How to create a great product roadmap

The product roadmap is one of the most powerful assets for product managers, acting as the ultimate blueprint to visualize and implement your product strategy

The product roadmap not only communicates the “why” behind your product but also outlines its evolutionary path, aligning your product vision with your business strategy. 

Through the product roadmap, you can effectively connect strategic goals to objectives, prioritize feature development, and secure buy-in from stakeholders. Demonstrating how short-term efforts contribute to long-term business goals is crucial.

In this article, we’ll guide you through leveraging templates to unlock strategies and best practices for crafting a compelling product roadmap. You’ll gain insights into creating a strategic product vision, aligning it with business objectives, engaging stakeholders, and prioritizing key features and functionalities. By following our guidance, you’ll be able to cultivate stakeholder support and create a powerful communication tool that can propel your product towards excellence.  

To begin, let’s explore the fundamentals of product roadmaps and their role in product management.

What is a product roadmap and why is it important to product development?

A product roadmap is a comprehensive tool that helps everyone understand the product strategy, outlines the work required to achieve your goals, and establishes a timeline for achieving them.

Effective roadmaps help product owners achieve a multitude of key objectives:

  • Vision and strategy: They provide a clear description of your product’s vision and strategy.
  • Alignment with business goals: Product roadmaps illustrate the direct linkage between your product strategy and business objectives.
  • Stakeholder alignment: They foster alignment among stakeholders and the development team, ensuring everyone’s on the same page regarding product strategy. 
  • Feature breakdown: Roadmaps assist in breaking down product goals into actionable features and requirements.
  • Prioritization: They help with the prioritization of new and high-value features.
  • Progress tracking: Product roadmaps enable the tracking of progress in product development work. 
  • Stakeholder communication: They serve as a means to share the strategy with stakeholders, including customers.

The best product roadmaps also serve as a cohesive guide, uniting stakeholders and internal teams in the pursuit of shared priorities and objectives.

Components of a product roadmap

While product roadmaps may vary from one product or company to another, they share several common components:

  • Goals: Goals are the high-level objectives required to deliver a product. They should be clearly defined, achievable, measurable, and timely. 
  • Initiatives: These are high-level themes describing how tasks contribute to your goals. Initiatives show you how specific features and releases relate to your strategy.
  • Releases and milestones: Releases mark the introduction of new product functionality to the market. They can contain multiple features delivered simultaneously.
  • Epics: These are large bodies of work that can span across multiple releases. Epics are broken down into individual features that can be incrementally released.
  • Features: Features embody specific, new, or improved functionalities that deliver added value to customers. Features can span capabilities, components, appearance, or performance.
  • Timeline: This establishes the framework for product release schedules. The timeline can range from days to years, depending on the product and release schedule.
  • Dependencies: Dependencies highlight interrelated work that may impact the delivery of a feature, epic, release, or initiative.

When crafting your product roadmap, choose a blend of these components that best suits your product and development methodology. For example, Agile teams may prefer a flexible and highly customizable Agile product roadmap to accommodate evolving customer and market requirements. However, product teams that use a waterfall development approach might prefer a more rigid roadmap with specific features and a set timeframe.

Product roadmaps: Agile vs. waterfall

What are the benefits of having a product roadmap?

A product roadmap illustrates the strategic vision for a product, effectively connecting and aligning stakeholders and resources toward a common objective — the creation of the product.

The benefits of a roadmap depend upon its audience. 

  • For business leaders, the product roadmap provides a clear status update on planned features and improvements, while showing how these align with company goals. 
  • For project managers, the roadmap helps maintain team focus on the highest-priority features and enhancements.
  • For developers, an internal roadmap offers a holistic view of the project, enabling team members to focus on mission-critical workflows, make informed decisions, and avoid scope creep.
  • For marketing teams, the roadmap is a way for them to plan advertising and marketing campaigns in order to promote new features and improvements. 
  • For sales teams, the product roadmap allows them to share planned product features and enhancements with customers to improve engagement and grow sales.
  • For customers, the product roadmap helps build excitement about what’s coming next, and shows customers how the product is evolving to meet their needs.

The most important thing is to build a roadmap that your audience can understand. Keep it clear and simple; providing the right information, in detail,  can help you get buy-in from key stakeholders. 

How to create your product roadmap

Building a product roadmap is a complex process, but the resulting document need not be complex. The content of the roadmap varies according to its audience. For instance, a development team’s product roadmap might delve into the granular details of a single product. In contrast, an executive’s portfolio roadmap might provide a higher-level overview of multiple products. A customer’s external roadmap might cover several products that align with a specific customer need.

