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By Dan Collins

Updated: August 16th, 2023

Reviewed by: Maneesha Silva

Fact checked by: Megan Saker

What is roadmapping?

Roadmapping is the process of creating and maintaining high-level plans and visual representations to guide the development and implementation of products, features, and technologies.

It is a strategic planning process that plays a vital role in product management. The act of roadmapping is all about creating and maintaining an effective product roadmap which serves as a single source of truth, aligning key stakeholders and capturing the strategic intent of the product.

Creating a product roadmap is a collaborative process that encourages input from a variety of stakeholders, from product managers to the C-suite, Sales, and even your customers. By incorporating customer feedback and a wide range of views, you ensure that your roadmap reflects the common goals and strategic vision of the organization.

Effectively roadmapping helps with navigating the complex product development process, fostering innovation, and aligning internal teams around shared objectives. It enables Agile teams to plan and adapt their efforts, ensuring that the development process remains focused on business goals and achieves a viable product.

Now-Next-Later product roadmap example from ProdPad product management software

The importance of outcome-focused roadmapping

The concept of a lean, outcome-focused product roadmap has emerged as a strategic approach to steer product development in a more agile and effective manner.

Traditional timeline-based roadmaps often rigidly prescribe features and deliverables on (often unrealistic) fixed schedules. In contrast, an outcome-focused roadmap (such as Now-Next-Later, the style favored here at ProdPad) places a strong emphasis on achieving specific outcomes that align with the product’s overarching goals.

This approach to roadmapping not only promotes adaptability and customer-centricity but also fosters a culture of continuous learning and improvement.

In the words of ProdPad’s co-founder and CEO Janna Bastow:

“Roadmapping as a process should strengthen what goes into the roadmap. If the roadmap is an articulation of your strategy, the act of roadmapping itself should strengthen that strategy over time.

“What’s really powerful about roadmapping is that the value is in the roadmapping process, not in the final roadmap itself. Your roadmap should be flexible, and so the value is in the roadmapping that you do to produce it.”

Outcome-focused roadmapping shifts the focus from rigid timelines to achieving specific outcomes that align with the product vision. Rather than prescribing a detailed sequence of feature releases, this approach highlights the desired outcomes, customer problems to solve, and business objectives to achieve. It’s a dynamic and flexible strategy that adapts to changing circumstances and insights, empowering product teams to make data-driven decisions.

Unlike traditional roadmaps that often focus on the “what” and the “when,” a lean roadmap centers on the “why” and the “how.” It highlights the desired outcomes, customer problems to be solved, and business objectives to be achieved. In essence, it outlines a path to success rather than prescribing a sequence of feature releases.

At the heart of the lean approach to roadmapping is the concept of hypothesis-driven development. Instead of assuming that certain features will directly lead to desired outcomes, product managers formulate hypotheses about the relationships between features and outcomes.

These hypotheses are then tested through small, focused experiments that provide real-world data to validate or invalidate assumptions. This iterative approach allows product teams to refine their understanding, pivot if necessary, and make informed decisions based on tangible evidence.

Benefits of making roadmapping an ongoing process

Actively managing your roadmap provides a number of benefits for product managers, such as:

  1. Adaptability: The tech world moves quickly, and so the ability to adapt to changing circumstances is essential. Lean roadmapping allows product teams to pivot quickly based on real-time feedback, emerging trends, and market shifts.
  2. Continuous learning: By emphasizing hypothesis-driven development and iterative experimentation, roadmapping encourages a culture of continuous learning and improvement. Teams learn from successes and failures alike, leading to more refined strategies over time.
  3. Customer-centricity: Lean roadmaps prioritize outcomes that address specific customer problems, ensuring that the product delivers real value and solves meaningful challenges.
  4. Focus on value: Traditional timeline roadmaps often lead to feature-driven development, potentially resulting in a bloated product and unrealistic expectations. Outcome-based roadmapping prioritizes solving problems, discovering features or other solutions that drive the most value.
  5. Less wasted time: By concentrating efforts on features that directly contribute to desired outcomes, the process of roadmapping in a lean way helps minimize the risk of building features that may not be valuable to users or the business.
  6. Cross-team collaboration: Having a single source of truth, that all relevant stakeholders can access and contribute to, encourages input from various perspectives. This collaborative approach to roadmapping ensures that it reflects the expertise and insights of key stakeholders, resulting in a more comprehensive and effective strategic plan.

For an in-depth explanation of all things roadmap-related, take a look at our Ultimate Guide to Product Roadmaps.

Roadmapping tips for product managers

The roadmapping process is an active one. Creating a roadmap for your product isn’t the end goal of that process, however. Rather, it is just the end of the beginning.

