Smartsheet Contributor Kate Eby on Sep 30, 2016
- Product Manager Roadmap Tools
- Product Manager Roadmap Resume
- Software Product Roadmap
- Product Roadmap Template
- Product Manager Roadmap Example
- Product Manager Roadmap Examples
- Product Manager Roadmap
Rapidly-changing technology requires companies to innovate quicker and get new products to market faster. But good ideas don’t always guarantee good products, and cutting-edge product owners are often held up by delayed decisions. A product roadmap can help product owners avoid these issues and create a forward-looking go to market plan. In addition to the core elements that make a solid roadmap, we’ve put together a list of best practices. Together these help you create a product roadmap that achieves both your vision and company goals.
Product roadmaps should be a significant part of a product manager’s day-to-day work. If created and maintained correctly, a roadmap can help product teams step back anytime and examine their strategic objectives. Assume ownership. As a product manager, you should be driving the direction of the product. Product Roadmap Templates. Product roadmaps help to organize and plan out the future of products, show the team and others how the product will achieve its vision, and serve as a way to communicate with internal and external stakeholders. They can be a highly effective tool for a Product Manager. Theme-Based Product Roadmap Template.
What Is a Product Roadmap?
A product roadmap gives a broad overview of all aspects of an upcoming product: goals, timeline, features, resources, etc. The roadmap indicates what a development team is building, the problem the technology or software will solve, and the business goals the new product will achieve. But an effective roadmap will also serve as a project management tool in two main ways: 1) it is a strategic tool where you can make forward-looking objectives and rough timelines for your product, and 2) it can improve communication by providing a place where multiple stakeholders can weigh in on product goals and progress. Product roadmaps are most typically used by software companies and organizations that develop technology.
Below is an example of a visual product roadmap with a swim lane view:
Product roadmaps give internal teams and other stakeholders (senior executives, upper management, marketing and sales teams, and/or investors) insight into a product’s current state. Additionally, the roadmap should also set clear expectations for how your product will develop in future months. The product owner creates the roadmap, and should take existing technology trends, market conditions, engineering constraints, and the organization’s value proposition into consideration.
Perhaps the biggest challenge of building a product roadmap is nailing down the core elements that make it effective. In the next section, we’ve outlined the five steps for creating a product roadmap and the essential elements to include.
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How to Create a Product Roadmap
Step 1. Define your product strategy.
A product strategy is how you make the case for your product. For instance, in order for your company to invest in your product’s development, stakeholders need to know what business goals your product will achieve. They also expect you to answer questions such as: What customers will use the product? and What problems will the product solve? Additionally, you’ll want to include major product differentiators that make this product stand out from other similar products already on the market. When you pair these answers with the product vision, you’ll have a solid structure from which to build the rest of your product roadmap. To ensure alignment, tie your product strategy back to the roadmap to keep everyone on the same page.
Step 2. Gather requirements.
There are three main groups you can gather information from to help you define your requirements:
- Start this process by talking to your sales and customer support teams. These departments know first-hand how the outside world feels about and engages with your company’s existing products, and likely have customer feedback which can help you prioritize new features. Additionally, their insight can give you ideas about what to consider for future releases.
- Engage directly with your product user community. You’ll gain valuable information from product enthusiasts and experts who already spend substantial time using your product.
- Finally, tap into your own product knowledge. You undoubtedly have a deep understanding of the product’s functionality, its features, and its limitations. Think about which component(s) are most vital to your customers. Once you identify these, focus on what you can do to significantly improve any weaknesses.
Product Manager Roadmap Tools
Step 3. Assign a broad timeframe to your initiatives.
“The level of detail on your roadmap needs to leave room for innovation and agile responsiveness,” says Cliff Gilley, technologist and product manager of The Clever PM. Many product owners agree. As long as you refrain from hard deadlines, you’re not committing your team to promises that you might not be able to deliver. Bear in mind that a key function of your product roadmap is providing guidance. So, rather than indicating specific dates, many product managers choose to plot initiatives at the monthly or quarterly level. Alternatively, you can choose to omit dates completely.