Product Roadmap Overview template

Whatever type of product map you intend to build, our Product Roadmap Overview template is flexible enough to meet your needs. You can adapt and expand it to fit any type of product roadmap. The template includes three elements to help you focus your roadmapping process:

Development timeline: The template’s top columns show product development milestones over time. You can easily change these columns into weeks, months, quarters, or milestones to fit with your product strategy and audience. For example, when crafting a customer roadmap, you can use a more abstract timeline, such as quarters for feature releases, in order to avoid giving specific release dates.

Initiatives: Rows within the template allow you to organize your initiatives into logical groupings. Depending on your audience, you can label the initiative fields by features or themes.

Feature bars: Horizontal feature bars represent individual features within your product development. You can adjust the duration of each feature bar according to factors such as priority, dependencies, and estimated time to completion.

You can follow these five key steps to create an effective product roadmap with the Product Roadmap Overview template. 

  1. Define your product vision and strategic goals
  2. Review and evaluate themes, initiatives, and features
  3. Define and prioritize features
  4. Determine feature release timing
  5. Present the roadmap to your audiences

Let’s dive in. 

1. Define your product vision and strategic goals

Start with the big picture. Outline your product vision and how it helps your business achieve its long-term goals. Doing this ensures your product aligns with your company’s vision and strategy.

Use the Product Vision Board template to help your team brainstorm product ideas. Start by writing the vision for your product on a sticky note and placing it in the Vision field.

Product Vision Board template

Then, begin brainstorming product ideas. You can use the Product Vision Board template to organize your product ideas by:

  • Group: What market does the product address and who are the target customers?
  • Needs: What problem does the product solve, or what benefit does it provide?
  • Product: What is the product? What makes it unique? Is it possible to develop it?
  • Business goals: How is the product going to benefit the company? What are the business goals? 

As you work through these questions, continue refining your product vision and business goals until you’ve clearly understood the “why” of your product.

After you develop your product vision, you can use it to develop the strategic goals for your product. Use the Impact Mapping template to refine and set specific goals, as well as the initiatives you will take to meet them. The template clearly showcases how each initiative will help you achieve your goals.

By the end of this phase, you’ll have a clear product vision that explains your product’s purpose and strategic product goals that transform your product vision into an executable plan. Ideally, your product goals should be measurable and tied to your company’s KPIs. Sharing measurable goals and relevant metrics with stakeholders will encourage buy-in to your product. 

2. Review and evaluate ideas, initiatives, and features

Once you’ve got a clear product vision and a set of strategic product goals that align with your corporate goals, you can start creating your product roadmap. The next step is to decide on what product initiatives and features to include in your roadmap, and where.

Create a list of features and initiatives that can bring value to your product and help achieve your product goals. Evaluate key factors like customer feedback and needs, market trends, and the competition.

Begin by using a market analysis tool like the Porter’s Five Forces template to evaluate customer buying power, new entry threat, and the level of competition in your target market. Use the Competitor Analysis Chart template to evaluate your competitors and spot opportunities to add features or improvements that can differentiate your product.

Competitor Analysis Chart template

Gain a better understanding of your customers by using the Customer Persona template. You can use this template to create customer personas based on your target customers’ needs, roles, or other characteristics.

You might also find that creating a customer journey map is useful for visualizing your user stories and customer interactions with your product. The Customer Journey Map template can help you map your customers’ emotions, thoughts, and actions at every touchpoint. Use these customer insights to decide on which initiatives and features belong in your product roadmap.

Once you have a list of features and initiatives, then it’s time to prioritize and add them to your product roadmap.

3. Define and prioritize features

Now that you’ve got your product goals and list of features and initiatives, you can create your product roadmap.

Start by prioritizing and grouping your initiatives and features based on which ideas are strategic and worth tackling. There are several ways to prioritize your product roadmap, such as the MoSCoW Prioritization template, a simple way to classify features as “must have,” “should have,” “could have,” or “won’t have.” Or, for a broader perspective, you can use the RICE Prioritization template to sort features by reach, impact, confidence, and effort.

Once you’ve prioritized your initiatives and features, add them to your product roadmap. As an example, we’ve used a product roadmap for a fictional mobile game “Heroes of Nevermore”.

Once you’ve prioritized your initiatives and features, add them to your product roadmap.

