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Product management guide

The Ultimate Guide to Product Roadmaps

Everything you need to know to build and manage a great roadmap to guide your product to success 🙌

a now next later product roadmap from ProdPad product management software
Ultimate Guides / The Ultimate Guide to Product Roadmaps

Welcome to our Ultimate Guide to Product Roadmaps. In this guide we break down what a roadmap is, why it’s so significant, the various formats it can take, its key components, who is responsible for it, how to create and prioritize it, and much more.

Any product manager will happily tell you product management is a multifaceted beast that requires a keen understanding of several different key principles and tools. Possibly the most integral tool of them all is the product roadmap. If done right, it can make the difference between product success and failure.

At its heart, product management is about strategy and organization, and the product roadmap helps deliver on both of these things. Knowing your way around a product roadmap is vital for anyone looking to build successful products. Luckily for you, you’ve come to the right place!

What is a product roadmap?

A product roadmap is a strategic planning tool used to outline the vision for a product and the direction in which it will develop. It is a visualization of the overall product strategy, and the ways in which that will be realized. A product roadmap communicates the “what”, “why”, and “when” of the work your product team is focused on.

You would typically have one roadmap per product, potentially with a portfolio roadmap sitting above the individual product roadmaps in a multi-product organization. Each product roadmap is usually owned and managed by the product manager responsible for that product. 

A product manager uses a roadmap to plan out what the team will work on and, therefore, how the product will develop and evolve. A good product roadmap should work as both a top-level picture of the product strategy and execution plan, as well as being a day-to-day tool upon which all the planning detail is based.

Your product roadmap isn’t just a planning tool, it’s great for communication too — it works pretty hard! It communicates the overall strategy, alongside some of the detail on how that will be answered and broken down in the execution. 

You can use it to bring clarity, foster alignment, and secure buy-in across the Product and Development teams, as well as with internal stakeholders such as Leadership, Sales teams, and Product Marketing teams. Your product roadmap should also provide external stakeholders, and ideally customers, with an easily understood view of what is happening with the product and why. 

Product roadmaps are no longer the only type of roadmap you might come across. Yes, roadmapping was born out of product management, but, their usefulness has extended beyond that initial product purpose, and they have been adopted by various business functions. Nowadays, you can encounter business roadmaps, strategic roadmaps, marketing roadmaps, IT roadmaps, technology roadmaps, innovation roadmaps, and more.

But, despite that broadened application, our focus here is the original roadmap – the product roadmap – a powerful tool for aligning product development goals, tracking progress, and communicating plans effectively.

Why is a product roadmap important?

It aligns everyone around the strategy

A product roadmap is critical in many ways. First, it helps align all internal and external teams and stakeholders — such as the Development team, Product Marketing, and even customers — on the product vision and strategic direction. The product roadmap can help solidify a shared understanding of the overall priorities and ambitions and guides the Product team toward achieving the important objectives and business goals.

Since your product roadmap acts as both a strategic overview and a planning tool, it allows you to put the vision and strategy right next to the day-to-day execution plan as a constant reminder — so the team never loses sight of the ‘why’.

It shows everyone’s contribution and motivates the team

If done right, your product roadmap will keep the team motivated and on track, providing a sense of clarity and purpose. It helps team members see the big picture and exactly how they’re contributing, which can boost engagement and help people feel invested and involved.

Your product roadmap shows the link between the actual work that teams like the Development team are working on, with the higher-level strategic objectives that their work is trying to impact.

It encourages collaboration and feedback

By building and communicating a product roadmap, you are also creating a vehicle for comment and contribution from stakeholders both in and outside the Product team. 

A product roadmap seeks to take a step back from the granular detail of the product development and map out a clear and uncomplicated view of the product strategy and priorities. By doing so, it gives stakeholders — and potentially customers —  the ability to provide feedback from an informed position. 

Your product roadmap is, therefore, a great way to ensure everyone’s needs and perspectives are taken into account. If you nail your roadmap, you stand the best chance of building a product that delivers value and is loved by all. High fives all round! 

It boosts customer satisfaction

A product roadmap that is communicated well to customers can go a long way towards fostering loyalty and trust. By giving your customers an easy-to-understand view of how and why the product will develop over time, you can reassure them about their investment in your offering. 

It improves customer communication

Your product roadmap is also a powerful tool for customer satisfaction when placed in the hands of your customer-facing teams. 

A Customer team equipped with knowledge of the product roadmap will be able to respond to customer requests or suggestions in a way that helps support the roadmap and not derail it. When a Customer team member understands the product strategy, priorities and what is being worked on and why, they can steer their customers away from specific feature or functionality requests, towards an idea already on the roadmap that solves that same problem. 

In this way, a well-communicated and easy-to-understand product roadmap can be a great defense against customer requests that risk hijacking and derailing the strategy. 

It becomes the ultimate prioritization tool for smart decision-making

When you marry your product roadmap up with your product objectives and goals (or OKRs), connecting your roadmap initiatives with the objectives they hope to impact, then your product roadmap becomes the guiding light in decision-making. 

A product roadmap grounded in strategic objectives will help you keep the projects, product features, or ideas without strategic alignment from being prioritized. Your roadmap should communicate a crystal clear strategic vision and plan, so people understand what is important and what is not.

Your roadmap gives you the perfect reason to say no to pet projects from vocal, but uninformed, stakeholders. 

It helps free up your time to do what matters most 

If you have a clear and well-understood product roadmap you, as a product manager, will spend less time explaining and presenting and more time doing important things like discovery and measurement.

And, if you build your roadmap in a dynamic place like ProdPad, it will be your single source of truth that people can refer to whenever they need to — freeing you up from constant updates and presentations to do more important work.

Start a free trial and see how easy it is to create and share a dynamic roadmap

What different roadmap formats are there?

Now you know, broadly, what a roadmap is and why you need one, is it time to jump right in and make one? 

Hang on, not so fast… first you need to pick the format that’s right for you and your team. There are a lot to choose from, but this guide is here to help you make the right choice. 

The format options largely fall into two broad categories — agile roadmaps and timeline roadmaps. 

Agile roadmaps tend to be more flexible, outcome and goal-oriented, and use broad time horizons.

Timeline roadmaps, on the other hand, are structured around fixed dates and deadlines (usually represented as a Gantt chart) and tend to be focused on outputs and delivering a list of specific features.

The differences between agile product roadmaps and timeline product roadmaps

Agile product roadmaps

In an era of fast-paced technological change, the Agile methodology has emerged as a favored approach in product development. Agile allows for flexibility, continuous improvement, and rapid response to change. Therefore, creating a product roadmap in an agile environment requires a unique approach that aligns with these principles.

Agile product roadmaps must be flexible, iterative, and focused on customer value. Unlike the more traditional timeline roadmaps that might focus on specific features, agile roadmaps are often organized around themes or customer experiences. This allows for flexibility in deciding which specific features or tasks will best achieve the goals as you learn more from each sprint.

Agile roadmaps typically use broad timeframes rather than specific dates — Now-Next-Later being the best example. This embraces the change inherent in the agile approach, where learning from each iteration can adjust priorities and timelines.

