What Is a Product Roadmap? Definition, Types and Examples

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The time to develop a new product is now, but what’s product development really like?

What tools can we use to create the perfect product? Product roadmaps are a very helpful too that product managers, designers and developers have readily available to help them develop a new project. 

The use of roadmaps is essential to most if not all product development projects, but there are a number of different types of roadmaps and the way they’re implemented can also be very varied.

If you want to know more about the world of product roadmaps and how they’re used, keep on reading!

What is a product roadmap?

First thing’s first, what even is a product roadmap? Broadly speaking, the textbook definition of a product roadmap is a guide for the direction of a product over time. It’s a dynamic and strategic document that is “alive”, meaning it can always be modified and altered for iterative purposes. This high level summary is a tool to communicate what teams are building what and why, with a clear strategic direction and purpose. 

It can serve you for both product MVP development and for the creation of the product's full-fledged version

The inception of the idea of a product is the easy bit, but developing it proves to be far more tricky. Product roadmaps serve to map out the vision and strategic goals of the product and sets clear priorities and relevant stakeholders. There is no general prescription as to how to develop a product, as each project is unique in its process. 

For this reason, each product roadmap must be carefully designed and has to include a degree of flexibility and room for trial and error. Essentially, a product roadmap is a how to manual that’s being written as the product gets developed. 

Product roadmap types and examples

Like previously mentioned, there is a variety of line extensions of a product roadmap, and for every brand and product, a roadmap will act as a voice for it. So what types of roadmaps are there?

There are five main types of roadmaps: Market and Strategy, Visionary, Technology, Platform and Product (Internal & External). Let’s quickly go through what each of these means.

Market and strategy

Market and Strategy product roadmaps form an image of which markets your product will go after and delineates a strategy to pursue each segment. What this means is that you may wish to enter a different market ie. 

From the finance sector into the medical sector from one year to the next, so your product roadmap will have a strategy to penetrate a different market seamlessly.

What Is a Product Roadmap

Visionary roadmaps

Visionary roadmaps are similar to Marketing and Strategy Roadmaps in the sense that they also paint a picture of market trends. Visionary roadmaps tend to take a more generalized approach though, by looking at the bigger picture of the market in general, instead of focusing on specific sectors. 

Visualizing the general trends can help in benefiting from the natural momentum in the market so visionary roadmaps are particularly useful to get a product off the ground. 

Visionary roadmaps

Technology roadmaps

Technology roadmaps are pretty self-explanatory. They look at the trends of the technological market and offer useful comparisons amongst different products in tech, as well as market trends and new opportunities in the tech sector. 

Technology roadmaps

Platform roadmaps

Platform roadmaps are used by companies that have a platform strategy. Examples of these companies are Apple or Google. The platform roadmap is based around the structure of external partners working with the platform.

This kind of roadmap focuses on showing what will be happening within the platform software and which deliverables are expected when, as well as development tools that partners will need to further develop the platform. 

Platform roadmaps

Product roadmaps

Product (internal and external) roadmaps are used to show when products will be released, which primary and secondary features they’ll possess and what the overall goal and vision of the product is. Internal roadmaps are used within a company for a variety of purposes such as obtaining funding for a project, communicating with management or other departments, or defining the driving properties of a goal.

External roadmaps are used to communicate outwardly to external stakeholders such as the press, partners, potential customers, and business analysts. The difference between internal and external roadmaps on paper is that external roadmaps are based off of internal ones but just present a much more vague idea of the processes that lead to successful outcomes. 

Product roadmaps
Product roadmaps2

Moreover, there are three subtypes of roadmaps, status-oriented, theme-oriented and outcome-oriented. 

Status-oriented roadmaps

Status-oriented roadmaps offer insights on where everyone is at within the team. It’s a simple roadmap that doesn’t necessarily have any time constrictions. It’s organized in three columns which are representative of the status of a given product. Normally each column is named now, next and later and it provides a rough outline of what needs to be worked on. Since there is no specific timeline in this kind of roadmap, the next and later columns can shift as the project moves along. 