Example of product roadmap with initiatives plotted quarterly:
Step 4. Tailor your roadmap to your stakeholder(s).
A product’s success depends upon the participation of other internal teams. To help gain full support during development, aim to get stakeholder buy-in early on. You can help persuade stakeholders by customizing and presenting a roadmap tailored to their particular interests.
Here’s are some common internal stakeholders and the information they typically want in a product roadmap:
- Company executives and upper management: All of the elements outlined in your product strategy, plus any data regarding market size.
- Marketing: Product features, how your product will compare to similar products on the market, and your product’s potential for generating sales.
- Sales: Release dates and specifics about the benefits and advantages the product provides to customers. Remember: instead of promising hard release dates, display general timelines like those mentioned above.
- Engineers and developers: Requirements, deadlines, sprints, and specific tasks.
You do not necessarily have to create multiple versions of your roadmap for each group of stakeholders. Instead, you can use a flexible online tool to highlight the information that is most relevant to a particular party. We’ll take a look at some popular online tools in the following section.
Below is a product roadmap an engineering team might use:
Step 5. Share your product roadmap.
Sharing your roadmap has several benefits. Aside from encouraging team engagement and gaining upper management support, your roadmap communicates all the progress you’ve made and sets expectations for next stages. Whether you choose to share your roadmap using spreadsheets, PowerPoint, or with a cloud-based software program, sharing your roadmap is an important step to ensure accountability among your team, and keep everyone up to date.
Best Practices for Creating an Effective Product Roadmap
Ultimately, your product roadmap will help developers build the best product possible. With this in mind, here’s a round-up of best practices from active, experienced product managers.
Best Practice #1: Present a Visual Product Roadmap.
An effective product roadmap will do more than ‘tell:’ it will also present a simple, realistic visual representation of your vision and how it is tied to company’s goals. Additionally, your roadmap should be easy to understand and persuasive. PowerPoint and spreadsheets are widely used, but there are also many popular software options that make it easier to create visually compelling product roadmaps. For these reasons, many PMs prefer flexible task management tools like Trello, Jira, or Asana. Features such as swimlane views, drag-and-drop editors, movable cards, and other interactive features prevent presentations from coming off clunky.
Best Practice #2: Have Different Versions of Your Product Roadmap.
In his LinkedIn post, Google Developer Expert Shrinath V explains common difficulties in product roadmaps. If a sales team and dev team use the same roadmap, Sales might commit to a feature in order to close a deal without consulting the developers on timing or probability. This is just one of many problems that can occur if there is one party making changes or if you don’t have a way to track who is making changes.
Remember, your roadmap helps you gain buy-in. Because each internal department has a unique role in helping make your product successful, each department will also care about something different. For example, marketing departments typically want to understand how product features will look and behave, while Sales wants details about when the product will be ready for customers to purchase it. To avoid publishing hard dates that could change, speak in terms of quarters or months.
“Don’t fall into the trap of specifying dates for anything that’s not already a work-in-progress or that isn’t well defined and well understood. Any attempt to set a date for something that’s outside the 1-3 month time horizon is not only a mistake, but is bound to fail,” adds Gilley.
Each of the following product roadmaps were created in Smartsheet, and display timeframes instead of specific dates.
External product roadmaps are usually shared with company investors, industry analysts, customers, and the media. Even so, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Gilley advises that for internal roadmaps that you intend to share with customers you want your product roadmap to reflect sufficient details without tipping your hand to any specific strategies that you’re considering. For an external roadmap that you plan to share with investors, you should convey your strategic thinking and be structured in a way that presents confidence but still leaves doors open for innovation and agile responsiveness, without jeopardizing your financing rounds.
Below is an example of an external roadmap format:
Best Practice #3: Share Your Product Roadmap.
“The primary reason we want the product roadmap to be visible to anyone in the organization is that product roadmaps represent the plan of execution against the company vision and strategy,” says Gilley.