Agile roadmaps are outcome-focused and not output focused. They are organized around problems to solve and customer needs and not specific features and exact deadlines. 

This allows you the flexibility to iterate and learn, adapt to customer feedback, and possibly change the exact output that will deliver the particular outcome you’ve prioritized on the roadmap. Agile product roadmaps are a dynamic, responsive approach to product planning. 

We would argue that agile roadmaps are the more efficient approach, resulting in faster delivery and higher quality outputs. Using an agile roadmap over a timeline roadmap reduces the tendency for teams to inflate time estimates, baking in buffer time to help elevate deadline pressure. 

Agile roadmaps are:

  • Outcome not output focused
  • Customer-centric and organized around the problems to solve 
  • Structured with broad time horizons rather than rigid deadlines 
  • Flexible, allowing for change based on learning

Timeline roadmaps

We want this Ultimate Guide to Product Roadmaps to be as informative and definitive as possible, giving you all the facts so you can be the most well-informed product manager around. 

But, despite that, we can’t hide our distaste for a timeline roadmap. We just can’t. Hear us out, though, because we do have some good reasons!

A timeline product roadmap, as the name suggests, is a roadmap that lays out the product’s plan on a timeline. It visualizes the planned evolution of the product, displaying what features or tasks are planned and when they are expected to be completed. 

A timeline roadmap often resembles a Gantt chart, giving a linear view of the product’s journey from its current state to its future state, with each stage of development mapped out chronologically.

A timeline product roadmap

Timeline roadmaps were born out of release planning and project management. Both of those disciplines take known tasks and confirmed work with defined scope and plan out the execution. In those cases, timelines help to organize short-term work and figure out how to reach completion with the resources available to an acceptable level of quality, cost, and time. 

However, product management is a very different discipline. It’s about vision and strategic direction, customer-centric objectives, and discovery.

Where project management takes known work and plans the execution, product management is about setting strategic objectives, understanding problems to be solved, exploring possible solutions, measuring, and learning. The former is focused on how to deliver set tasks, and the latter is focused on what should be worked on to solve the  right problems and bring the most value. 

Timeline roadmaps are:

  • Linear, showing a product’s development chronologically
  • Structured around concrete deadlines and precise launch dates
  • Focused on exact, often granular features, rather than the broader customer problems to be solved 

Disadvantages of a timeline product roadmap

  • Inflexibility: Timeline roadmaps are rigid. If unforeseen changes or delays occur, or new discoveries are made, the entire roadmap will need to be revised, causing confusion or dissatisfaction among stakeholders. This can also lead to missed market opportunities or a failure to pivot should major political, economic, social or technological shifts impact the business (not that there’s been much of that the last few years…). 
  • Mismanaged expectations: When you commit to specific features and delivery dates, there’s a risk of over-promising and under-delivering, which can harm stakeholder trust and stress out your team.
  • Slower delivery: We know this one sounds odd, but hear us out. When teams are asked to commit to a deadline, they will inevitably extend their estimates to bake in some buffer time. Think Scotty padding his estimates to Captain Kirk. Unlike Scotty though, more often than not the work then expands to fill that time, and what was once a cautious estimate becomes the actual time taken. 
  • Creates technical debt: Deadline pressures and the threat of missed weekends can lead to a degree of corner-cutting from developers, which can gradually stack up to create tech debt. Symptoms include: skipped documentation, untidy code, and no time to go back and fix it as the next deadline looms.
  • Lack of customer focus: Timeline roadmaps often concentrate on features and release dates, without an emphasis on customer value. This can lead you to blindly build what’s on the roadmap and to fail to question, experiment and learn. The risk of building the wrong thing and stunting growth is high. 

Timeline roadmaps can create a vicious cycle where deadline pressures cause teams to add buffer time to their estimates, extending timelines and making execs feel nervous and lose confidence. Autonomy and trust suffer as a result, with tighter controls from leadership.

That lack of trust impacts team motivation, which chips away at their dedication and therefore the quality of their work. That then feeds back into a lack of confidence from the leadership team which can lead to a blame culture emerging.

Now you have the ever-present threat of being blamed for a missed deadline… and — you guessed it — the buffer time gets longer to reduce this risk. The longer timelines don’t go down well with leadership, and the cycle continues. 

Not fun right? Told you we had our reasons. Don’t worry, though. There’s a better way…

The Now-Next-Later roadmap

an illustration of the now next later product roadmap from ProdPad roadmapping software

One of the most effective and dynamic agile roadmap formats is the Now-Next-Later (NNL) product roadmap. 

Often referred to as a lean roadmap or time horizon roadmap,  Now-Next-Later, as the name suggests, is structured around broad time horizons. It shows what the product team are working on currently, in the near term, and the future. A Now-Next-Later roadmap is outcome-focused and organized by the problem to be solved and the business objective it relates to.

The Now-Next-Later roadmap format was conceived as a direct solution to the problems caused by timeline roadmaps. It was invented by our very own co-founder and CEO Janna Bastow to end the focus on features and deadlines, in favor of a greater emphasis on discovery. 

Instead of populating a roadmap with features to be built, a Now-Next-Later roadmap contains initiatives that are focused on problems to solve. Within those initiatives are then a series of different ideas which could be worked on to try and solve that problem. The product team then have the flexibility to undertake proper discovery, experiment and learn, to find the best way to solve the problem. 

Having roadmap items as problems to solve rather than features and specific functionality empowers product teams to work in a lean way and to iterate as they learn. What is declared on the roadmap is the problem to solve and the objective to answer, not a prescriptive and exact feature.

This creates space to explore different ways of solving the problem, without the need to waste hours rejigging the roadmap, re-communicating plans, and disappointing stakeholders. 

This all leads to faster delivery and greater efficiency, all without stressing over set deadlines. 

Advantages of the Now-Next-Later product roadmap

  • Simple to understand: A Now-Next-Later roadmap is easy to understand, reducing the potential for confusion or misinterpretation. This makes it a great way to communicate your product strategy and direction, especially with stakeholders or team members who may not be involved in the day-to-day product management process.
  • Customer-focused: The emphasis on ‘problems to solve’ ensures your product delivers maximum value for your customers, making it a more successful product.
  • Happy, empowered teams: By allowing scope for discovery and experimentation within each roadmap item, the team has more autonomy to find the best solutions, making their day jobs more interesting! This, along with less deadline pressure, makes for a happy, productive team. 
  • Efficient and time-saving: The Now-Next-Later time horizons help product teams avoid wasting time planning out detailed schedules that are too far in the future to be accurate, only to have to rework them when deadlines aren’t met or priorities change.  
  • Strategically aligned: Everything on a Now-Next-Later is linked to a strategic objective, ensuring you are prioritizing based on what will create the most business value. It’s an easy way to align a product roadmap with what is most important to the organization. 
  • Faster delivery: Because Now-Next-Later does not rely on exact deadlines for its structure, teams aren’t asked to plan schedules ahead of time and commit to exact dates. This means no one is baking in buffer time and things get delivered faster.  

ProdPad is the home of Now-Next-Later. It’s where your roadmap belongs.