Don’t be fooled by the apparent simplicity of this map as it’s highly effective in giving outlines of prioritization and is an easy map to set up using practically any virtual tool.

Status-oriented roadmaps

Theme-oriented roadmaps

Theme-oriented roadmaps are normally quarterly based, and their intent is to describe the overall theme of a product or deliverable without getting into the nitty-gritty details of the process. This type of roadmap is very useful to keep stakeholders and partners aligned with the theme of the product without being overly specific. 

Theme-oriented roadmaps

Outcome-oriented roadmaps

Outcome-oriented roadmaps are very similar to theme-oriented roadmaps in that they focus on the general goals of the product and company. The main difference is that outcome-oriented maps specifically define the intended outcome. With this kind of roadmap at play, a team can have full steam to work towards a very well-defined goal. 

The only issue is that this kind of map can become seriously rigid and can lead to defining the solution before the problem which can lead a team down dead-end roads and create a bumpy workflow.

It’s worth noting that stakeholders do prefer this kind of map as they’re privy to the problems the team is working to solve instead of reading about specific themes and features that may seem irrelevant to the outcome.

Outcome-oriented roadmaps

How do you create a roadmap?

After understanding the different sorts of roadmaps that exist, you may be wondering how you make your own. Despite each roadmap being unique for each product and brand, there is a general step-by-step guide you can follow to build a successful roadmap. 

Step 1 is to formulate your strategy and vision for the product- this means taking to internal and external stakeholders, getting customer feedback and looking at possible competitors in the market. It’s important to provide insights on the voice of the customer to your teams, especially production and management, get feedback from them too. Make sure to align all of this data so you’re able to display it clearly on a roadmap.

Step 2 is to define your audience- before determining which type of roadmap is suitable for your product or company, you must establish which audience you’ll be presenting your roadmap to. This is a crucial step as the type of roadmap you choose to use greatly depends on what sort of audience you wish to market to.

Step 3 is to pick the appropriate format- choosing the appropriate format depends on the audience you market to. What does this mean? For example, a feature based format that goes in-depth about product design procedures is not suitable for the marketing team as they’ll be greeted with information they simply don’t need, however, this kind of roadmap would be suitable for the engineering team. It’s very important to be intentional about the type of format you’re using for which audience as otherwise roadmaps quite frankly become obsolete and a waste of time.

Step 4 is to choose the metrics and adapt them to the features- agile product development uses metrics to keep up with competitors and to offer a broader picture of your progress. Using metrics and adapting them to the actual features of your roadmap is very useful as a way of tangibly reflecting progress. You may choose different metrics depending on whether your audience is customer-based or business-based according to their specific needs.

Step 5 is to make sure you’re using roadmap-specific tools- there are plenty of online tools that will help you build a roadmap effectively and in a timely manner. Using tools like Excel, which are not specifically designed to create roadmaps, can render you a static result that would prove difficult to update and tedious to read. Cloud-based road mapping is definitely the way forward, allowing for iterative alterations and collaborative work. Some useful online tools for this are OpenProject or Roadmap Planner.

Step 6 is to keep the information in your roadmap to a high level and updated- remember that roadmaps are strategic documents so don’t get too lost in the details. Providing too much unnecessary information can make your document unclear and difficult to understand. When designing a roadmap remember you’re focusing on overall strategies and themes, rather than specific tactics. Also, be mindful that roadmaps are dynamic documents at their core. As your project advances, you may need to update the goals specified in your original roadmap so it evolves with the product. 

These steps are just general guides and you may find that you shift between steps or they don’t happen to be in the same order as listed above. The process to create a product roadmap is very dynamic and it generally flows with the product development itself, so there is no set prescription. 

Use your intuition and be sure to cater to the needs of your team and your customers instead of trying to work strictly from a template, as you may find the roadmap becomes more of an obstacle than a useful tool. 

