. As a rule, those can be developers, support, operational, QA team, UX, sales department, marketing, and designers — everyone who will work on the product.
The product roadmap should be clear and easy to understand. Let’s consider what other requirements the product roadmap should meet:
Also, there can be situations when the product manager should create several types of product roadmaps with information for internal and external stakeholders.
Creating a product roadmap consists of several stages and requires certain preparation. So, let’s consider important moments step by step.
At this stage, you should analyze the market and competitors, interview your customers, discuss the product with stakeholders, and align it with management. These actions will give you all the needed information for creating the product roadmap.
The audience is a key factor that implies your product roadmap format, its type, and type of content. So, you should focus on people who will work with this roadmap to create an appropriate one.
You should choose the most suitable format for the product roadmap based on your audience. For example, if you are choosing a feature-based format, it will complicate the work of marketing and management teams. So, such a format of a product roadmap is required for the developers’ team.
The chosen format allows you to prioritize particular tasks and goals on your timeline and provides the needed parts of data that you should highlight.
Metrics are used to measure the progress of your product development. So, you should choose KPIs according to your product roadmap goals: they can be oriented on customer or business goals. If you need relevant information, you can analyze the market and competitors or turn to the industry analyst.
The usage of special tools can simplify creating the roadmap. While, if you work with Excel, you will get a static presentation that is hard to update. So, cloud roadmap tools make creating and updating simpler and faster.
There are several examples of roadmap tools that you can use:
You should maintain the relevance of roadmap information and avoid excessive detalization. Remember that the roadmap is about providing a common vision and strategy, not a tactic. This document should be clear and easy to understand. Too many details can mislead those who work with this roadmap.
Your roadmap should represent the progress of your product, new abilities, and goals. So, add to the roadmap actual information, and new data for all who work with the roadmap.
The product manager can demonstrate the roadmap to different people that are connected with the product. In this case, different information and level of the digitalization can be required. So, according to this, the product manager should create several roadmaps for different groups of stakeholders or one strategic document for all persons.
Let’s consider what types of audience need the roadmap.
Generally, there are two kinds of audiences: internal (your team and executives) and external (customers and investors).
Internal roadmaps are used for the work of a company’s departments, so you should provide needed information for every related to the product group: executives, production team and sales department.
External-oriented roadmaps usually don’t show particular information about internal working processes and deadlines, so they can be in a presentation form. They should be visually easy to understand, provide approximate timings and succession of feature releases, demonstrate profit for customers.
There are several types of product roadmaps that can be used in various projects, provide different kinds of information, and illustrate different logic. So, these roadmaps demonstrate differences in their structure and appearance. Brian Lawley in his “Expert Product Development” book demonstrates detailed roadmaps’ classification; let’s consider it.
Agile-oriented teams and companies that deal with digital technologies development use more diverse kinds of roadmaps. So, let’s take a deeper look at the most popular examples of the product roadmaps where the audience plays a major role.
A product roadmap includes key information needed for the team’s work. So, to avoid the excessive detalization in roadmap, a product manager also should create several documents with low-level details.
A product backlog is a Scrum artifact with a list of high-level requirements and features that are created by a product owner. Backlog includes user stories; it is a tactical to-do list needed for product development.
A release plan: it is a document with clear release dates. Its accuracy is the main difference between a release plan and a roadmap. A roadmap demonstrates a succession of the product’s releases, and a release plan, in its turn, shows strict data when this or that feature will be released. It also can be helpful when product managers need to compare development sprints with certain features or bug fixes.
Proper product roadmap with actual updates and clear information is the source of strategic data for your teams, it is a useful and convenient tool. You should understand that writing and maintenance of any kind of documentation require the time and effort of the product manager. While, if a product manager has to spend a lot of time gathering the needed data from all team members and stakeholders and updating several documents along with the roadmap, you can do without a roadmap in your company.
What tool or method do you use in your company for task management and prioritization in the product development process?