Outcome-based roadmap

Essentially, a roadmap is considered outcome-based when it is organized by desired results rather than specific features.

The Now-Next-Later roadmap is an example of an outcome-based roadmap using a specific approach to timescales, namely the Now, Next and Later time horizons. However, there are different approaches to roadmaps that don’t necessarily use NNL but are still outcome based in a similar way. 

Traditionally, product roadmaps were feature-based, outlining a list of features to be developed over time. However, an outcome-based product roadmap takes a different approach. Instead of focusing on specific features or tasks, it focuses on the outcomes or results that the product team aims to achieve.

In this type of roadmap, each item represents a goal or desired outcome, such as increasing user engagement, reducing churn, or improving user satisfaction. Often these outcomes are quantitative in nature and clearly measurable.

The team then has the flexibility to determine the best way to achieve these outcomes, which might involve developing new features, improving existing ones, or taking other actions.

Outcome-based roadmaps promote flexibility and value-driven decision-making, making them an excellent choice for teams seeking to optimize their impact on user and business value. By focusing on outcomes, product teams can ensure they’re always working on what matters most, not simply building features from last year’s to-do list.

The Now-Next-Later, and other variations of outcome-based roadmaps, work particularly well when used in conjunction with the OKR framework or other objectives and goal frameworks. Here, each roadmap item or initiative is linked to the product or business Objectives and Key Results it hopes to impact.

Theme-based roadmap

A theme-based roadmap is similar to an outcome-based roadmap, but whereas an outcome-based roadmap is focused on specific valuable results to the business and customer which are often aligned to goals and metrics, a theme-based roadmap would use broader themes or areas of focus. 

Theme-based roadmaps are typically used in an agile way, allowing for flexibility in deciding which specific features or tasks will best fulfill the theme, based on ongoing learning. However, being theme-based doesn’t automatically mean your roadmap is an agile roadmap. 

It is possible to have a timeline roadmap that is theme-based, which can be achieved with swimlanes. With a theme-based timeline roadmap you are still mapping specific features and tasks across a chronological roadmap but you are segmenting those features out into different swimlanes based on a theme. You’re still working with rigid deadlines and specific features, but are grouping the bars on your Gantt chart together by whatever broad themes link them. 

You could also introduce themes to a timeline roadmap by simply color-coding the bars on the timeline. However, at this point, the extent to which you could claim the roadmap is BASED on themes is tenuous. It’s merely hinting at themes across all the different feature-based items on the roadmap, rather than the theme being the factor that determines the item’s place and priority on the roadmap.

Feature-based roadmap

A feature-based product roadmap focuses on detailing specific features that the product team plans to develop and launch. It outlines what features will be developed and often indicates a rough timeline for these features. However, the main emphasis in a feature-based roadmap is the features themselves, rather than the specific timeline of their release.

A timeline roadmap, on the other hand, while nearly always detailing specific features, is focused primarily on a chronological view of when work will be carried out. The key element of this type of roadmap is the visualization of a time-based sequence of events. 

The items you’ll find on both a feature-based roadmap and a timeline roadmap will be specific features, but a feature-based roadmap won’t necessarily give a detailed timeline view of when those features will be delivered. 

So, technically, you could have a feature-based roadmap that used the Now-Next-Later format, showing which features are being worked on within the broad time horizons of Now, Next, and Later. But, we must stress (and we would know, since our very own Janna Bastow invented the Now-Next-Later roadmap) that is not the intended, agile-friendly intention of the framework.

The items on a Now-Next-Later roadmap should be goal-oriented, customer-focused problems to solve, rather than inward-looking features. Each ‘problem to solve’ item on an NNL roadmap would then include a collection of potential feature ‘ideas’ for how that problem could be solved, to be investigated and explored further during discovery.

Release roadmap

A release roadmap is a timeline-based product roadmap that highlights the chronological sequence of planned product releases. It details what features, updates, or improvements are expected to be released and when.

At its core, a release roadmap serves as a document that coordinates all teams — from product, engineering, and marketing to sales and customer success — around the launch plan.

As a tool for a product manager to articulate, communicate and manage a product strategy, it has the same pitfalls as a more general timeline roadmap. A release roadmap lists exact features with defined scope, making clear and concrete commitments to delivering specific things at set times. It allows no flexibility to explore and test different ways to solve the same problem. 

A release roadmap is designed to communicate the timing of what’s being shipped in the shorter term, and not the longer-term strategy that underpins decision-making. A product manager and team that relies on a release roadmap to map their strategy and organize their work will find themselves caught up in a stressful scramble to hit deadlines. They’ll end up being judged on output and not outcomes. 

A release roadmap is a project management tool to be used at the point of release planning, not during the product strategizing phase. It is not, in fact, a roadmap at all: it’s a release planning timeline. A timeline of deliveries. Release planning and product management are different disciplines, often conducted by different people and product roadmaps should not be confused with release plans

What are the key components of a product roadmap?

Whatever format you end up choosing for your product roadmap, there are a number of core components that you need to include if your roadmap is going to effectively communicate your product strategy, show how your product will evolve over time, and align your team and stakeholders around what you’re all doing and why. 

So, if you’re asking yourself ”What should a product roadmap include?”, here is what you need to know. 

The 5 key components of a product roadmap

If you boil a product roadmap down to its most important elements, there are five key aspects that should be included. They are:

  1. Product vision & strategy
  2. Objectives & goals 
  3. Time horizons
  4. Initiatives  
  5. Ideas

The relationship between these components looks a little something like this:

the components of a product roadmap from ProdPad product management software

1. Product vision & strategy

Although not necessarily ON your product roadmap, your product vision and strategy should be sitting very closely nearby. This is because it is key to achieving alignment across your teams and stakeholders.

Your product roadmap will fail to live up to its ultimate purpose of communicating your product vision and strategy if it does not come accompanied by both a well-written, motivating vision statement, and an easily understood summary of your strategy to realize that vision. 

So, a good product roadmap should link to a clear vision statement — the overarching aspiration for what your product will achieve — and a description of your strategy — the high-level plan of how you’re going to make that happen. 

Together these elements will set the direction and provide the “why” behind your product decisions. It serves as a compass, guiding your team and stakeholders and keeping everyone aligned on the broader journey ahead. 

Find out exactly how to craft the perfect product vision statement with our interactive template. 

2. Objectives & goals

These are the specific, measurable outcomes you aim to achieve that align with your product vision and strategy. Objectives and goals make your roadmap actionable by defining what success looks like.

Objectives and product goals are the next step down from your vision and strategy. Here you are setting tangible objectives and measurable goals that need to be met if your vision is to become a reality. 

Your product objectives are typically broader and, if you do it well, they’re motivating ambitions expressed as a statement. An example of a product objective might be ‘delight our customers every time they use our product’. Your goals, or key results (if you use the OKR framework), are then the measurable targets you set which will mean the objective has been met. So, a key result for the objective of delighting customers could be ‘increase customer satisfaction score to 90% by end of Q3’. For more examples of product OKRs download our complete collection to kick-start your goal setting.

