If you're reading this article, you already know that a roadmap allows you to fully align your product development efforts with your business goals. You understand that product maps are the foundation for creating awesome products and experiences. And you want to use a product map of epicness, not mediocrity.
The problem is, you've tried mapping before but got bogged down in the details and couldn't get it done. Or, maybe you've been frozen by fear and never tried making a map yourself. Don't worry —this guide has got you covered.
You'll have to do some strategic thinking and planning, but once you follow the process described in this article, you can develop a killer product map.
Let's put pen to paper!
A product map is a visual representation of your product used in the development process. It helps you to understand the features and components of your product, how they interact with each other, and whether they work together as a system.
You can use a product map to:
For an example of a product roadmap in action, check out this roadmap for a new software product:
Every product roadmap is different, but there are some common elements you'll want to include:
What do you want to achieve with this product? Why is this important? What is the vision for this experience?
Your goals can be very high-level, like "increase sales by 25% in six months," or very specific, like "make sure all new customers get their first order shipped within two days of placing it."
Your goals could also look like this:
As long as your goal gives you direction, there is no "wrong" way to set a goal.
Your goal is typically the first thing you add to your product roadmap. You should also remember to include specific metrics for each goal so that you know when it has been achieved and how much work remains before you reach it.
Your initiatives/objectives are the starting point for planning your product map. These are milestones you need to achieve on the way to your goal — expressed as an actionable outcome or result that the customer can understand and appreciate.
For example, "I want to create an online shopping cart" or "I want to make it easy for users to order food" are great initiatives/objectives.
Note: Initiatives/objectives may also be referred to as "problem-solution statements" in some circles.
The stages of release will provide insight into what needs to be done before you wrap up each stage of development. These stages help you break big projects into smaller and more achievable ones.
Some typical stages of release include planning, research, mock-up development, assessment, development, and testing. You might also just refer to stages as "stage 1" or "release 1."
You'll add your release stages to your map after adding your goals. At all times, your map should answer questions like:
It might help to use color coding, patterns, or icons to represent your release stages.
Features are the meat of a product map. They represent specific capabilities that your customers want and will pay for. Features also communicate how your product will evolve over time.
Your timeline should include as many details as possible, including due dates, dependencies, and other events that could impact delivery dates (e.g., holidays).
Here’s a PowerPoint product roadmap template that shows you where release dates fit into a product roadmap:
We like this example specifically because it highlights and tracks key milestones and processes (instead of just one or the other).
Now that you know what a product roadmap typically includes, you're probably wondering how to make one that deserves an A+.
Here's our step-by-step "create a product roadmap that rocks" method:
Before you start planning your roadmap, think about what you want to achieve with it. You can use it as an internal communication tool or even as a way of communicating with your customers by showing them what features will be released next.
The ultimate goal of your product roadmap (and, for the record, your customer journey map) should encompass sub-goals like:
Once you have a goal, make it actionable by setting a clear timeline to complete it by. ProductPlan’s Product Planning Report 2018 suggests that the average timeframe is between four and 12 months.
Your timeline should be laid out in days, weeks, months, quarters, or years.
The next step is to set your initiatives.
Initiatives are called "initiatives" because they're not necessarily finished products or marketing processes themselves; they're just pieces of work that need doing along the way. Your initiatives might be new social media posts, bug fixes, or internal sales process improvements. Or they could be completely different — for example, a partnership with other companies in order to provide a better service for your users.
For instance, Boys Town, a firm that supports youth and families, was focused on developing a growth strategy to increase impact and boost the organization’s financial success.
Boys Town's strategy centered on four critical goals and 11 different initiatives to help the team achieve its goals. Some initiatives focused on enhancing and expanding programs, while others focused on building organizational capacity.
Here's a summary of how the Boys Town team broke their goals into initiatives:
Next, you need to work out what you need to do for each initiative to make your product a reality. For example, if you are developing marketing and sales collateral, you need to know how long it will take to write the copy and get it approved by the client.
The best way to break down your initiatives is by talking to your customers and users and finding out what they want from your product.
Start by identifying the key features and benefits that will make their lives easier, then turn those into things that you can build into your roadmap.
If you're working on an existing product or service, ask customers what they think could be improved or added. If you're building something new, ask customers what problems they have that would be solved by having this feature or benefit available in your product.
Once you've got an idea of what people want from your product (and how much they want it), start prioritizing those features according to how important they are for your business overall.
Product roadmaps are often too big to implement all at once, and the end result is that nothing gets done because there isn’t enough time or money to go around.
The solution? Scheduling your initiatives into releases.
Here’s how you can break down your product roadmap into manageable chunks:
Another way to break your initiatives down is to use a two-by-two (2×2) prioritization matrix. Using the matrix, you can prioritize and schedule initiatives into one of the four quadrants after examining their value and risk:
If you use this approach, you'll still want to separate your tasks into releases. Depending on the tasks at hand and your team, you might choose to take on one quadrant at a time or take a customized approach (like doing a handful of high-risk, high-value and low-risk, high-value tasks together).
Creating a solid product roadmap also entails adding a buffer between the steps of your plan.
For example, if you're developing a social media strategy, you might have three phases — creating content, editing it, and then analyzing it. Each phase might last three weeks with a week's buffer. This way, if something goes wrong or takes longer than expected, you still have time before the publishing day arrives to fix things.
Your roadmap should be based on your product strategy. That means it should be informed by your company's mission, vision, and values as well as its goals for growth, profitability, and sustainability. It should also be rooted in customer needs and behavior.
How can you expect anyone else to follow along if you don't know where you're headed? That's why it's so important to ensure everyone on the team understands what they're building — not just developers or designers but also marketers, product managers, salespeople, and executives (if you have those).
Always consult your team and ask for feedback on your product roadmap. You'll never know what useful insights people can share until you ask them.
And that's it! Your A+ product roadmap is complete.
Product maps are a great way to organize your products and make them easier to manage. If you're new to using them (or just want to improve), here are some best practices that you should follow:
Creating a product map is a lot of work, but the result will be well worth it for you. A product roadmap can guide you toward your end goals, and the best part is — it's completely open and customizable to your needs! Your map is yours.
If you're looking to get the most from your product roadmap, we recommend trying out Triple Whale. Triple Whale can help you master your data so your marketing is data-driven, informed by customer behavior, and success-focussed.
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