The 10 Stages of Roadmap Management
Creating a product roadmap from scratch is a pivotal task for any product manager, but it’s just the beginning of a magical journey that involves ongoing management and adaptation. Because folks, a product roadmap is for life, not just for Christmas.
A roadmap, after all, should never be a static document; it’s a dynamic tool that guides your product’s growth, aligns your product team’s efforts, and keeps your overall strategy on track.
A roadmap is only useful when it’s managed on an ongoing basis. The value is less in a roadmap as an artifact, and more in the process of roadmapping – the ongoing art of roadmap management.
Imagine if Google Maps just made one map when they first released the app, and then never updated it. Eventually, everyone would end up driving the wrong way down one-way streets, or ending up following their sat nav into a lake as the map got more and more out of date. You’ll have the same (metaphorical) problem if you don’t keep your product roadmap updated.
During a product’s lifecycle, its conception and launch only happen once. The initial roadmap made at this stage should continue to be the strategic document guiding your decision-making, communicating your strategy, and painting a picture of how that product develops over time. But it needs to grow, evolve, and mature as your product does.
In this article, we’ll delve into the stages of roadmap management and how you go about managing a roadmap long-term. First, we’ll take a look at whether or not to keep the old roadmap you’ve inherited, then shed light on how to evolve and refine one of the most important tools you’ll use throughout your product’s lifecycle.
Should you update the previous roadmap or start from scratch?
Let’s say you’re starting a brand new product manager job. Your first task when it comes to roadmap management is going to be deciding whether you keep the pre-existing roadmap or chuck it all out and start over.
It’s extremely rare to start a new job as a product manager and for there to be no existing roadmap in any form. In fact, you may not EVER have to create a product roadmap from scratch as a product manager.
You could well move from job to job, inheriting a roadmap each time. This is because most businesses make their first product manager hire a little later down the line than their initial startup.
For many startups, the founders will take a stab at that first roadmap. After all, they’re usually product people themselves, and the process is both important and often fun! Later on, a product manager is brought in when things get serious and processes need to be managed full-time.
So, as that new product manager, how are you going to handle it? Do you stick with the roadmap you’ve been given and adapt it, or throw it out and start again?
Declaring roadmap bankruptcy – starting from scratch
While it might sound like a lot of extra work, there is a good argument to be made for embracing roadmap bankruptcy. In other words, throw out that existing roadmap and start afresh, validating each initiative that goes into the new one as you build it to ensure they fit with your product strategy.
You might end up recreating the old roadmap perfectly… but probably not. Instead, you’re ditching old assumptions and creating space for your own product vision to breathe. You’ll also be providing both internal teams and external stakeholders with an up-to-the-minute view of your take on where you’re going with the product.
This might be the best idea if you have low confidence in the quality of the roadmap you’ve just been handed. Have a read of our Ultimate Guide to Product Roadmaps for more advice on how to create a roadmap from scratch.
That’s not to say you should expunge all references to the old roadmap as if it’s committed crimes against humanity. It’s always a good idea to keep a record of where you have come from – it’ll come in very handy when you come to review your processes and evaluate how successful your approach has been.
But, if that sounds like a bad idea to you, you can always work with what you’ve got!
Better the devil you know – keeping the old roadmap
As we’ve said, more often than not, as a product manager, you’re picking up a roadmap that already exists and running with it. If you’ve decided not to ditch it, then getting it up to snuff and keeping it useful is where the ongoing art of roadmap management comes in.
Day to day roadmap management isn’t just about generating new ideas and adding them in. You need to be optimizing, adapting, and constantly revalidating everything on that existing roadmap as circumstances change.
Let’s delve into that process of roadmap management – what you need to know, and what you need to do.
The essentials of roadmap management
Roadmap management is the ongoing process of maintaining a relevant and updated product roadmap, a living document that communicates the product’s overarching strategy, guides the work of cross-functional teams, and aligns everyone with the product’s direction.
This practice encompasses strategic evolution, responsiveness to market shifts, and continuous prioritization to ensure that the product is always on the right path. It’s also vital to gather and act on customer feedback, to ensure your product vision and work align with what your users actually want and will find value in.
The core components of ongoing roadmap management include:
- Prioritization: Choosing which product features or initiatives to pursue based on their alignment with the strategic vision and potential impact.
- Goal Setting: Regularly setting Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) or product goals to ensure that the team remains focused on meaningful outcomes rather than just outputs.
- Performance Analysis: Consistently measuring the success of initiatives to assess whether they are delivering the desired results.
- Stakeholder Management: Engaging with stakeholders to communicate the roadmap, gather input, and ensure alignment with the overall business strategy.