As explain, product roadmaps organize and communicate a lot of information: what your development team is building, the problem the product will fix, as well as the business goals your product aspires to achieve. This means that your road map has the opportunity to speak directly to external or internal concerns and paint a clear picture of your intentions.
To executives, the roadmap validates your product’s usefulness to a market that aligns with the organization’s strategic direction, and also proves that it enhances the company’s position. To your development team, your roadmap demonstrates progress and fosters inspiration. And to other internal departments—sales and marketing—your product roadmap sets expectations about product benefits, its comparisons to other similar products, and the potential for conversions.
To external customers, a product roadmap shows that you value their input and care about their needs. By sharing a roadmap externally, you signal that their awareness is a crucial part of your product’s success, which increases the likelihood of purchase. Additionally, it’s an opportunity to engage with customers and emphasize your brand story.
Janna Bastow, co-founder of ProPad and Mind the Product, explains the strategy behind their roadmaps. “Our product roadmap has actually become a central part of the way we communicate our priorities with our customers,” she says. “Customers love the transparency. We’ve found that as long as we’re open and honest about our priorities, customers are actually very forgiving. We hold onto the feedback we get and reach back into it to guide the way we approach their problems – and our customers know that.”
It’s true. ProPad’s product roadmap for a web application is online for the digital world to see. Additionally, the site prompts visitors to share constructive feedback.
“When the roadmap is hidden,” says Gilley, “the narratives about where the product is going, when, and why, are now outside of the control of the product manager and directly in the hands of the rumor mill and office grapevine.”
Best Practice #4: Create a Flexible Roadmap
Todd Olson, Founder and CEO of Pendo, recommends that you write “SUBJECT TO CHANGE” on all product roadmaps. Maintaining flexibility in your timeline and deliverables will enable your team to react calmly to roadblocks, and to adapt your plan to fit changing needs. However, keep in mind that a product roadmap should have a single owner - this individual is the only person with the authority to add and remove items.
Best Practice #5: Involve Your Stakeholder Community in Regular Intervals.
Product roadmaps are created with the intention to be shared with internal development teams and others who have a role in the product’s success. Rather than being static, your roadmap should function like a reader board that gives a current snapshot of project status. So, in order for your product roadmap to do its job well, it needs consistent input from the product owner. This means updating your roadmap daily to capture any market changes, new planning directions, added resources, or changes in priorities. By regularly updating your roadmap, you help your constituents understand factors that account for your product’s progress or delays.
Karthik Vijayakumar, podcaster, author, and product maker at Design Your Thinking, asserts that continual updates also create a deep level of shared ownership that in turn drives results. “Without this,” he says, “product roadmaps end up in nice documents without having seen the daylight”.
Best Practice #6: Spend 10 Minutes with Your Product Roadmap.
Carving out chunks of time helps you identify trends and set priorities. Before checking email or cruising Twitter, give your product roadmap your entire focus. Sameena Velshi, Head of Product at Roadmunk, makes it her morning ritual. “Since I started allocating a few minutes to my roadmap every morning, my days have been more grounded. I analyze both the granular (what is each dev working on today? how close are we to that next release?), and the big picture (are we on track to make quarterly goals in line with our STRATEGY?),” she says. “It’s given me a new sense of control and perspective over our approach to product management.”
Web-based Tools to Create a Product Roadmap
While you can certainly create a physical product roadmap that outlines your product goals and strategy, there are several online tools designed to ease the process. Online tools can save time and increase efficiency in several ways: live, shareable documents allow for collaboration, and also make it easier to track history and versioning. Additionally, many programs offer pre-built templates that you can use to get started.
Here is a list of some of the most popular roadmapping tools:
- Aha! – provides an array of modules that help you manage a product through its entire lifecycle.
- Craft helps you build epics and stories and translate those into visual roadmap.
- Lucidchart offers real time collaboration, with a simple user interface.
- Onedesk helps you identify and prioritize requirements
- ProductPlan includes drag and drop features, enables you to view several roadmaps in a master plan.