Product roadmap templates

Templates can be very helpful when trying to create a roadmap but you’re not sure where to start. On top of this, getting the opportunity to see templates helps you visualize which one would be appropriate for your product. What follows are a series of roadmap templates that can help you get started on your perfect roadmap. Be mindful that these are intended for small teams so you may quickly outgrow them if your project starts evolving. 

Also, be aware that these templates offer a first glance at what a roadmap could look like but they’re very iterative documents, so your final product may look very different in the end.

This is a portfolio roadmap, which is particularly helpful if you’re managing various products at the same time. They can help internal teams get better organized and are helpful when having to present a strategic overview of your product to an advisory board or product executives. 

Product roadmap templates

This is a high-level overview of releases for multiple products in a portfolio.

multiple products in a portfolio

This is a goals roadmap template, which are helpful to visualize high-level business and product goals. It can be used to successfully align executives with your product strategy to provide status updates. 

goals roadmap template

This next template shows product releases relate to a shared set of goals across multiple products.

product releases

This template is an initiatives roadmap template. They represent your product’s strategic initiatives. These are particularly helpful if you want to provide progress updates to your executives or partners. They can also be used internally for team cohesiveness and understanding of strategy around a product.

This template shows a goal timeline guideline. 

goal timeline guideline

Next, this template shows how product releases relate to strategic initiatives across multiple products.

product releases relate to strategic initiatives

Next up, the template for a release’s roadmap. They are helpful when planning a product’s release dates. They display key activities and are useful to communicate key features as well as aligning everyone in terms of what’s coming, where and when. 

template for a release’s roadmap

This is another format for a releases roadmap you can use as a template, which uses a different display that may be more palatable for certain audiences. The type of format you use is important when displaying the roadmap, especially for external audiences. 

another format for a releases roadmap

Is a product roadmap necessary?

So after reading all of these details about roadmaps, are they even worth it? What are the advantages of having a roadmap? Like any other strategic document, there are some pros and cons to product roadmaps.

On the plus side, roadmaps facilitate planning in a dynamic and fast-changing business. They help teams prioritize tasks and are a great tool for stakeholders to visualize the progress of a product and to understand any problems or issues that arise within the chain of product development. Roadmaps help multiple reams work together and is great to avoid scope creep. 

On the downside, roadmaps can cause problems sometimes. They can be based on old or inaccurate data or can be designed under the wrong assumptions, therefore leading the team down bottlenecks and dead ends. Time-based roadmaps can be especially restrictive but on the other hand, roadmaps that aren’t dependent on a timescale can prove to be flimsy and lead to vagueness. Resource allocation can also be a problem if a given roadmap has poor prioritization strategies. 

Ultimately roadmaps are about the visions and strategies of a product. Successfully developing a product isn’t strictly dependent on having a roadmap, but if you have a specially large team or a project that will take a large timescale, a roadmap can be a very helpful tool. 

Conclusion

Overall, roadmaps are complex documents that require time and effort to build. It’s also important to properly maintain and format the document so that it serves its purpose and it doesn’t begin to work under outdated information or the wrong assumptions.

A roadmap is as effective as the user wants it to be in reality. It’s not the defining factor of a successful project but it can be a helpful tool. It’s worth considering what kind of team you have, what sort of project you’re willing to pursue and what timescale you have available to determine whether you really need a roadmap or not. 

If creating a roadmap is going to become a burdensome and time-consuming task that won’t provide much help otherwise, then clearly don’t bother. However, if you have a team that struggles to organize or stakeholders that want to be in the loop of every step of the process, consider roadmaps as something that can be very helpful.

This article is a comprehensive guide on what product roadmaps are, what they’re used for and how you can do one for yourself, but ultimately, they’re just one tool out of a massive toolbox with tons of resources. Make sure you do your research thoroughly so you can achieve your goals as quickly and effectively as possible. 

About the author 

Emily Henry

Emily Henry has a great passion for reading and writing, enjoys good food and loves to travel. She writes for Research paper writing and is a an online marketing strategist at Custom Essay and Paper Fellows. She have a five-year experience of working in marketing industry.

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