The 10 Stages of Roadmap Management
Now you’ve got a handle on the fundamentals, let’s get into a step-by-step guide to the down-and-dirty details of how to keep your roadmap up-to-date. By the end, you should have an idea of what you need to be doing on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. Once you’ve got the process and the flow down, you’ll be nailing it as a PM.
The process of roadmap management unfolds in a series of stages, each contributing to the refinement and effectiveness of the roadmap. The stages are:
- Refining your product vision: A strong product vision is the foundation of effective roadmap management. Regularly review and refine the product vision to ensure that it accurately reflects your ambitions and the impact you want to make in the world.
- Ongoing research and customer discovery: Check what your potential customers actually need. Validate your ideas by performing research and investigating what real problems exist in the market for you to solve.
- Setting OKRs: Set clear Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) regularly, typically quarterly. These OKRs help your team stay focused on impactful outcomes, preventing the trap of chasing mere features.
- Initiative setting: Define the problems your product needs to solve and strategize how to align with the product vision and achieve the set OKRs.
- Prioritization: Rank initiatives based on their alignment with the product vision, potential impact, and other relevant factors. Establish a clear order for execution: Now, Next, and Later.
- Development and maturation: As initiatives move from concept to reality, focus on nurturing and refining them. This stage involves writing PRDs, specifications, and user stories, along with designing, iterative development, testing, and learning.
- Backlog refinement: Continuously assess and refine your backlog, finding the ideas that are worthy of being incorporated into your roadmap.
- Customer feedback triage: Analyze customer feedback to identify problems that align with your roadmap initiatives, either as new ideas or as support for existing plans.
- Roadmap communication; Effective stakeholder management involves regular communication about the roadmap’s status, changes, and alignment with strategic goals.
- Measuring performance: Before declaring an initiative completed, measure its success against the set OKRs to determine if it’s delivering the expected results.
Now we’ve established the steps you need to be aware of, let’s break them down one by one to help get you started on how to put them into practice.
1. Establish your product vision
How often should I be doing this? – Establish once, assess over time
A strong product vision serves as the North Star guiding your roadmap management journey. It encapsulates the overarching purpose and direction of your product, painting a vivid picture of the impact it’s meant to make in the world.
However, a product vision is not static. It requires continuous attention and refinement to ensure that it remains relevant and inspiring. Regularly reviewing your product vision helps you assess whether it accurately mirrors your ambitions and aligns with current market trends and user needs.
It’s essential to continue to ask questions like: Is the vision still in line with the company’s mission, and does it encompass the changes in the industry landscape?
By keeping your product vision alive and adaptive, and validating your proposed features and initiatives against it, you empower your roadmap to stay true to its purpose and lead your product toward meaningful and successful development.
2. Ongoing research and customer discovery
This stage centers on gaining a deep understanding of your target audience, their pain points, aspirations, and evolving needs. By immersing yourself in user research, you lay the foundation for a roadmap that genuinely resonates with your users and addresses their real-world challenges. As such, it’s one of the most important parts of the process.
Incorporating research and customer discovery into your roadmap management process involves several key elements, such as establishing detailed user personas, conducting customer interviews and user surveys, engaging in competitor analysis, and monitoring market trends and shifts in consumer behavior.
By engaging in this stage, and regularly returning to it as part of your product roadmap management process, you’ll be able to validate your assumptions and ensure that you stay rooted in real user needs rather than guesswork that might not hold true.
3. OKR setting
How often should I be doing this? – Quarterly, to align with initiatives
Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) are your strategic compass in roadmap management. These dynamic goal-setting tools prevent your team from becoming overly focused on outputs and instead drive them toward outcomes that truly matter.
Regularly setting OKRs, typically on a quarterly basis, ensures that your roadmap remains aligned with broader business objectives. Each objective encapsulates a clear, actionable goal, while the associated key results provide measurable milestones that signify success.
This stage is a critical opportunity to identify the most pressing challenges and impactful opportunities for your product. By consistently revisiting and refining your OKRs, you enable your team to maintain a laser-sharp focus on results that contribute directly to the realization of your product vision.
4. Initiative setting
How often should I be doing this? – Quarterly, to align with OKRs
Setting initiatives is where the rubber meets the road. It’s also where you get to be creative – it’s the fun part! It involves translating your product vision and OKRs into actual problems to solve. Here is where you break down your strategic objectives into actionable initiatives that address specific opportunities.
This stage requires a deep understanding of your market, users, and business landscape, which is why it’s important to have done your research. Each initiative should be crafted to align with the overarching strategy while addressing your target audience’s most crucial pain points and desires.
It’s also the stage where creativity merges with pragmatism, as you put concrete action plans behind your vision and OKRs, working through your initiative ideas to come up with a carefully curated set of initiatives that are actually worth your product team’s time and attention. This process involves assessing resource availability, technical feasibility, and potential impact, ultimately shaping the roadmap’s trajectory.