Product initiatives are listed vertically on the roadmap, while features are grouped and prioritized under each relevant initiative. For example, developing the iOS game app is the top priority feature under the Build Market and Platform Reach initiative.

Regardless of how you prioritize and organize your product roadmap, there are certain best practices to keep in mind. 

  • Foster a collaborative approach to prioritization. It will help you get different perspectives and secure buy-in from your team and stakeholders.
  • Limit the number of features you prioritize and add to the roadmap. Focus on the highest-value items and defer minor details. 
  • Ensure clarity regarding the priority and customer value of each initiative, and establish a clear linkage to your strategy and customer metrics.
  • Regularly revisit and adjust your priorities as your product changes and user needs evolve.

Once you’ve set the priorities for your product roadmap, you can then decide on when to release new features and functionalities to your customers. 

4. Determine the timing of feature releases

After you’ve prioritized your features and grouped them by initiatives, it’s time to add them to your product roadmap. 

Start by estimating the time required to complete all roadmap elements. Use the Planning Poker template as a fun way to gauge task completion timelines. Then, use these individual estimates to determine your product roadmap’s general timeline and milestones. The Gantt Chart template is a great way to visually organize your timeline and dependencies. 

For example, in our “Heroes of Nevermore” example, the estimated timeline for the “Create an active game community” initiative features two tasks. The estimated completion time for the “Launch player forum” feature is approximately three and a half months;  the development team can start early February. The time for the “Create Discord channel” feature is approximately one month; the team can start mid-April. The initiative will be completed mid-May given that the two tasks can run concurrently.

In some cases, a task can be dependent on an early feature. For example, in the case of our product roadmap, the development of the “Live in-app support chat” feature depends on the development of the “AI support chatbot” feature. Indicate dependencies in your product roadmap and review them regularly, adjusting when needed.

If you’re launching a new product, you can use the Product Launch Lifecycle template to plan and organize your launch activities, then move key initiatives to your product roadmap.

Product Launch Lifecycle template

Once you’ve prepared your roadmap, you can present it to your audience.

5. Present the product roadmap

Once your product roadmap is ready, you can show it off. Your completed roadmap showcases how your product will evolve over a period of time, while connecting product goals and milestones to your company’s objectives. The next step is to present your roadmap to your different audiences.

The primary objective of your product roadmap is to get buy-in from stakeholders. You can customize the layout and level of detail in your roadmap to suit your intended audience’s needs. Consider these questions when trying to decide on the type of roadmap to use:

  • Audience: Who is the intended audience for this product roadmap?
  • Intent: What is the key message you want your audience to take away?
  • Scope: Does your audience require details, or the bigger picture?
  • Timelines: Is precise timing crucial for your audience? 

For instance, if you were preparing a product roadmap for “Heroes of Nevermore”, and the audience was a potential producer for the game, your audience profile could look like this:

  • Audience: Video game production and distribution companies.
  • Intent: They seek insight into the game’s potential market, development process, and release dates.
  • Scope: They need to know the game’s broader strategic plan and tactical marketing details, such as feature release dates.
  • Timelines: Exact timelines are essential to grasp investment and return schedules.

Presenting your roadmap in the right format, with information tailored to your audience, is a great way to demonstrate your understanding of your company’s strategic objectives and customer demands to stakeholders. 

Using your product roadmap

Building and maintaining a product roadmap is an ongoing process. 

Your product roadmap is a living document; products are constantly evolving. As you progress through product development, make sure to connect the different teams’ work back to the roadmap, so you consistently present the current state of development. Regular updates ensure that your roadmap remains relevant to stakeholders.

Now that you know the fundamentals of creating a product roadmap, consider implementing these best practices to set yourself up for product success:

  • Keep it simple: Create a clear and understandable roadmap, including only the necessary details for your target audience. 
  • Link goals to strategy: Focus your roadmap on short-term tactics and their alignment with long-term business goals.
  • Make it accessible: Ensure that everyone on your team has access to your product roadmap, and checks it regularly.
  • Review your roadmap: Review your product roadmap on a regular basis to ensure that it’s always up-to-date.
  • Experiment with styles: Explore various product roadmap examples, and try different roadmap styles to best suit your audience’s needs.

Collaborate with your team and stakeholders using a virtual whiteboard and leverage pre-built product roadmap templates to develop and refine your product strategy. Sign up for a free Whiteboards account today to get started with the Product Roadmap Overview template.