With skilled product planning, product managers can cultivate a customer-first culture, maximize team productivity, and prevent extraneous (and expensive) software development efforts.
But that level of product planning comes with a lot of moving parts. It’s easy for things to fall through the cracks, no matter how careful and determined you are to get it right.
That’s where product planning templates come in.
For product managers looking for powerful templates that will help them visualize complicated flows, collaborate with remote teams, and bring alignment and transparency to the complex world of product planning — this roundup is for you.
What does product planning entail?
Product planning is a wide-reaching product management task. It involves all the internal decision making and activities around developing and maintaining a product that generates desired outcomes, throughout its entire lifecycle.
In product planning, these outcomes primarily include meeting user-focused product goals and business objectives.
As such a broad and important part of the job, for many product managers, product planning impacts the majority of what they do day in and day out.
Product planning is sometimes lumped together with project planning (aka project management). While the two duties can overlap, it’s helpful to remember that product planning tasks are all about achieving outcomes over a product’s lifetime. On the other hand, project planning is more about working to hit specific deliverables at specific milestones.
The 2023 State of Product Management Report from ProductPlan found that, when creating product roadmaps, more organizations tend to focus on outputs (project planning) rather than outcomes (product planning).
Why does that matter?
In the next section, we’ll walk through why it’s critical to business success and customer happiness to focus on product planning.
Why should product managers prioritize product planning?
If cutting costs, building a healthy culture, and serving customer needs are all important to you as a product manager — here’s what you should know about the benefits of careful product planning.
Create a user-obsessed culture & product
Perhaps most importantly, the goal of product planning is to make sure the product meets specific consumer and business goals.
A commitment to thoughtful product planning brings teams together to focus on how they can continually improve the product for the best outcomes for users.
Disagreements about features and product direction will arise — as they should in any healthy team — but good product planning will help keep you ever-focused on what’s best for the user.
Avoid shiny object syndrome with stakeholders
When working with stakeholders who are always looking for ways to meet objectives without necessarily being engaged in the day-to-day tasks that are already happening, product managers should be ready to fight “shiny object syndrome.”
This is the tendency to get distracted by and start pursuing an exciting new feature or product vision before letting the one that is in motion fully play out.
With product planning that’s regularly revisited and laser-focused on specific outcomes, it’s easier to keep everyone’s eyes on the same prize and explain why a specific path was chosen and why you’re continuing to go down it.
Minimize tech debt
Product planning is about monitoring how the product helps users achieve their desired outcomes — make a purchase, share content, discover information, etc. — not just building more and more new product features.
When feature performance and adoption are seen as critical, businesses can focus less on building quick “Band-Aid” features, which create tech debt when they have to be dealt with later, and more on how to tweak onboarding and best prioritize the backlog.
Sidestep build traps
The “build trap” is precipitated by the belief that a unicorn feature will fix every single issue with your product and adoption and use will skyrocket.
So you continue to chase that mythical feature by piling on the features — creating more maintenance and more complexity without addressing the actual issues behind low adoption. Before you know it, you’ve created an endless trap that you can only get out of by removing features and simplifying the product.
Because of the way product planning looks at outcomes, it’s more likely that the product will be able to meet user needs, encourage adoption, and seamlessly evolve as the market shifts.
No resource-intensive blanket of half-baked features required.
How can product plan templates help?
If you aren’t deeply familiar with product planning, it’s easy to at first think of it as something you just do once or maybe a few times before and during the product development stage.
After all, how many times do you really need to figure out overarching themes like core audience, key features, and pricing structure?
Turns out, a lot.
New competitors hit the scene every day. Category disruptors influence what consumers want from products, sometimes seemingly overnight. (Remember how quickly Instagram went video-focused after TikTok blew up?) Economic fluctuations shift what people and businesses are willing to pay for certain features.
In other words, things change. Successful products are set up to ride the waves of change with the help of ongoing product strategy.
Consistent product planning is as much an asset to a product as its core feature set. Because without that strategic planning, those features can quickly become obsolete.
So product planning as a task has lots of moving parts over the lifetime of a product.
Why wouldn’t you take advantage of a starting point that sets you up for success with all the decision making, discussing, and planning work you do every day?
That’s what templates provide.
Here are a few examples. (Okay, more than a few — 17, to be precise!)
17 templates to use across the product lifecycle
With templates designed especially for product managers, you can focus on important work like researching, metric tracking, and feature optimization for user- and business-focused outcomes — from product conceptualizing all the way to sunsetting.
Here’s how templates — from Whiteboards or other sources — can support you throughout the product lifecycle.
When you first step into conceptualizing what your product can eventually be, there are several high-level things you’ll want to think about:
- What problem does it solve?
- For whom?
- By doing what?
- What sets it apart? (You’ll be able to flesh this out more in later stages of market and competitor research.)
The Reverse Brainstorming Template from Whiteboards helps teams come at conceptualization from a new angle.
Sometimes, it’s easier to see the problem than the solution. This template takes that human tendency to see a problem, helps you capture all the ideas related to it, then guides you through reversing them to easily arrive at great product and functionality ideas.