- TrendsRadius analyzes aggregated customer data from your different channels then transforms that feedback into actionable insights.
- Smartsheet offers a Gantt chart with various views, customization features such as color and symbols, and real-time collaboration.
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One of the core responsibilities as a product manager is to determine the long-term strategy for their product.
To do so, product managers create product roadmaps to orient themselves and their teams on what new initiatives, products, and features to tackle, and within what general sequence and timeframe.
During product manager interviews, many companies seek to understand your ability to execute against these responsibilities by asking you to create a product roadmap on the fly.
In fact, out of the on-site interviews that I've had, all of them had some sort of roadmap challenge. It's important for companies to know that you can plan out delivery based on core business objectives, and that you can manage dependencies across stakeholders. As a side note, I've found that it's rare for interviewers to ask you to create a roadmap during a phone interview.
The popular product roadmap question usually takes shape in the form of something like the following:
“Create a roadmap for X product to achieve ABC objectives.”
When you answer these types of product roadmap questions, you should approach them with a framework in mind. Below is one that we highly recommend.
- Align on the high-level objectives for the organization.
- Identify relevant metrics.
- Determine which customer segment to focus on.
- Identify customer needs and brainstorm features to solve those needs.
- Prioritize your features.
- Create a timeline of features and highlight dependencies.
- Discuss how various factors and assumptions might change your roadmap.
First, ensure that you fully understand the objectives of the organization. Is the goal to increase profitability or to drive additional revenue? Is the goal to reach new users or to get more usage out of existing users?
Organizational objectives matter because they form the foundation for your roadmap.
Sometimes, the interviewer will not provide the objectives upfront. In cases such as these, ask the interviewer whether they have one in mind. If they tell you that they’d like you to come up with the objective, then go ahead and take the initiative!
Product Manager Roadmap Resume
Determine what the objective should be based on your knowledge of business context. For example, it's probably inappropriate for a small startup to focus on increasing profit at the cost of shrinking its current user base.
Metrics of Success
Now that you know what the organizational objectives are, select metrics that make sense based on where the business is today. For example, a very small startup might be interested in growing traffic, whereas a very large organization might be interested in further monetizing existing customers.
Why do you need to select metrics? Because you need to be able to measure your success! If you have no metrics, your roadmap can turn squishy very quickly.
For example, consider the objective 'improve the brand'. In the absence of metrics, nearly every product or feature can be justified as a way to improve the brand.
If, however, you identify that your metric for tracking brand performance is 'of customer logos on the website' or 'of positive press releases', you now have a clear way forward in defining success.
Furthermore, when selecting metrics, be as crisp as possible in your definition. For example, you may want to specify that you want to grow the monthly active users on the iOS app specifically, or that you are seeking to upsell monthly subscriptions to becoming annual subscriptions.
It's also advisable to see what other product experts consider as their metrics of success.
Target Customer Segment
Now that you have defined the metrics that you care about, remember that while your goal is to create value for the business, your business cannot capture value unless you first create value for your customers.
Before you can capture value for your customers, you must first define who your customers should be. Sometimes your interviewer will tell you which customer segment to focus on; other times, you will have the responsibility of selecting a customer segment.
While it’s tempting to say that “everyone is a customer!”, remember that your job as a product manager is to prioritize and focus. Who is the best customer for the organization, based on the metrics that you previously defined?
When thinking about customer segment definitions, you have a wide variety of attributes at your disposal. You can use demographic attributes such as age, gender, income, or geographic location. You can also use behavioral attributes such as “heavy social media user”, or “goes grocery shopping twice a week.”
Don’t assume that the company’s current target customer segment is automatically the customer segment you should go after. On the flip side, you should seriously consider whether the company's current customer segment is the best for your objectives.
Pain Points and Features
You’ve now defined who your customers are. Next, you must determine what pain points they face so that your product can provide value by solving those pains in a targeted manner.
