Product Development Roadmap: Steps and Best Practices
A traditional to-do list works great for daily tasks when you need to accomplish things one-by-one and don’t have to ask yourself: "Am I going in the right direction? Will this list be relevant tomorrow, next month, or next decade?"
But with software product development, too many moving parts affect the contents of the list of planned activities. Software developers, stakeholders, and product owners need explanations on where the project is heading, which features need to be developed, who is responsible for completing each task, and so on.
The good news is that you get a summary of the project's vision and goals over time when you build a product roadmap. It's not just a popular startup term, it aggregates all the issues and questions that might arise when creating a new product at a given point of time and in the long run.
What Is a Product Roadmap?
A product roadmap is a tool for summarizing the goals of the future software product and covering all its aspects, including the timeline, necessary features, required resources, etc. Creating a roadmap means indicating what product you're building, why you're creating it, and what stages you must take to implement your idea. This is a vital point to work on during the project discovery phase.
One crucial use case of putting together a product roadmap is that it provides a single source of truth for multiple stakeholders. It enables them to have a quick overview of the project's current state and suggest ways to improve and enhance it in the long term. Besides, it gives product owners a chance to ensure that the vision and goals are aligned with the company's overall strategy.
Building product roadmaps means creating reliable sources of information that keep everyone on the team on the same page and serve communication purposes. However, it is necessary to keep such resources dynamic as product roadmaps are sure to evolve over time. You should keep track of changing customer expectations, industry trends, and market needs as these can be signs for business pivot. Then, make changes to the roadmap as soon as the need arrives.
Overall, an efficient product development roadmap can contribute to your project in the following ways:
- it becomes a communication tool that visually expresses the projected value of the product for both end-users and business owners;
- it serves coordination purposes and makes the development and planning processes transparent for every participant.
Why Do You Need a Product Roadmap?
Many factors come into play and fuel the demand for a reliable and dynamic roadmap for product development. Apart from being a powerful company asset, it lays the groundwork for easy market entry and gives an edge over the closest industry rivals. This is especially crucial during the MVP development process or when bringing to life early-stage products.
What other reasons make product roadmapping a winning strategy?
- Provide high-level descriptions by giving detailed insights easily understood by technical experts, C-level executives, and other involved parties.
- Create alignment between departments by fostering ongoing communication about the product vision and goals.
- Provide a big picture of the project by ensuring every team member works on the tasks that matter for the overall success.
- Eliminate repetitive and tedious work by allocating efforts to the most important tasks transparently and efficiently.
- Improve motivation and team cohesion by uniting every participant around one common goal that matters.
How to Create a Product Roadmap in 6 Steps
So, how do you approach the creation of a product roadmap to serve your business needs? Let's go over several simple steps to help you get started.
1. Start with Creating a Compelling Product Vision
Just like the compass needle points to the North, your project needs to show the direction for the whole team and provide a solid reason for creating the product. You have to be sure that what you are going to do is right and consider the change the product should undergo to reach overarching goals.
That is why it is necessary to start with understanding the product vision and creating an actionable plan that will pave the way for further actions. This will serve as a prerequisite for moving along with the product strategy. It is a good idea to answer the following proof of concept (POC) questions to better understand where the product is heading:
- Who is the target customer?
- What needs can it address?
- What is the compelling reason to buy and use this product?
- What are its alternatives on the market, and how will it differentiate from competitors?
- Why are you building this software now?
Together, the elements of your product vision will unify everything that is going to shape the future product roadmap.
2. Identify Strategic Business Goals
The next step is to communicate the points you've discovered in the previous stage to stakeholders in a way that will convince them to invest in future development. Product stakeholders need to be sure that they are on the same page with the strategic goals you’ve defined. For that, it is vital to include actionable steps and measurable targets that will be in tune with your product vision.
Here are the elements to include in the future roadmap to make it succeed:
- set a timeframe for project completion and include potential roadblocks that can cause a delay in time when launching a startup;
- enlist the company's resources you'll require to reach the envisioned goals;
- identify and prioritize a list of strategic goals;
- describe the process that will lead from idea to implementation, note the tech stack, and assign specific roles and responsibilities;
- define how progress will be measured.
3. Identify a List of Features and Priorities
This is where you unify all the information you need for developing a product roadmap. Ideally, you should create a prioritized list of all activities that will occur in the course of product development. Such feature prioritization may include a sequence of the most critical features and infrastructure changes followed by the least important or supplementary ones.
