Your sales team are banging on your door, asking what (and when!) new features are going to come. Your customers are getting annoyed, because features they’ve been asking for aren’t there yet. And your dev team are getting confused with multiple demands from multiple different people across your business.
You need a roadmap to organize your product development and get everyone on the same page.
Done correctly, your roadmap can answer hundreds of questions from teams across your business – and from your customers too. Putting one together from scratch can be daunting – but it needn’t be.
Janna Bastow, co-founder of ProdPad, joined Kayako’s Product Manager Dan Wong for a webinar about how to use your product roadmap as a customer communication tool.
In the webinar, Janna spoke about how companies have successfully gone public with their product roadmaps, and shared exactly what steps you’ll need to take to launch yours.
Get comfy and watch the full webinar here, or read on for a summary of the webinar.
What is a product roadmap?
Janna defines a product roadmap as an artifact that outlines the direction you’re heading to fulfil your product vision. She emphasizes that the most important thing underpinning your roadmap is your product vision, so if you haven’t thought out your vision don’t start trying to plot out your roadmap.
Janna likens a product roadmap to anatomy of a tree. She recommends an exercise based around the “product tree” to get your team, and people outside the product team, to understand how the product vision will relate to the roadmap.
The basic idea is you label things such as the trunk as your core existing features, each branch represents a different product area or direction that people want to see, and the roots are what you should consider the infrastructure of your product.
This isn’t the roadmap itself, but this is a way to get your team and other departments, such as sales, marketing and development, to understand what’s coming up.
Product roadmap essentials
Janna recommends keeping your roadmap simple so that you don’t drown out the message with too much formatting.
Typically you want to include:
1. Time horizons
To outline how your product will progress over time, and what you’ll be working on and when you’ll be working on it.
Just a simple sentence to give some context on the initiatives or what you want to solve on your product roadmap.
3. Strategic initiatives
Use tagged areas to highlight what your roadmap is going to do, e.g. is this going to result in more revenue or customers, or will it reduce churn?
4. Product areas/components
This includes listing and tagging specific features of your product, or you may even have multiple products.
This is a typical ProdPad roadmap:
Importantly, take dates off your roadmap.
This allows you much more flexibility to make better decisions. Instead of structuring your roadmap across quarters 1, 2, 3 and 4, try highlighting what is happening now, what is happening in the near term and what is happening in the near future.
By outlining these aspects it can hugely reduce stress because a roadmap can stretch out anywhere from one year to five years down the line.
You’ll never know how big your team will be in a year’s time, let alone how fast it will take to deliver your next release. Having dates on your roadmap doesn’t allow you flexibility or the opportunity to adapt to what the market is looking for.
Release plan versus roadmap
Janna explains that there is a distinct difference between a release plan and a roadmap.
A release plan is specifically for developers to let them know what is happening in the very short term.
This is a detailed plan that looks roughly six weeks ahead, covering in-depth information on features that are coming up, who’s working on what, and release dates.
A roadmap is not a detailed plan – it’s a strategic communication document, where you outline your product vision.
It’s important to not combine them because this allows you the flexibility to separate the communication of your broad vision, and details of what’s happening in the short term.
Who should see your roadmap?
Janna is a firm believer in being transparent with your product roadmap.
However, you don’t need to bare all by showing your roadmap to everybody. In fact, don’t be afraid to have multiple versions of your roadmap. This can work particularly well if you have lots of teams.
Tweak your roadmap so that it is relevant to who is seeing it. For example, developers and general public shouldn’t and don’t want to see the same things.
For your customers you want to have a simplified roadmap that shows the direction and communicates that you have big plans about what your product vision is.
This doesn’t need to have the specific deliverables or dates, but it does allow you to have productive conversations on what it is you’re looking to tackle.
It frames your customer conversations around:
- feature requests
- longer term sales
- marketing strategies
- around the vision itself
Customers actually love coming to see what it is you have lined up. It’s a great kick-off point for constructive conversations, and gives customers the chance to have their input into it. It is a great way to see whether or not your company is working on what your market needs.
What about the competition seeing your roadmap?
So potentially this can leave you wide open to the competition, right?
In fact, Janna says there’s not actually much information that they can harness from your public product roadmap that isn’t already on your company blog, or by picking up the phone, or speaking with your sales team about what’s coming up.
Having your product roadmap public is going to do you more good than harm, because your competition is probably too busy building our their own product to bother copying yours.
Janna recommends getting out there and showing how you’re going to reach that product vision of yours.
Now get out there and create your product roadmap!
Don’t get hung up on the format of the roadmap, it doesn’t have to look like other people’s roadmaps or last month’s roadmap, it is primarily a communication document. It’s purpose is to align people and not win design awards.
Go here to watch the full webinar, “How to Use Your Product Roadmap as a Communication Tool”, and access Janna’s slides.
Get ProdPad’s free product management book, The Handy Guide For Product People, which walks you through the pillars of good product management with exercises to help you along the way.