These product objectives and goals should be clearly linked from your roadmap so anyone viewing your roadmap can easily access all your objectives and goals to see what you’re looking to achieve. But they should also be quickly understood without navigating away from the roadmap itself. 

The best product roadmaps are those that clearly indicate what roadmap items are attempting to answer what objectives and goals. By tagging each item on your roadmap with the relevant objective, you will be demonstrating your strategy and communicating how you plan to realize your ambitions and meet your targets. 

In ProdPad you can even group your entire roadmap by objectives with one click, enabling you to focus on specific objectives and easily drill down into what is happening to meet that objective. 

3. Time horizons

A product roadmap is inherently time-bound. Whether it’s agile-friendly, flexible, and high-level time horizons like Now-Next-Later or a more granular Gantt style timeline with specific dates, time is what gives structure to your roadmap. 

So, you will need a time-focused structure to your roadmap in line with your chosen roadmap format. For timeline roadmaps, that will be an x-axis following a linear and granular time sequence. For an agile Now-Next-Later roadmap, that will be three columns representing each time horizon. 

Using broader time horizons over detailed timelines will allow for flexibility, and ensures you’re able to easily adjust and iterate as you learn and take on feedback.  But make sure you include a clear description of what you mean by your horizons, so everyone is on the same page and there’s no confusion. 

Whether that’s labeling your Now column with something like ‘well-understood problems with defined solutions and committed development resource’ or something more timeframe focused like  ‘this quarter’, make sure everyone is clear on what the horizons refer to so expectations are aligned.

Be sure to also include an area of your roadmap for roadmap candidates. Here you can place potential initiatives that may warrant a place on the roadmap proper after more investigation or when the time is right. Roadmap candidates allow you to capture and show the future beyond even what’s in your Later column.  

4. Initiatives

The next component of your roadmap is the individual initiatives you put on it.  This is where you move from overall, broad strategy to particular efforts or projects you will explore and work on to meet your product objectives.

The best way to express your roadmap initiatives is as problems to solve, rather than specific features. This is fundamental if you’re working in an agile way and committed to flexibility and pace – if, in other words, your focus is on building, measuring, and learning.

If the initiatives on your product roadmap are focused on the problems you want to solve for your customers or your business, then you have the flexibility within each initiative to explore different solutions and adapt your plans as you learn through discovery and experimentation. And that’s not the only benefit of focusing on problems to solve at the initiative level.

The benefits of framing your roadmap initiatives around problems to solve:

  1. Encourages innovation: By focusing on problems, you open up the field for creativity and innovation. Your team can brainstorm different possible solutions, rather than being locked into a specific feature. This can result in more diverse and potentially more effective solutions.
  2. Increases flexibility: Product development is often unpredictable, with delays, roadblocks, and changing market or user needs. Defining initiatives as problems to solve rather than as set features allows for greater adaptability. If circumstances change, you can pivot to a different solution that addresses the same problem.
  3. Aligns with customer needs: Problems to solve are typically grounded in user needs and pain points, so this approach helps ensure that your roadmap stays customer-focused. This is key to creating a product that your users will value and adopt.
  4. Facilitates better communication: Expressing initiatives as problems can lead to better understanding among stakeholders, especially non-technical ones. It’s easier for people to relate to a problem to solve (like “Users need an easier way to export their data”) than to a specific, potentially complex feature.
  5. Promotes outcome thinking: Focusing on the problem encourages teams to think about the desired outcome (the problem solved) rather than outputs (the features built). This aligns with modern agile and lean product development philosophies, which emphasize delivering value (outcomes) over just producing work (outputs).
  6. Better alignment to the strategy: There’s an easier correlation between problems to solve and product or company objectives. A roadmap populated with problems to solve therefore keeps you aligned with overall goals and ambitions. It’s the best way to ensure you’re progressing your strategy and realizing your vision.

In essence, presenting initiatives as problems to solve promotes a more flexible, innovative, and user-focused approach to product management, aligning with the ultimate goal of creating a product that your customers will love. 

Here at ProdPad we always suggest you initially express your problems to solve as a hypothesis or opportunity – ‘How can we do this, in order to achieve x…’ So, if you had a product objective to ‘make our customers happy every time they use our product’, then one of your roadmap initiatives might be titled ‘how can we improve our feedback facility, so our customers feel listened to and valued?’

As your ideas move from one time horizon to the next, you might find it helpful to update their names to reflect what you’ve learned and how you’ve refined your approach. Once you have an actionable plan to solve the problem your idea has raised, you can rename the idea accordingly. So the initiative above could end up being called something like ‘Integrate third-party feedback portal’.

What else should you include in a roadmap initiative?

Once you’ve given your initiative a problem-to-solve title, you should consider including the following details for each roadmap initiative:

  • A description which includes an outline of the problem to be solved and the value it would bring if solved.
  • A list of the target outcomes you want to achieve.
  • The product objective(s) the initiative relates to.
  • An owner for the initiative (which will help you drive accountability).
  • A prioritization score to help you easily compare this initiative to others. Here at ProdPad we use the impact versus effort framework and assign a score for both criteria.
  • Any dependencies that need to be considered (whether mandatory or discretionary, time-sensitive or logical).
  • A list of the specific ideas you’re exploring, defining, or building to help you solve this problem.

Here’s what an Initiative includes in ProdPad:

A product roadmap initiative card in ProdPad roadmapping software

Which brings us to the final component of a product roadmap…

5. Ideas

Within each initiative on your product roadmap, you should have a collection of ‘Ideas’. These are potential features, enhancements, or actions that could be implemented to solve the problem outlined in your initiative and deliver value. In the Agile world, this Idea level can be referred to as Epics.

Here at ProdPad, we consider ideas to be central to the process, which is why we’ve given them a capital letter. In ProdPad, you can add Ideas to each Initiative on your roadmap and click directly from a roadmap card into each Ideas you plan to explore in order to solve the problem outlined with that Initiative.

These Ideas (or epics) will typically come from a couple of sources. They can be born out of brainstorming around the initiative and its problem to solve, or generated by internal team members based on customer feedback, market research, or problems discovered. The product manager will dig into the backlog and find the ideas that are worth pursuing and associate them with the roadmap initiative they support. Of course, not all Ideas will make it onto the roadmap.

The maturity of each Idea will vary depending on the stage it’s at and its location on your roadmap. An Idea linked to an Initiative in the Later column could be just a very rough Idea that’s yet to go through the discovery process, whereas an Idea in the Now column might be fleshed out to a far greater extent with detailed user stories, functional specifications and designs.

It is at the Idea level that you start to think about specific features, functionality, or improvements to the product that may offer a solution to the problem you’ve identified as a priority on your roadmap.