If you're unsure how to create a product roadmap that will include only necessary details, note that you'll need to prioritize features based on a combination of factors:
- The technical side: Is it possible to implement this feature using the technologies we are proficient in?
- The demand: Will the customers be interested in this functionality?
- The strategic side: Does this feature support our strategic goals?
4. Translate the Features into User Stories and Plan Releases
With the list of ordered features, you can break down the future tasks into manageable chunks. This helps to translate the features into practical user stories to identify the benefit from the end-user's perspective and provide the context for the development team. Besides, getting to know user stories will contribute to the overall understanding of the project's hierarchy, improve planning, and keep everyone in line with the task flow throughout the product development life cycle.
Once you've put everything in order, it is time to identify the development timeline and deadlines. You can plan future releases and estimate the time frame of each development effort by putting the data in an accessible app or website development timeline.
5. Submit the Roadmap for Review
The next step is to submit the collected information to stakeholders and other parties who are involved for consecutive review and approval. Typical sides of this process include:
- executives and upper management;
- marketing specialists;
- the sales department;
- customer support team.
As for the web development team, it should also be aware of what timelines, processes, and overarching goals they need to follow to ensure fast and timely delivery of the designated functionality.
Moreover, the knowledge of how to build a product roadmap won't be complete without getting to know the feedback of end-users. Analyzing user feedback is a common MVP testing method, so think about how users can engage with the roadmap to identify whether it aligns with their goals and real-life use cases.
6. Leave Space for Changes
As we've already mentioned above, a product roadmap is not a static document with established epics, user stories, and themes. For instance, the market demand can change, or the closest competitor can release a new feature you can't afford to miss, or some crucial changes can get revealed as a result of a technical due diligence audit.
Therefore, you need to revise the objectives and shift plans. With reviewed OKRs and KPIs you'll be as flexible as the current state of things suggests.
Here are some activities that can be helpful:
- set a regular time to review the current state of the roadmap;
- check if some features can be redundant;
- engage customer-facing teams to gain quick insights into which customer expectations have changed;
- encourage users to share their opinion on the list of features in the software;
- shift priorities when some features are not relevant anymore.
You should keep track of changing customer expectations, industry trends, and market needs and make changes to the roadmap as soon as the need arrives. One more thing that can be useful for your startup is PIM (product information management).
Product Roadmap Development Tips
If you're wondering how to build a product roadmap and avoid bumps on the road, you need to consider the context of the project. In the majority of use cases, software development teams need to address evolving changes and adjust to new directions in which the product is moving with time. That can generate a wealth of challenges that may hinder the developed roadmap's success and credibility. However, mind that there are numerous MVP tools out there (for instance, Roadmunk) that can simplify the process of creating a roadmap.
Follow these tips to avoid common pitfalls of creating Agile roadmaps:
Keep the story straightforward
You need to consider the peculiarities of the group in charge of the buy-in decision. Based on that, you can determine the level of detail, narration tone, and the number of visual elements. The content of the roadmap needs to be easy to understand and simple to grasp.
Your story needs to describe the way you are going to ensure the product's growth and evolution. Divide the roadmap into consecutive steps that can add to each other and present a positive scenario of future success.
You don't have to say 'yes' to every query
Instead of approving every idea coming from stakeholders or users, adhere to the product vision and strategic goals. Consider only relevant requests or ideas, especially those that can add value to the overall business goals.
Focus on high-level tasks
When you present the roadmap to stakeholders, you don't need to explore every feature in the product backlog. Instead, focus on high-level tasks and disclose the benefits they can offer.
Back up your presentation with research
To justify this or that decision, you need to present any sort of data, such as product performance metrics or statistics, that will speak in favor of your choice. Well-presented figures using data visualization can be of hand here. Do the prep work of investigating target user needs and pain points before including a pool of projected features.
Don't forget about default functionality
It is exciting to suggest innovative features to motivate developers and stakeholders. However, it is worth remembering that product development needs to include must-have features first after MVP release, even if they seem banal.
If some say that the best plan is not to have a plan at all, this is not the case with software development. With too many risk factors and changing scenarios, IT projects must rely on actionable and dynamic tactics. A well-crafted product roadmap will become a powerful weapon in your arsenal, increasing the chances of a successful final product.
In case you have any questions on how to create a product roadmap and approach the project's development most optimally, feel free to contact us for a consultation!
Upsilon provides MVP development services for early-stage startups and team augmentation services for growth-stage businesses with sprint-based staff augmentation pricing, so don't be shy to reach out!