Product Roadmaps: Introduction

A product roadmap encompasses and elaborates the vision of the product which actually produces the product idea. The vision is a very important and significant factor which drives a great product to come into being in spite of not being a very mandatory or over discussed topic in agile framework.  The vision is a partially formed business idea of something that functions in various ways and can be used to do work that brings new values or changes the marketplace drastically.

The product roadmap contains the vision of expected ROI (Return on Investment), release milestones and the goals associated with them that evolve over time. It is a guiding document for what one is building and the plan to execute various strategies. It is created and maintained by the Product Managers/Owners responsible for the product deliverables.

They use them for outlining the future product functionality and the timeframes for the new functionalities to be released. Along with this product roadmaps are used by Product Owners/Managers for collaboration with teams and various stakeholders to be on a common platform and ensure about the growing and shaping of the product according to the business objectives. Multiple agile teams can share a single roadmap and work simultaneously on that.

Product roadmaps and release plans are not set in stone. It changes as the priorities and understanding changes and the timelines can be re-prioritised. When the customer’s preferences or landscape changes it’s important to modify the roadmap to reflect the status of the work and the future goals. They have become a living document in the agile era with shorter timelines and more frequent adjustments to capture changing markets, opportunities, value propositions and engineering constraints.

Product Roadmaps should be updated as required maybe weekly or fortnightly for its accuracy but unnecessary time should not be spent as it is just a planning tool and not the actual product. Some of the good practices for best roadmaps is that they should include each and every detail necessary for the audience. They should be transparent enough for each one to understand. Everyone involved should have access to it along with the stakeholders to ensure alignment.

Once the roadmap is built it is required to be shared among all in order to make aware of all the vision and the future direction. Different organisations use different ways to share the roadmaps. Some make excel sheets or PowerPoint presentations and circulate via email to everyone. While it is the simplest and easiest method but is the one which is most flawed.

The updates done on the product roadmaps which may include changing of priority or adding a very important feature or deleting an obsolete one does not get intimated to all as everyone is holding their own copies thus making the process tiresome. The better option is to use online collaboration techniques or tools which when the product roadmap is posted online the changes done will automatically be notified to all shared participants thus keeping everyone in sync.

Some of the components of the Product roadmap are:

a. Goals

Goals are measurable objectives which are time bound and which shows the success metrics associated. They are included in product roadmap to show the product vision implementing into reality.

b. Product

A product can be an idea, an information, a requirement, an invention, a need, a want or a method. It can have both hardware and software attributes which is given for purchase by the seller of the product.

c. Releases

Releases contain the functionality or new fixes which is agreed to the customer for increasing value. It contains multiple features or epics which are rolled out together.

d. Features

Features represent new functionality or enhancements which are delivered to the customers containing more information and value.

e. Epics

Epics are large chunks of work which have one common objective. It can be a business requirement, a feature, a major fix or a customer demand. Epics cannot be delivered in one sprint. It is broken down into user stories and the delivered incrementally.

f. User Stories

User stories are basically the features which are to be delivered in a single sprint. They are the new features which are released with the customer or the end user perspective. Written in a natural and layman language it helps to create a simplified version of the requirement.

g. Time

Product roadmaps include dates to show the time of various deliverables. It can range from days to weeks to months to quarters or probably years.

h. Status

To be more useful product roadmaps consist of status indicators to depict the current state of epics, user stories, goals, features and releases.

i. Initiatives

Initiatives are efforts or themes which integrate different features where they must be implemented in order to achieve certain goals.

j. Metrics

Metrics provide the help in the measuring in data driven goals like churn rate or traffic.

Roadmaps are made in different flavours according to a variety of audiences:

  1. For internal development team: These are created on the basis of how the development team is working. Many teams use agile methodologies and so these roadmaps comprise of sprints, epics and user stories along with the timelines.
  2. For internal sales team: These are created to focus on new features and customer benefits highlighting the USPs of the product for various sales discussions. Timelines and constraints should be avoided to not pressurize the development team involved.
  3. For internal top executives: These are created at a high level to show how the work is progressing toward achieving goals and metrics. Granular level details like sprints, epics, user stories and timelines are not highlighted.
  4. For external customers and prospects: These are created for the existing and prospective customers. They should be designed in a way to create excitement in the customer about what’s coming ahead. They contain high level generalised view of new features or enhancements in a prioritised manner to let the customer know the future path and direction of the product.