An Idea linked to your roadmap initiatives should, ideally, include the following detail as it progresses through your product management process:

  • Description including the problem to be solved and the value this solution would bring
  • Target outcomes
  • Actual outcomes (to be completed during the measurement phase when the solution is live and in use)
  • The roadmap initiative it relates to
  • The persona it will benefit
  • The idea proposer
  • The idea owner
  • The stage in your workflow (be it ‘in discovery’, or ‘in design’, or ‘being tested’)
  • A prioritization score. (Here at ProdPad we use the Impact versus Effort framework, giving each idea a score which then automatically maps all the ideas in your backlog across a priority chart for easy comparison.)
  • Related customer feedback
  • User stories
  • Functional specifications and requirements
  • Designs
  • Dependencies  – find out more about how to manage dependencies on your roadmap

Who is responsible for the product roadmap?

A product roadmap is the bedrock for any product team — the strategic blueprint that guides the team’s efforts and gets everyone on board. But who holds the reins when it comes to creating and maintaining this crucial strategic document?

Ultimate responsibility: The product manager

Typically, the product manager holds the ultimate responsibility for the product roadmap. The PM owns the product vision and strategy, which underpin the roadmap. They are responsible for its creation, maintenance, and communicating it to various stakeholders. It is also the product manager who prioritizes the initiatives on the roadmap, taking into account the needs of customers, the market, and the business.

But the product manager does not work alone. There are a number of other key players who contribute to the management of the product roadmap.

The key collaborators

The product owner

Often working closely with the product manager, the product owner plays a significant role, particularly in agile environments. They offer detailed insight into the product backlog, helping to shape the roadmap based on the development team’s capacity and the tactical requirements of the product. 

They are the go-between for the product manager and the product development team – translating the strategy for the latter and bringing back the development resource considerations to the former.

Product designers

The designers and UX experts on the team provide essential insights into user needs, usability, and design considerations. Their expertise is critical in ensuring that the roadmap’s initiatives align with creating an optimal user experience.

Developers

The development team’s input on technical feasibility, effort, and potential roadblocks is invaluable when shaping the roadmap – particularly as you move into the more detailed stages, and your initiatives progress closer to the current priorities (the Now column). They ensure the planned initiatives are realistic from a technical perspective.

Other stakeholders

This group, which can include executives, sales, marketing, customer support, and even customers themselves, provides important perspectives that can influence the roadmap. Their feedback helps ensure that the roadmap aligns with broader business goals, market realities, and customer needs.

How to create a product roadmap

Now you know the theory behind a product roadmap – what it is, why it’s important, and what should be included. But how do you actually go about creating your own product roadmap? 

It’s such an important tool, so we get that it can be a daunting task to create one from scratch. Luckily we can break it down for you into manageable steps that will take you from a broad vision to a well-communicated and detailed roadmap. 

The first thing to address is the direction of play when creating a product roadmap. Roadmaps should be fed from both the top and the bottom. What goes on your roadmap should be both influenced top-down (product vision > objectives > roadmap) and bottom-up (customer problems and feedback > ideas > roadmap). 

You can achieve this by ensuring everything on your roadmap answers both a customer problem and a business objective. And that is made easier when your vision and objectives are grounded in an understanding of your customer problems, and you have a drive to solve them in order to create value. But we’ll come back to prioritization later in this guide. 

Before we take you through the 8 steps to creating a product roadmap, we need to outline some prep work you’ll want to do before you start roadmapping. 

Step 0 – Understand your stakeholders

Take the time to identify who your important stakeholders are (both internal and external) and go speak to them. The leadership execs, the sales and marketing teams, your development team, and even your customers. 

Do your research and understand what is most important to them – both in terms of the actual product priorities and the level of detail and communication they want around the roadmap. Make sure you’re aware of their expectations, needs, and constraints. 

Once you have a roadmap draft ready, these will be the people you’ll want to come back to for feedback and input.

The 8 steps to creating a product roadmap

With your initial research done, you’re ready to dive into the 8 steps to creating your product roadmap:

1. Set your product vision and strategy

Begin by clearly defining your product’s long-term vision. What are the objectives of your product? What customer needs does it address? This vision will serve as a guiding light for your roadmap.

2. Define clear goals and objectives

The goals you set for your product should align with your product vision and overall business strategy. This is where product goals and OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) come in, helping you define measurable outcomes.

3. Choose your roadmap format

Have another read of the different roadmap format options above and choose the one that aligns most with your approach to product management and your stakeholder expectations. But remember, everything will be better if you use a lean roadmap format like the Now-Next-Later.

Make a start on your own Now-Next-Later roadmap, for free!

4. Create your initiatives

This is where you look both top-down and bottom-up. Start by brainstorming different ways to achieve your product vision and objectives. Think about the customer problems that, once solved, will enable you to hit your product goals. 

Next, analyze your customer feedback and look for trends and themes to help you understand the most common customer needs (you can use ProdPad’s Signals tool to do this analysis in a matter of moments). Then compare what you’ve learned from looking at customer feedback to your vision and objectives, and create initiatives where you have a match. 

Finally, examine your idea backlog and see what ideas you already have that could deliver value relevant to your customer needs and product objectives. Use those to fuel your thinking for possible initiatives.

5. Prioritize your initiatives

It’s important to prioritize at the initiative level first – and if your initiatives are based on problems to solve then you are prioritizing at the problem level in line with best practice.

If you start your prioritization top-down like this, you’ll ensure the problems you’re working on next are in line with the product strategy and objectives. Think about the value, feasibility, and urgency of each initiative to decide what is Now, Next, and Later. 

6. Add ideas to the initiatives

Now you have a roadmap populated with initiatives in priority order, next you need to flesh them out with possible ways to solve that problem and deliver on the particular product objective. 

Here you can mine your idea backlog and find the existing ideas that relate to this problem (in ProdPad you have the benefit of our AI mining the backlog for you and surfacing the ideas that relate to each initiative). You can also look again at your customer feedback to help spark new ideas, as well as brainstorming with the team. 

You can surface the most valuable ideas through the use of a prioritization framework.If you’re using ProdPad, you will automatically see your entire backlog mapped on a priority chart based on impact and effort scores. 

There should be more ideas attached to the initiatives as they move from right to left across your roadmap. The ideas themselves should get more detailed and granular as things move closer to the current priorities. 

7. Review and adjust

Share the draft with your stakeholders, gather their feedback, and adjust the roadmap as necessary. Remember that the product roadmap is a dynamic document that should be reviewed and updated regularly.

8. Publish and communicate

Once you’re happy with your product roadmap, you should consider who needs to see it regularly and exactly what level of detail they need. Then create tailored versions for each stakeholder group.

This is more easily achieved if you’re using a roadmap tool like ProdPad where you can quickly set up tailored views with flexible filters and publish them with the click of a button. 

Don’t forget your customers! Make sure you’ve created a version of your roadmap to communicate your product strategy and plans to your users. That’s why in ProdPad we’ve made it easy to select which roadmap initiatives are for public view and which should be kept internally. 

Remember to stay flexible. A product roadmap should never be set in stone. As you experiment and learn you need to be ready to adjust your priorities and evolve your thinking.

Where does a roadmap fit into the product management process?

The product roadmap is a key tool in the product management process. It serves as a bridge between the strategic planning phase, where the product vision and goals are defined, and the execution phase, where these plans are put into action.

As such, the product roadmap sits bang in the middle of everything – the center of the product universe.