Here are some helpful suggestions to keep in mind as you maintain your roadmap going forward:

  1. Stay agile: Maintain flexibility in your roadmap to accommodate changes, unexpected developments, and emerging opportunities.
  2. Involve stakeholders: Collaborate with cross-functional teams, customers, and executives to ensure that it aligns with their needs and expectations.
  3. Focus on themes: Instead of just listing features, organize the roadmap around broader themes or goals to provide a more cohesive vision. Color coding can help with this.
  4. Communicate changes: Regularly update stakeholders on roadmap changes and reasons behind them to manage expectations and foster transparency.
  5. Balance short- and long-term goals: Strive for a balance between near-term initiatives and long-term strategic goals to avoid short-sighted decision-making. Using time horizons, as in the Now-Next-Later roadmap, can help with this.
  6. Embrace small bets: Invest in smaller, focused experiments, such as MVPs, that allow you to test assumptions without committing significant resources. This approach mitigates risk and encourages quicker learning.
  7. Encourage cross-functional collaboration: Involve cross-functional teams, including designers, developers, and marketers, in the process of formulating hypotheses and designing experiments. Diverse perspectives lead to more comprehensive insights.
  8. Make data-driven decisions: Base your decisions on real data and insights gathered from user testing, analytics, and customer feedback. Avoid making decisions solely based on intuition or assumptions.
  9. Foster transparent communication: Keep stakeholders informed about the outcomes you’re pursuing, the hypotheses you’re testing, and the results of your experiments. Transparent communication fosters understanding and alignment.
  10. Avoid jargon: Following from the previous tip, use clear and easy-to-understand language when communicating your roadmap. Avoid jargon, especially in public roadmaps. You can’t expect everyone to understand your company’s internal terminology.
  11. Iterate actively: Embrace the iterative nature of lean roadmapping. Be open to refining your hypotheses, adjusting experiments, and even pivoting if the data suggests a different path.
  12. Keep records: Maintain a historical record of past roadmaps to track progress and decisions over time. This can help to analyze your process and to highlight any weaknesses in your approach.
  13. Celebrate achievements: Highlight successful launches and milestones achieved, both internally and externally, to build a sense of accomplishment and momentum.

“The roadmapping process is very much like the prototyping process. Your roadmap is a prototype for your strategy.

“If you’re making a new feature, you wouldn’t just tell the developers to go get coding, because what you’d end up building wouldn’t be the right thing. Instead, you would start prototyping: you’d create a prototype, you’d show it to somebody and they’d give you feedback on it. Then you’d take that feedback and update that prototype, and you’d crumple up the piece of paper the original prototype was on and throw it out.

“You don’t care about the prototype, the value is in the prototyping process. A roadmap should be similar. What you’re really doing is taking your assumptions about what you think the big-picture strategy is, and you’re laying them out somewhere that somebody can see.”

Janna Bastow

What are the challenges of product roadmapping?

Maintaining a product roadmap can be a challenging task, as there are several potential obstacles and difficulties that can arise during the process.

Keeping up-to-date

One of the main challenges is keeping it up-to-date. As the product evolves and new features or requirements emerge, it becomes crucial to ensure that the roadmap accurately reflects the current state of the product.

Competing priorities

Balancing competing priorities is another challenge faced by product managers when roadmapping. With limited resources and a multitude of potential features or enhancements competing for attention, it is essential to prioritize and allocate resources effectively. This requires constant evaluation and reassessment of the roadmap to ensure that it aligns with the overall business goals.

Managing stakeholder expectations

Managing stakeholder expectations is another significant difficulty. Key stakeholders, such as customers, internal teams, and business units, have different needs and expectations from the product roadmap. Keeping them informed and engaged while managing their expectations can be a complex task.

Changing requirements

Adapting to changing requirements can also pose problems. Requirements can evolve due to customer feedback, market trends, or technological advancements. Your roadmapping process, and the roadmap itself, needs to be flexible enough to accommodate these changes without compromising the overall strategic vision.

Communicating changes

Effectively communicating changes and updates is crucial to maintaining a successful product roadmap. All stakeholders should be aware of the changes made to it, understand the reasoning behind them, and be aligned with the strategic direction. Regular updates and clear communication are essential to ensure that everyone involved is on the same page.

Overall, roadmapping and maintaining a product roadmap requires constant vigilance, adaptability, and effective communication to overcome the challenges of keeping it up-to-date, balancing priorities, managing stakeholder expectations, accommodating changing requirements, and effectively communicating changes and updates.

Free Product Roadmap Course