Prioritization is the art of making tough decisions. In this stage, you assess each initiative’s strategic fit, potential impact, and urgency. By ranking initiatives based on these factors, you create a clear order of execution: Now, Next, and Later.
Prioritization is a delicate balance between staying true to your vision and adapting to changing circumstances. It requires collaboration across teams and alignment with stakeholder expectations. Initiatives that align most closely with your product vision and can yield the greatest impact are usually the ones that make it to the top of the list.
This stage ensures that your roadmap reflects your strategic priorities, enabling your team to focus their efforts on the initiatives that matter the most, so that they’re working on the boulders instead of the pebbles.
6. Development and maturation
How often should I be doing this? – Daily
As initiatives transition from concept to reality, they enter the development and maturation stage. Here, the focus shifts to bringing ideas to life through iterative development, testing, and learning. This stage is marked by continuous feedback loops, where insights from testing, alongside user interactions and feedback, inform refinements and enhancements.
This stage is about taking the ideas in each initiative, speccing them out, doing user research to validate them, getting designs made, and finally passing them over to the dev team.
The development process is not linear; it’s an ongoing cycle of building, testing, and refining. The maturation aspect involves nurturing initiatives to reach their full potential, ensuring they align with the product vision and desired outcomes.
This stage embodies the essence of Agile methodologies, where adaptability and responsiveness drive progress.
7. Backlog refinement
Your backlog is a treasure trove of ideas, but not all ideas are created equal.
Backlog refinement is the practice of consistently assessing and refining the giant list of everyone’s product ideas. You’re hunting for the gems that are worthy of being added to the roadmap and helping you achieve your objectives.
This process involves evaluating ideas based on factors such as strategic alignment, feasibility, and potential impact. By regularly curating your backlog, you’ll have a repository of high-quality, actionable ideas that can fuel your roadmap’s evolution.
Backlog refinement prevents your roadmap from becoming cluttered with low-priority or obsolete ideas and ensures that the initiatives you pursue are the ones that will drive your product’s success.
8. Customer feedback triage
How often should I be doing this? – Twice weekly
Your customers are an invaluable source of insights. In the customer feedback triage stage, you systematically analyze customer feedback to uncover pain points, suggestions, and emerging trends.
Your customer feedback is a rich repository of ideas for new initiatives, and can provide supporting evidence for existing roadmap items. By listening to your customers, you align your roadmap with real user needs and stand the best chance of building things people actually want and will pay for!
Effective customer feedback triage requires a structured process to categorize and prioritize feedback, ensuring that your roadmap remains a reflection of user desires and market demands.
If this process feels daunting, don’t worry – one of the major reasons ProdPad exists is to make it faster and easier to gather, triage, and analyze your customer feedback.
9. Roadmap communication
How often should I be doing this? – Twice monthly
Transparent and effective communication is the bedrock of successful roadmap management. This stage involves consistent and clear communication of your internal roadmap with stakeholders across the organization, and sharing your external roadmap with your users and potential customers.
Sharing the roadmap’s status, changes, and alignment with strategic goals fosters understanding and buy-in. Effective communication helps manage expectations, build trust, and maintain alignment between cross-functional teams. It can even build hype for the next big thing your team is working on.
It’s also an opportunity to address questions and concerns, and to gather more insights from your stakeholders. By engaging in open and regular communication, you’re ensuring that your roadmap remains a collaborative and guiding force that unites your team toward a common purpose.
10. Measuring performance
How often should I be doing this? – Monthly
In the final stage of roadmap management, initiatives are subjected to rigorous evaluation. Before declaring an initiative as completed, it’s crucial to measure its success against the product goals it was supposed to be impacting. This involves assessing whether the initiative delivered the anticipated outcomes, met the key results, and contributed to the overarching product vision.
Effective performance measurement provides a data-driven basis for determining the impact of each initiative, guiding future decisions, and refining the roadmap management process. By measuring performance, you ensure that your roadmap isn’t just a roadmap—it’s a track record of successful execution and meaningful progress.
Incorporating these stages into your roadmap management process ensures that your roadmap remains a dynamic and effective tool that guides your product’s journey from conception to success.
The art of dynamic roadmapping
Ongoing roadmap management is a dynamic art form. It involves maintaining a delicate balance between staying true to the initial vision and being responsive to evolving market dynamics.
By following the 10 stages of roadmap management, you can ensure your product roadmap remains a living, breathing guide that drives your product’s growth and success.
For more insights into product roadmaps and how they fit into the product management process, take a look at our guide to how your roadmap fits into the overall product management journey.