Broadly speaking, there are 9 core stages of the product management process. These are:

  1. Product vision & strategy
  2. Product objectives & goals
  3. Roadmapping
  4. Idea management
  5. Prioritization
  6. Requirements & specifications
  7. Development & delivery
  8. Analytics & measurement
  9. Feedback management 

However, these are not linear stages that follow a nice tidy cycle. In reality, the process looks something like this:

The product management process as described by ProdPad product management software

For example, feedback management intersects with and influences a number of different stages in the process. The insight you glean from customer feedback will influence your ideation, inform your roadmap priorities and feed into your analytics and measurement, as well as helping to shape your overall strategy.

But one thing is certain: the product roadmap sits at the center of the process as the tool that turns your strategy into action, and communicates to everyone involved what is happening and why.

How to communicate a product roadmap

Our top tip is to put it somewhere dynamic like ProdPad, so you don’t waste time creating or updating endless documents and presentations every time someone wants an update. Give them access to an always up-to-date view of the roadmap so they can self-serve and you spend less time explaining. 

Tailor the message

But, make sure you’re directing people to a relevant, dynamic view. Think about who needs to see the roadmap and consider the appropriate details and level of detail they will need. It is worth spending the time to create a view of the roadmap for each group of collaborators and stakeholders.

Whoever you’re communicating with, there are some general best practice guidelines that are worth following:

  1. Keep it simple: Avoid overwhelming everyone with too much detail. Keep in mind how much busy people are realistically going to read. Don’t overload your roadmap – you’ll obscure the message. And use human language, avoid getting too technical or using jargon your stakeholders won’t understand.
  2. Make it visual: Make it easily digestible and simple to understand with visuals. Color code your initiatives based on your objectives or themes, use emojis – do something to add some visual interest. 

Communicating your product roadmap internally

When you’re creating a view for the different groups of internal stakeholders, it’s important to have an idea of what they care about so you know what to include and what to leave out.

To the Development team

These lovely lot are the people that are going to bring it all to life, so it’s worth making sure you’ve thought about how best to win their hearts and minds through the medium of the roadmap. Make sure your roadmap view for the dev team shows:

  • Their contribution – show how what they’re building contributes to the overall strategy with a clear path from the particular idea or feature to the roadmap initiative it’s part of, the related product objective, and the target outcomes.
  • The detail – make sure there’s easy access from each roadmap item to the requirements, specs, designs, and user stories, so everything they need is within easy reach.
  • The discussions – include the conversations and messages around each roadmap item so they have the full context and can understand why decisions were made.

To the Sales team

Without this bunch, your wonderful product will stay on the shelf! So, help this team see what they need to see and know what they need to know and you’ll be on the way to success. Remember, this gang does not need the deep, technical detail. Make sure your roadmap view for the Sales team shows:

  • The ‘so what?’ – ensure each roadmap item includes a clear benefit statement and full explanation of the problem being solved, so the sales team understands why a prospect should care about this.
  • What is coming up –  make your time horizons and priorities crystal clear so they have a broad sense of what new stuff is coming with an idea of when (but be wary of giving anyone in Sales specific dates. They’ll happily use that to close a deal and you risk disappointing a new customer – another reason why timeline roadmaps are a bad idea).
  • Their feedback – make it easy for them to quickly find where their feedback is linked to something on the roadmap.
  • A general impression of progress and innovation  – step back from your roadmap and check it paints a compelling picture of progression that your sales team can show off to their prospects.
  • Workflow progress – if the Sales team is waiting for particular functionality that they believe will unlock a sales opportunity, allow them to follow those roadmap items to stay up to date with progress (and stop them constantly asking you!).

To Customer teams

When it comes to your actual users, these peeps are the mouthpiece for your product and organization. You want this lot to know what they’re talking about so there’s harmony between your customers and your product and everyone stays happy.  Make sure your roadmap view for the Customer Support or Success teams shows:

  • The problems that are being solved with each roadmap item – so they can answer any customer questions or problems from an informed position. Make it easy for them to find the solutions that are being worked on so they can quickly appease customer requests by highlighting what’s already on the roadmap. 
  • The completed initiatives – so they can keep their customers informed about what’s new. 
  • Their customers’ feedback – ensure they can easily find roadmap items relating to a particular customer’s feedback, so they can give updates.
  • Workflow progress – make it clear what stage each item is at so your customer teams can manage customer expectations.

To Marketing

This is the team that will be making all the loud noises about your product, so it’s crucial they know the what and the why. If your roadmap is Marketing team-friendly then you can be confident you’ll get the fanfare the product deserves. Make sure your roadmap view for the Marketing team shows:

  • The completed initiatives – so they know what needs to go-to-market and be promoted. 
  • The value proposition – ensure each roadmap item includes a clear value statement explaining, in non-technical language, the benefit this brings and the problem it solves. 
  • The overall vision and strategic priorities – so Product and Marketing stay on the same page and the outward messaging aligns to the product experience. 
  • The intended user personas – help Marketing understand who would benefit from the roadmap initiatives, and therefore who to target when promoting the resulting feature or improvement.

To your boss

This one is a biggie. Nailing the roadmap view for your boss will help you keep your job and create the confidence you need them to have to win that all-important trust and autonomy. Make sure your roadmap view for your boss shows:

  • Completed initiatives  – let them see what’s been shipped and the actual outcomes that were driven. This will help build trust in the process and your ability to solve problems, so you can gain more autonomy going forward.
  • Initiatives by objective – make it easy to filter (or, even better, group) your roadmap by particular objectives so they can easily see how you’re planning to achieve core goals (pro tip: you can do that in ProdPad).
  • Prioritization scores – surface your prioritization assessment for each roadmap item (like an impact and effort score) so they can have confidence in your decisions.
  • Roadmap candidates – show off your forward-thinking and strategic mindset by demonstrating the types of problems you’ll be evaluating in the longer term.

To the Board

Gulp. This is a daunting one. But, actually, these folks probably need the least of any of the groups we covered so far. The nitty-gritty has no place here. Stay broad, stay strategic and you’ll be golden. Make sure your roadmap view for the Board shows:

  • Product vision, strategy, and objectives – give the Board fast access to the overall strategy and reassurance that it aligns with business objectives.
  • Initiatives by objective – give a clear view of your initiatives by objective to show the broad areas you’re working on to drive the product strategy forward. 
  • Actual outcomes – show how your completed roadmap initiatives have performed compared to their target outcomes.

Communicating your product roadmap externally

One of the big decisions to make when it comes to communicating your product roadmap externally, is whether or not you publish your roadmap publicly. There are a number of fairly significant advantages to doing this, but there are some downfalls if you don’t do it right.

You’ll need to think carefully about what you include in your public view, and what you keep for internal eyes only. Here at ProdPad, we’ve published our roadmap publicly since the very beginning – check it out!

To investors

Make sure your roadmap view for investors or potential investors shows:

  • Product vision, strategy, and objectives – present a clear overview of the overall strategy with a focus on the business value it will deliver. 
  • Key results and product goals – make sure each initiative on your roadmap has a measurable target to impact. This will support your emphasis on value.
  • The customer feedback that supports your decisions – demonstrate demand for what you’re building by showing the volume of related feedback.
  • Actual outcomes – show your completed initiatives and the outcomes they drove to demonstrate ROI and show the value. 