For another take on conceptualization, try our Product Vision Board Template for brainstorming. This template guides you to ideate on your vision at a high level without getting dragged into the details of specific personas or exact features. (You can get more granular later in the process!)
You can’t develop a product that hits business and user objectives without gathering information about the state of your target market, your market fit, and your ideal audience.
A common way to conduct this market research is through interviews with people who make up (or align with) your ideal audience. The Continuous user interview template from Notion offers a very simple way to make sure your interviews are consistent and provides some space for identifying any patterns that arise.
If you want to go a bit further, HubSpot offers a full Market Research Kit that comes with instructions, a SWOT analysis template, and templates for hosting presentations, focus groups, and surveys.
A visualized competitive analysis is one of the most digestible ways to understand the competitive landscape around your product.
But it can be hard to figure out the best way to display this information — then build out that display from scratch.
Get a head start with the Whiteboards Competitor Analysis Chart template.
You gather the research on how competitors compare and contrast with your product in areas like quality, price, etc. Then our template will help you place all of this information in a spider diagram, making it simpler to understand how you compare to the field, and what opportunities you should pursue to stand out.
If you’d prefer to visualize the competition another way, check out the Whiteboards Competitor Analysis template.
This offers a big-picture way to rank competitors as contenders, leaders, niche, or high performers and where you fit in among them — so you can be thinking about what you need to do next to catch up or speed past them.
User story & journey mapping
User stories written from the perspective of the product end-user help product teams understand what the user wants to achieve — and therefore what you need to build to help them get there with the least friction possible.
Brainstorm these user stories as a team, arrange them into groups, prioritize what to tackle first, and then turn your notes into Jira issues with assignees right from inside Whiteboards with the User Story Mapping template.
With this resource, you can walk through the entire user experience. This is a really great way to better understand the mindset of your audience — leading to smarter feature initiatives. It’s also a great way to identify any use cases or gaps that have gone unnoticed.
Feature prioritization & roadmapping
Now you’re ready to refine the great ideas you came up with while brainstorming and building user stories into actual features. And you want the right features to hit at the right time.
That requires prioritization.
Engage the Whiteboards Value Effort Matrix template to prioritize your product backlog by finding the most effective ways to use your resources to maximize outcomes.
Once you’ve prioritized, it’s time to lay everything out in the overarching product plan —your roadmap.
A product roadmap provides a single source of truth, but that doesn’t mean it’s stagnant. This should be a living document that product managers use daily to arrange where tasks land in priority, visualize how the product team is performing against the timeline, and show stakeholders how product releases and features are progressing.
To streamline the format and make it easy to focus on goals without getting bogged down in small details, use the Whiteboards GO Product Roadmap template to create a high-level visual overview of what’s going on. (This is especially helpful for stakeholder presentations!)
Instead of a stress-filled lead-up to launching your new product, approach the launch with excitement having laid out the whole product development process using the Product Launch Lifecycle template from Whiteboards.
This detailed template highlights all the important team members, stages, dates, dependencies, and to-dos involved with a product launch, so you can make sure everything is running smoothly and address bottlenecks across departments and functions.
Alternatively, the Product Launch Plan template from Spreadsheet.com offers an updated take on using a spreadsheet to plan and track your product launch, complete with a critical path diagram that highlights the most critical steps.
With product planning, your job doesn’t stop when the product is launched.
Instead, your focus pivots to how the product is meeting its intended outcomes, then figuring out what your team needs to do next to keep improving.
The objectives and key results (OKR) planning methodology helps companies name their key objectives (business and user outcomes) and how they plan to meet them. (These are the key results.)
The Quarterly Plus OKRs guide and template helps product managers think through what they want the product to accomplish yearly and quarterly — and track progress against those goals.
And if you like the idea of accountability partners and celebrating each win, you can also use the Tasks with Slack notifications template to enter your goal numbers for each quarter, as well as any tasks you need to complete to hit these goals. Use the “Notify channel” button to alert colleagues about your progress, so they know you’re always making improvements.
Ongoing development & maintenance
When your product has had time to build traction within the intended audience, it’s time to conduct a review using the Whiteboards Feature Audit template. This framework aids in analyzing each feature based on adoption and frequency to make sure it’s relevant, optimized, and helping users meet their needs.
Sunsetting analysis & communication
Eventually, the time may come when you need to determine whether or not to retire your product due to market changes, obsolescence, or plans to release a new version.
This is called sunsetting, and it’s very important you put in the work to make sure it’s the right move.
The Value Chain Analysis template from Whiteboards can help you do that by identifying whether your product still adds the intended value to your business or only contributes costs and inefficiencies.
If you do decide to sunset after running this analysis, a lot of people will need to hear about it — and in the way that makes the most sense for their use of the product.
Ready to get started with Whiteboards?
To access all the Whiteboards templates we talked about here, log in to Whiteboards, create a board, find your ideal template, and choose to use it blank or pre-filled.
You’ll then see the template pop up in your new board, which is full of rich editing and collaboration features (commenting, voting, etc.). Integrate with Jira to brainstorm on existing issues, turn ideas into new issues, set assignees, and more.
To put templates to work for you right now, try Whiteboards for free.