8 Steps to Build an Effective Product Roadmap

4 min read

A product roadmap becomes a strategic weapon in the hands of a skilled product manager. This article gives you some ideas on crafting a perfect roadmap and turning it into a beacon of the project.

What is a product roadmap?

The purpose of the product roadmap is to convey the main ideas of the product and progress in tasks to team members and stakeholders (shareholders, customers, partners). The product roadmap entails a global-level initiative and planned steps. It doesn’t have to include every feature of the product and detailed lists of bugs.
You’ll need to update the product roadmap throughout its life cycle to encompass features, initiatives, and requirements from many parties of the process: management, customers, sales managers, partners, support, developers, etc.
It is essential not to confuse a roadmap with a vision, although having an idea is necessary to build a roadmap properly. A global vision won’t let you end with a “here and now” mindset. As part of the vision, you set goals to which your roadmap is supposed to lead. When your team follows the map, this path’s milestones and stages become releases.

Where is the planning horizon?

It can be different, but limiting yourself to 6 months is better. If you know exactly where your product will go, it could be 3 or 5 years.

With the right approach, a Roadmap is a tool to break product development into stages and ensure the launch of primary functionality in the first iterations. In contrast, subsequent iterations will cover functions with lower priority.

That said, a roadmap is not a commitment but rather a prediction. We may think about the roadmap as the current plan. You may receive a feature request from a new client in a month. It could be a higher priority than previously planned when added to the backlog. The general rule is that this plan should not be static because we need to adapt to changing market conditions.

Proper feature prioritization is an element of the corporate culture. In this frame, stakeholders follow the same scoring principles, so the first step is to discuss the calculation formula and then follow this rule.

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How to create an understandable roadmap for everyone?

1. Define goals and strategy

This step involves understanding the target market, customer needs, and business objectives. Once these goals and objectives are defined, they should serve as the foundation for the product roadmap.

It’s essential to ensure that the goals and objectives are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART). This helps ensure the roadmap is focused, feasible, and aligned with the business’s overall strategy.
Usually, global strategies are based on key objectives. A deep understanding of your customers’ needs supports a strong product vision. It captures the essence of what you want to get. Make sure your team has this understanding to develop their future product.

2. Gather product requirements

How do we collect and process product requirements? When we receive requirements from different parties, they all need to be recorded. For example, you can use the Jira system. Startups can document requirements using more straightforward tools like Redmine or Asana. At this stage, all product ideas you have must be registered.  If an idea is not worthy of implementation at some stage, then its priority will remain low.

All ideas enter the so-called “Incoming backlog.” They can be well-described and “half-baked” without evaluating and understanding who needs these features. Some pictures may fall into the next release after the team works on requests and adds details. The rest are sent to the Backlog and can stay there long.

3. Prioritize Features

Once the goals have been identified, the next step is prioritizing the features that will help achieve them. This step involves evaluating the potential impact of each element on the product’s success and prioritizing them accordingly. It’s important to involve stakeholders to ensure everyone is aligned on the product’s priorities.

One approach to feature prioritization is the MoSCoW method, which categorizes features as “must-haves,” “should-haves,” “could-haves,” and “won’t-haves.” This approach helps ensure that the most critical features are prioritized first.

Let’s discuss some of the methodologies that help with feature prioritization.

Epic

Agile or Scrum frameworks utilize “Epic” to break cross-functional and large requirements into smaller user stories.  Impactful features require the involvement of all participants: developers, testers, interface designers, technical writers, and so on.

When creating an epic, it’s advisable to evaluate its importance from a business point of view, calculate labor costs and decide whether teams can include it in the current release or send it to the backlog. Epics are prioritized in the task management system. For example, in Jira, you can set “high,” “medium,” or “low” grades of priority.

If the product backlog has hundreds or thousands of features, mere prioritization is insufficient, and the below methodology can be applied.

Calculating Feature Score 

A more sophisticated scoring methodology is called Feature Score. The idea is to assess all the development impact factors per a single rating. Then, the team will decide on adding certain features based on their importance calculated through the rating.

Positive metrics add a score to a feature. Positive metrics include:

1. Urgency.
2. The size of the customer who needs it.
3. If adding this feature allows for entering the new market or obtaining its share.
4. Potential profit or potential loss
5. Strategic achievements (whether this feature brings the team closer to identified goals).

Negative metrics decrease the score. They include:

1. The volume of labor to be done to add a feature
2. Possible risks.

Feature Score is not a qualitative assessment but represents a number. Feature Score must be determined based on normalized values, the company’s market goals, and other parameters.  The Customer Factor, Market Penetration, and Revenue can be such parameters.

Planning a product roadmap

4. Set Timelines

With the features prioritized, the next step is to set timelines for their development. This involves estimating the time required for each feature, identifying dependencies between features, and determining the overall timeline for the product’s development. Setting realistic timelines that consider potential delays and unforeseen challenges is essential.

5. Communicate a product roadmap

Once the product roadmap is created, it must be communicated to the entire team so everyone understands the vision and direction. It’s common for product managers to develop their roadmaps in PowerPoint or spreadsheets and then email screenshots to the team. Despite good intentions, this strategy has flaws

What is the best way for Product Managers to keep the team informed? Post the plan on a shared platform and keep the team updated so you have a single source of updates. Most collaboration tools will automatically notify everyone on the project that the product roadmap has changed. It is essential to keep your team’s work connected to the roadmap.

6. Align with Business Objectives

To ensure that the product roadmap is aligned with business objectives, it’s important to regularly evaluate its progress against key performance indicators (KPIs). This helps ensure that the product is on track to achieve its goals and enables the team to make adjustments as necessary.

7. Incorporate Customer Feedback.

Customer feedback is a critical component of product development and should be incorporated into the roadmap. You can use the Net Promoter Score (NPS) to measure customer loyalty and satisfaction. This approach helps ensure that the product meets its target market’s needs while also providing a way to track customer satisfaction over time.

8. Adapt to Changes

By maintaining flexibility and adapting to changes, businesses ensure that their product stays relevant and competitive. Since a roadmap often guides product development for an extended period,  deadlines and understanding critical features can be shifted. The project manager’s task is to assess changing conditions and promptly adjust a roadmap. This flexibility is another advantage of using a roadmap.

Tips for establishing effective product roadmaps

✔ Feature development priority matters, as does the development team’s capacity. We also evaluate how many hours developers can dedicate to each next feature. Understanding the capacity for the next release (scope) helps to avoid wasting valuable resources in vain.

✔ This tip is helpful for large products, where reserving some human resources for non-development matters is desirable. For example, your development team may need to move to a new version of Python. To anticipate the problem-solving for such cases, you can reserve, for example, 10% of the team’s capacity as a buffer.

✔ From time to time, review the map’s backlog and the feature score for those features that your team plans to develop.

✔ Use a tool that allows easy updates and sharing with your team members.

Final thoughts

A smooth roadmap aligns short-term tactics with strategic, long-term goals. A great way to help this balance is to review the roadmaps regularly, adjust its short-term plans and keep updating the team members about it. Understanding our global goals helps create a roadmap with an accurate and specific plan to achieve our goals shortly.

If your startup is on the way to its product development roadmap, our Design and Discovery process can perfectly help you to craft a working and clear map.

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