Of course, you will not be able to conduct live customer research in the middle of your interview! At this point, describe your assumptions about your customers' pain points based on the segment that you created.
Work collaboratively with your interviewer to validate your assumptions. Do they agree with your assessment? If not, ask them for their reasoning and reflect on whether their perspective makes sense to you. If so, you can then incorporate their logic into your thinking.
Now that you know your customer and have a couple of relevant pain points in mind, you can brainstorm features that can solve these pain points.
Software Product Roadmap
Discuss how each proposed feature specifically solves each of the different pain points that you’re targeting. Keep track of these proposed features in a visible location so that you can prioritize them in the next step.
Looking at your list of new features, you now need to determine what goes into a minimum viable product, what goes into a pilot, what goes into a rollout, and what should be left as future enhancements. Prioritization is key - determine which features deliver the core value the fastest.
Product Roadmap Template
I generally like to bundle together a core set of features as a minimum viable product (MVP) then show how I might add more features into version 1 and version 2.
This provides a great transition into the timeline - I can now show how long it would take to have the MVP available, and how much more time it takes to get to version 1 and version 2.
With your set of features, provide estimates on how long they would take to be completed. If possible, show what tasks could be done in parallel versus what tasks must be done serially. Using a whiteboard or a piece of paper to draw out a Gantt chart (Wikipedia article) can be helpful to visualize the timeline.
Remember that as a product manager, while you work most closely with your engineers, you need to account for dependencies with other stakeholders as well. For example, if you are working in a B2B organization, you’ll want to highlight dependencies with Business Development, Sales, Marketing, and Customer Success teams, and bake those times into your delivery timelines as well.
Assumptions and Impacts on Roadmap
Highlight your assumptions. For example, time to deliver = effort / resources.
If you're going to say when you want to deliver something (e.g. “in two quarters from today”), you need to tell your interviewer upfront what resources you expect to have, and what effort you estimate.
It doesn't need to be at the story point level or at the person-hour level - 'shirt sizes' (large / / small) is generally sufficient.
If your interviewer raised any concerns or open questions throughout the roadmap challenge, now is a great time to revisit those questions and show how they might change the roadmap and timeline.
As a more concrete example: let's pretend that your interviewer mentioned in an earlier discussion that some of the technology needed in your roadmap requires partnerships with 3rd parties because those capabilities are not yet available in-house.
Show the tradeoffs that you'd make if you developed in-house vs outsourced. if you partnered with others, and show the critical steps needed to vet out and implement a 3rd party technology.
As another example, say you released your MVP, but then found out that your customers did not react positively to your MVP. How would you iterate? How long might that take? If you conducted additional customer research to flesh out learnings, what downstream impacts would that cause?
Remember that this roadmap challenge is meant simply to test your thinking on-the-fly - your interviewer does not expect you to have a fully bulletproof plan.
Plus, product roadmaps change over time due to market circumstances and user needs discovery anyway - so there's no such thing as a perfect roadmap!
When practicing, practice under the same time constraints that you'd have in an interview.
Product Manager Roadmap Example
Take no longer than 30 minutes to get through all aspects of the above framework, and note down areas where you feel you're a bit shaky or where you felt you didn't have sufficient time to explain yourself.
Product Manager Roadmap Examples
Practice your timing so that you don't spend too much time in any one section, but that you are ready to dive deep if your interviewer asks you for it.
Give your interviewer a sense of where you're going with your framework. Tell them upfront that you'll be tackling particular topics in a particular order so that they understand the tradeoffs that you will make if they do decide to ask you to dive deep into a particular section.
While practicing can seem daunting, remember that by practicing now, you will dramatically improve your chances during the real interview. Stay motivated!
Product Manager Roadmap
Interested in learning how to dominate these types of product manager interview questions and land the product manager job? You might want to check out our popular course: One Week PM.
Clement Kao is a Co-Founder of Product Manager HQ. He is currently a Product Manager at Blend, an enterprise technology company that is inventing a simpler and more transparent consumer lending experience while ensuring broader access for all types of borrowers.