Find out more about presenting your roadmap to investors with our how-to guide.

To customers

Whether you’re publishing your roadmap on your website for all to see, or sending it to customers manually, you’ll need to think about what a customer-friendly view of your product roadmap should and should not include.

Make sure your roadmap view for customers shows:

  • The new problems you will solve – make sure any customer looking at your roadmap can see at a glance, what’s in it for them – which of their pain points will be relieved.
  • What’s getting better – it’s worth flagging what is an improvement to something existing so customers can look forward to those performance enhancements.
  • What’s just around the corner – make sure you’ve described the time horizons on your roadmap so customers can plan for what’s being worked on Now, without unrealistic expectations about when ‘Now’ is.
  • A picture of progress and innovation – show your customers a busy roadmap, with lots of good stuff. Just remember, not to over do it as you’ll overwhelm them and risk obscuring the message.

Remember, it’s equally as important to think carefully about what you do not include on a customer-facing roadmap. Here are some things to keep out of this public view:

  • Specific Ideas or features under your initiatives – if you go deeper than your themes and problem-focused initiatives and start showing the more granular things you are considering and exploring, you could fall into the trap of setting expectations that you then have to meet. In this scenario, you tend to only go build exactly that thing you wrote down on your roadmap, and nothing else. You get blinkers on.  Did you just build it because customers were now expecting it, or did research still support that it should be built that way?
  • Dates – we’ve talked a lot about the drawbacks of timeline roadmaps and the inefficiency of putting exact dates and deadlines on your roadmap. And this is never more true than when showing your roadmap to customers. Giving customers dates will either lead to disappointment or less successful outcomes.
  • Internal sounding initiatives – consider how certain initiatives would land with a customer reading them. For example, if one of your roadmap initiatives was focused on ‘how to increase customer lifetime value’ would you want your customers seeing that? Anything which is explicitly commercial and focused on a problem for the business is going to appeal less to a customer, so it’s worth just showing those roadmap initiatives that are about solving their problems, rather than growing your bottom line. 

Product roadmap tools

As we’ve said in the previous section, you’re best off putting your roadmap in a purpose-built software tool like Prodpad, so that it’s live, dynamic and easily accessible.

If you rely on spreadsheets and slide decks to house your roadmap you will find yourself forever updating and tweaking multiple documents in various places, getting into versioning nightmares, endlessly fielding questions and sending people files. 

Without a cloud-based roadmapping tool, you can’t be confident that everyone is looking at the most up-to-date version of your roadmap. That could put alignment at risk. 

Using a cloud-based roadmapping tool will also turn your roadmap from a static document to a collaborative space. Roadmap software like ProdPad will enable you to capture discussions against each roadmap initiative, every idea in your backlog, and even your customer feedback.

And, thanks to a host of integrations, those discussions can take place in Slack, in your CRM, your support system, or can even be sent in via email. So you can truly enjoy a single source of truth for all your product decisions. You’ll never lose sight of the context or decision-making process.  

A tool will also make visualization effortless. You won’t have to waste time thinking about how best to display your roadmap, or struggling away with slide graphics. By now you’re probably getting to grips with how central a product roadmap is to the product management process, and how using a complete product management software to manage your roadmap will ensure that centrality is easily maintained.

Using a product management platform for your roadmap, one that also facilitates your idea management and your feedback gathering and analysis, will help you streamline your workflow and increase your productivity.

Life is so much easier when you can simply highlight a line in some feedback to create a new Idea, or take advantage of similarity matching to suggest all the Ideas in your backlog that relate to the initiative you just added to your roadmap.

No time like the present! Check out ProdPad for free

How to prioritize a product roadmap

Prioritizing a product roadmap can be challenging, with many competing demands and limited resources. 

Remember, the key is to balance different perspectives and make data-driven decisions.

We highly recommend prioritizing at the problem level – that’s how you will stay outcome and not output focused. So, stay focused on what the most important problems are, not particular features.

The questions to ask when deciding what makes it onto the roadmap and what is Now, Next, and Later are:

  • What is the most pressing problem that needs to be solved for our customers?
  • Which product objectives are most important right now and which initiatives answer those? 
  • What will deliver the most business value in the shortest amount of time?
  • What is feasible with our available resources?

Then you can dive deeper and explore a whole bunch of prioritization frameworks such as the Kano Model, the MoSCoW method, RICE Scoring and Impact versus Effort. In fact, there are so many possible frameworks, each of which considers different factors, we compiled a whole book on them. It’s absolutely worth downloading The Product Manager’s Guide to Prioritization Frameworks, reading up on each, and seeing what different prioritization ideas they give you. 

Alongside the important questions above, these frameworks will introduce you to other factors that might also be relevant to your product, business, and customers. Those prioritization factors include:

  • Impact 
  • Value
  • Effort
  • Customer expectations
  • User journeys
  • Customer needs
  • Available resources
The definitive collection of prioritization frameworks

Dealing with loud stakeholders and noisy customers 

One common prioritization conundrum is how to balance customers’ demands and requests with your roadmap priorities. However, if you’re organizing your roadmap by problem to solve, you can often find a solution that’s already on your roadmap that answers that same customer need. 

Customers might request a specific functionality, but if you ask the right questions and find out what they think that feature will do for them, you can work back to the problem and then show them the different ways you’re planning to tackle that. Your Customer teams need to be trained on how to read the roadmap, interrogate their customer needs, and translate the existing roadmap to answer them. 

But customers aren’t the only group of stakeholders who need their requests managed carefully. If you’ve been a product manager for any length of time, you’ve likely come up against the prioritization nightmare that is HiPPO. That stands for ‘highest paid person’s opinion’. It’s another common prioritization challenge faced by PMs – the big exec who thinks their idea or request should get top billing, and throws their weight about to make that known. But fear not, we’ve got plenty of advice on how to manage your boss and stop your roadmap getting derailed.

Roadmap examples and templates

If you’ve reached this section of our Ultimate Guide to Product Roadmaps, then you’ve digested a lot of information. Well done you! But to bring everything you’ve read together and help solidify what you’ve learned, it’s a good idea to take a look at a roadmap or two out in the wild. Seeing all this theory in action is the best way to fully grasp the craft of roadmapping. 

With this very purpose in mind, we recently opened up our sandbox environment, giving you unlimited access, without time constraints, so you can explore a bunch of fully populated roadmap examples. 

So we really encourage you to access our sandbox and take a look at each different, fully populated roadmap. 

Access the Sandbox

What a product roadmap is not

What is the difference between a product roadmap and a project roadmap?

A product roadmap and a project roadmap, while similar in name, serve distinct purposes and are designed to communicate different types of information. 

A product roadmap is a strategic document that maps out the vision and direction of a product, both short and long-term. A project roadmap, on the other hand, isn’t communicating a strategy, but mapping out a tactical plan. A product roadmap is strategic and high-level, while a project roadmap is time-bound and detail-oriented. The former is focused on the why, and the latter is concerned with how and when.

