Why you need a Product Roadmap

I recently conducted a review of a flagship product for one of our largest clients. We established a clear direction and long-term strategy to achieve it. Nice! But now what? Bridging the gap between strategy and daily delivery can feel daunting. Thankfully we can draw upon years of best-practice and advice to solve this problem, by creating a product roadmap.

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So, what is a product roadmap?

A roadmap is a time bound list of expected work - it is not a detailed plan, nor a final destination. It should be seen as a rough guide to upcoming changes to your product. It gives an indication of when a new feature or change is planned to be delivered. Importantly, it charts a clear path; from the current state, towards the product vision.

Why do I need a product roadmap?

A roadmap helps you record and communicate the work that is fed to the delivery team. It helps bring shared understanding, which is beneficial in a number of situations. For example:

  • To expose differences in expectations in a complex delivery environment
  • To gain buy-in for future investment in a product
  • To facilitate meaningful discussion about product changes, without detail obstructing conversation
  • To provide a link between the development team’s backlog and the overarching product strategy

Whether you’ve just started to develop a new product, are actively enhancing an existing one, or only update your product a few times a year, the shared understanding a roadmap gives is vital. It helps make sure you get the right work done. However, it won’t help you get the work done right - that is the development team’s role.

"It creates a continuity of purpose, facilitates stakeholder collaboration, helps acquire funding, and makes it easier to coordinate the development and launch of different products."

– Roman Pichler

How many years should my roadmap last?

The roadmap could span three months or three years. If you’ve not created one before, we think a good starting point is a one year roadmap. As a general rule, the further into the future your roadmap goes, the less detail should be included.

Can I be agile and have a roadmap?

Yes; in fact a product roadmap enhances your ability to effectively respond to change. Having a shared understanding of how we plan to achieve the product vision means new ideas are assessed in context before making their way to the development backlog.

The alternative is what Gojko Adzic calls a ‘stream of consciousness’ approach to development. You’ll certainly feel agile because you’re responding to change, but at some point, you’ll get out of the detail and wonder how your product became a sprawling tangle of specific features, technical debt and lack of coherence.

How do I create a product roadmap?

We won’t lie - creating a great product roadmap is not easy. It takes a variety of skill and experience, a clear direction and lots of patience. However, any product roadmap is better than no product roadmap. A starting point is mapping out your “current roadmap”, however undefined or flaky it may feel. Once created, get feedback from your colleagues and update it with them. This will start giving value immediately, as you’ll be able to expose assumptions, prompt the difficult conversations and begin bringing people towards a shared understanding. Why not stick it on the wall and watch the attention it gets?

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Which tool should I use?

A product roadmap can be created using any number of tools. We love physical roadmaps, so you can stand and point at things together, as well as getting the warming benefits of information radiation. If our teams are not based together, we like Trello, because it’s easy to use, easy to share and it’s free. There are hundreds of complex product roadmap tools out there, but don’t worry about them when starting out. Even if you begin with a good old spreadsheet, just get it shared and get a conversation going around new changes.

Can Torchbox help?

Sure! If you’re interested in creating a product roadmap with us, why not get in touch?

Phil Dexter

Phil DexterSenior Project Manager