How do I avoid common pitfalls when building a product roadmap?
March 14, 2019
March 14, 2019
One of the main deliverables of a product manager is to define the product vision in a way that all stakeholders can get behind and buy into. As a result, the product roadmap has become a staple of a product management deliverable as it is the easiest way to show where you are and where you plan to go with the product. As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words and a product roadmap visual helps all stakeholders quickly “get” where you want to take the product and how to get there more than any conversation or write up will.
So what makes up a product roadmap?
Product managers need to start with where they are today and look out a set distance such as 5 years and then work backwards defining the key features and deliverables that need to occur to move your product from current state to future state. At this level, you should be defining high level major features or modules or deliverables and not specific requirements or smaller updates. Instead focus on what moves the needle and what are the steps it takes to get there.
To define the 5 year vision and the major deliverables, you need to first have a great understanding of the business you support and the objectives they hope to accomplish in that time. You need to know about your competition and industry to see the direction they are heading. You need to have a strong feel for your customer base and what they see as your product strengths and weaknesses and what you need to improve upon the product to continue to stand out in a crowd.
What pitfalls should be avoided when working on a product roadmap?
Get the level of information correct for your product roadmap. When you work on your product roadmap, you want this to reflect the path you are taking to accomplish your objectives. Based on where you are as a product team and company your objectives may range from large sweeping initiatives to small granular changes. For example, if you are building a product, your product roadmap may include massive releases of new modules and integrations with large efforts. On the other hand, if you are a small product team that is in growth mode you may be less about build out and more on refinement focusing on the key metrics of your business and refining details like on boarding and retention.
Like any good storyteller, you need to know your audience and deliver the visual that aligns with where you are and how you are going to get there at the right level of information. As a general rule of thumb you want to stay out of the weeds on your product roadmap. You should not be talking about specific bug fixes or specific requirements of a feature for example but only that you plan to accomplish the features in set timeframes. Your product roadmap should tell the story. So you need enough description and information to tell the story but not so much it becomes rigid and specific.
Set strategy first, define your releases and roadmap to follow. Your product roadmap should be created as a way for you as a product manager to accomplish the product strategy and objectives of the business. The process should not work the other way around where the business is being driven by the product. As a result, spend time on your product planning with your leadership team of the company. Get everyone on the same page of what it is your product needs to accomplish. From there, define the series of releases needed to accomplish the features that moves the product from your current state to that future state inclusive of how and when your key objectives would be accomplished.
Always remember the product roadmap is your path to complete your product strategy and business objectives. Your product roadmap is not the place to set this direction or define it, only show how you accomplish it.
Product roadmaps are needed to clearly communicate how you build out the product to meet your business needs. The product roadmap is a powerful tool to keep your team on the same page at all times of why they are working on what they are working on and to help your customers and stakeholders see where you are going.
Always remember that the job of the roadmap is to show at a high level the steps you are taking to accomplish the vision and not the low level details of what makes up a specific feature nor is it the right place to set the direction. Use your product roadmap to sell your vision and maintain it at the right level for your audience and you will have a powerful tool as a product manager.