A product roadmap and a project roadmap serve very different purposes. The product version is a tool to align teams and stakeholders to a strategic direction, the project version is to coordinate tasks, communicate status and meet deadlines. One is high-level and flexible, the other is detailed and prescriptive.  

These two types of roadmaps are also created and owned by distinctly different people. It’s a product manager who uses a product roadmap and a project manager who builds and manages a project roadmap. These are very different roles, with different objectives and skill sets. 

Product roadmap:

  • Strategic map of the short- and long-term vision and direction of a product
  • High-level and flexible
  • Focused on ‘why’
  • Aligns teams and stakeholders with strategic direction
  • Created and owned by a product manager

Project roadmap:

  • Tactical document mapping out a plan of action
  • Time-bound, detail-oriented, prescriptive
  • Focused on ‘how’ and ‘when’
  • Coordinates tasks, communicates status, targets deadlines
  • Created and owned by a project manager


What is the difference between a product roadmap and a portfolio roadmap? 

A product roadmap, typically owned by a product manager,  outlines the strategy and plan for a single product. A portfolio roadmap, typically owned by a senior product leader like a VP of Product,  provides a high-level overview, on a single roadmap, of multiple products within a product line or an entire organization’s portfolio. 

While a product roadmap just focuses on one, individual product, a portfolio roadmap allows senior product leaders and stakeholders to see a holistic view across different products to understand the company’s overall strategic direction and how different products relate to each other. It provides insights into strategic alignment, as well as resource allocation, interdependencies, and potential conflicts between different products. 

You would expect similarities, but also some differences, between the content of a portfolio roadmap and the individual product roadmaps that sit underneath it. Yes there should be strategic alignment with product objectives cascading down from the portfolio roadmap to the product roadmaps, but not all objectives on a portfolio roadmap would appear on each of the product roadmaps. It might be the strategic role of one product to really deliver objective X, and another to drive objective Y, with the portfolio roadmap including both objectives. 

The relationship between an individual product roadmap and portfolio roadmap is an extremely valuable one in larger organizations that manage multiple products simultaneously. Having both product roadmaps and an over-arching portfolio roadmap gives senior product leadership the tools they need to effectively guide their whole product organization, and shows the individual product managers how their work impacts the bigger picture.

What is the difference between a roadmap and a strategic plan?

It is true that a product roadmap is a tool to visualize and communicate a strategic plan. However, there is usually a distinction between a product roadmap, or indeed a product strategy, and the strategic plan for an entire organization. 

The product roadmap will convey the strategy and vision of a specific product within an organization, but it focuses on the future direction and evolution of that product alone and does not look wider. A product roadmap will show you how certain business objectives will be achieved through the product itself, but not through any other means. 

A strategic plan, on the other hand, will encompass the overall mission, vision, and strategic objectives of the entire organization over a period of up to five years or more. The initiatives on a strategic plan will illustrate how those objectives will be achieved through all areas of an organization, including finance, marketing, operations, human resources, and more. 

A strategic plan is the overarching strategic document that guides all other strategies within an organization. Objectives and priorities from the overall strategic plan will then cascade down to the plans and roadmaps of different areas of the business. So, a product roadmap is a more granular, and specific articulation of how one area of the business will contribute to the overall strategic plan.  

What is the difference between product vision and product roadmap?

A product vision is an articulation of the overarching ambition or aspirational future state for a product. It’s what you want the product to achieve or become in the long run. It reflects the core purpose of the product, its primary audience, and how it differs from competing products. A product vision is a short paragraph or even a single sentence, that articulates a motivating and guiding reason for a product’s existence. 

A product roadmap, on the other hand, is the strategic plan for how to get there. It outlines the direction, priorities and progress the product will make in order to realize that product vision, alongside a suggestion of roughly when specific initiatives will be worked on. 

While a product roadmap should be a flexible, changing strategic plan which can adapt to failed experiments or shifts in consumer behaviors, a product’s vision should remain fixed and unwavering. It provides a clear and confident North Star to inspire and inform the roadmap and the team managing it. 

In essence, the product vision is the destination, the end goal, and the product roadmap is the path that leads there, outlining the strategic steps necessary to achieve that vision. Both are essential for successful product management — they work together to provide direction and structure for the product team and to communicate the strategic plan to stakeholders.

What is the difference between product roadmap and product backlog?

A product backlog is a product manager’s repository of all product and feature ideas from which they can draw once the strategic priorities have been defined through the process of roadmapping.

Your backlog is the giant list of all ideas, regardless of status. It is then the responsibility of the product manager to groom/triage/refine this backlog and prioritize and validate those ideas based on customer feedback and roadmap priorities. Some ideas in the backlog will make it onto the product roadmap and into delivery, and some will not. 

Once a product manager has refined their backlog, it represents the list of work the Product team will be focused on, in the order they will focus on it. So initially a product backlog is a list of all the things you could do, that a product manager will prioritize and explore until they have the list of all the things you will do.  

While a product manager probably spends some time every week tending to their product roadmap, they’ll be in the product backlog every day. The product backlog is where a product manager gets down into the weeds – the real nitty-gritty of the day-to-day.

When roadmapping a product manager is thinking strategically, considering the broad priorities and problems to solve for the business and customers. When refining a product backlog a product manager is often looking through both feature ideas and more granular, specific suggestions, and then working them through the process, getting more detailed as they go — adding user stories, specs, and more.  

Because your product backlog is a repository of all ideas, a product manager is likely to be open to different stakeholders adding their ideas to the backlog. They’ll then groom and validate it, either moving ideas into the sorted backlog or dismissing them. 

But! A product manager is very unlikely to let someone else play with their roadmap. You have been warned…

What separates a good product roadmap from a bad one?

Let’s break it down into a short, sharp list of the good and the bad. If you’re happy your roadmap is ticking the boxes on the first list then well done you! But if you’re recognizing a few symptoms from the latter list, it’s time to revisit and rework. Which is it going to be?

Here goes. 

😇 Good product roadmaps are:

  • Flexible 
  • Focused on problems to solve and outcomes
  • Easy to understand
  • Easy to access and always up-to-date
  • Linked to customer feedback
  • Connected to objectives and goals 
  • Welcoming of discussion and feedback
  • Grounded in research and discovery

😈 Bad product roadmaps are:

  • Too granular and detailed
  • Structured around exact dates and deadlines
  • Focused on output, not outcomes
  • Hard to understand 
  • Hard to find and access
  • Set in stone 
  • Populated based on gut instinct and personal preferences

How to execute a product roadmap 

As a product manager, don’t put your heart and soul into an intelligent product roadmap, just to then leave it on the Engineering lead’s desk and walk away. Roadmap execution requires your continued involvement, with regular check-ins, progress updates, and reviews. 

And don’t forget, the roadmapping shouldn’t stop when something is delivered. Here at ProdPad, we include a completed view for our roadmaps which allows product managers to move a roadmap item over to completed and then measure the results and record the actual outcomes.

Delivered isn’t done. Don’t forget to measure and learn to inform your ongoing strategy and what to work on next.