How to Build a Product Roadmap

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How to Build a Product Roadmap

Firstly, thank you to everyone who voted for my topic, “How to build a Product Roadmap” as the No. 1 topic of ProductCamp Sydney 2011. Following Nathan Moyes’ keynote speech touching on the difference between the “slate”, a shorter-term delivery plan, and the Product Roadmap, a more fluid longer-term vision, we kicked-off the unconference with a Q & A about Product Roadmaps.

Encompassing the 50 or more Product Managers and their input during the session, here is the summary of what resulted:

What is a Product Roadmap?

Mitesh Solanki from How to Impact described the Product Roadmap as something that takes you from A to B, without describing how you get there.

A useful Product Roadmap shows the plan for delivering customer value over time. It is the output of the product planning process where the following have been established:

  • Target market(s)
  • Target market’s needs
  • Size of the market
  • Competitive landscape
  • Industry trends
  • Organisational goals and vision
  • Product feature and benefits that meet the target market’s needs
  • Timing of the launch of the products and feature

What timeframes are appropriate for a Product Roadmap?

Michael Pearson from Macquarie Bank talked about the use of fixed time horizons to describe the different degrees of reliability of the activities on the Roadmap.

Depending on the purpose of the Roadmap, the timeframe can be as follows:

  • Short-term horizon with clarity (weeks/months)
  • Medium-term horizon with some vision (months/years)
  • Longer-term to set the future direction and goals (Over 3 years)

The actual times will be dependent on the industry time scales as well.

Should Product Roadmaps include historical information?

Historical information tracked in the Product Roadmap may be useful in these instances:

  • Resource planning
  • Building a business case
  • Assisting internal communications demonstrating what has been delivered

What are the various ways a Product Roadmap can be used?

  • As an internal communications tool providing clarity on what the product plan is and how it addresses market needs
  • Creating stability within the organisation by demonstrating the short or long term horizon
  • To communicate what the product delivery team is working on
  • Planning future resources
  • Demonstrating appropriate positioning a corporate vision or brand for sales and marketing, and establishing customer commitment
  • Engaging stakeholders and getting their buy-in

Product Roadmaps are compiled for existing and new products and features, as well as on a broader level for product portfolios. What steps do you take to build a Product Roadmap for a new product?

  • “Back casting”- starting with the high level organisational vision and goals
  • Refining existing Roadmaps
  • Undertaking Market analysis
  • Developing the business case to ensure the product strategy delivers on commercial goals
  • Sharing the draft Roadmap with the appropriate stakeholders at the appropriate time to gain their input and buy-in

Who puts a Product Roadmap together?

The Product Manager/Owner collates the Roadmap as well as acting as liaison with key organisational stakeholders, including those who control the budget, sales, marketing & customer support team-members. These stakeholders provide relevant insights into the market needs, product strategy for specific markets and industry trends. This information impacts the priority list and influences what new features and products should be launched.

How do you prioritise items on the Product Roadmap?

  • Understanding the customer’s core needs and wants
  • Considering the possibilities to solve the customer’s core needs
  • Aligning the most important customer needs/wants with the corresponding products/features and customer benefits
  • Leveraging the wisdom of crowds
  • Considering disruption models in the market

What tools are available to prioritise, track and communicate items on the Product Roadmap?

  • Excel/PowerPoint
  • Accept
  • FeaturePlan

Summary:

It was clear by the end of the discussion a Product Roadmap is not an activity to be performed in isolation. Nick Coster from Brainmates concluded the Product Roadmap represents a summary view of the business, market and product strategies, market and competitive intelligence, and technology trends overlaid against time. Without this pre-planning Product Roadmaps can simply turn into wish-lists of product features that never see the light of day.

Product Roadmaps serve multiple purposes, so the level of detail and timeline varies for each type needed.

Used well, Product Roadmaps are a clear map of how your products will evolve to deliver customer value. They are also the best indication of where you are, where you are going and how to get there.

 

About The Author

Nick Coster is the Head of Training Services and a co-founder of Brainmates. He is passionate about the benefits of building products and services that delight the buyer and the user. He has been developing and managing products for over 15 years, with range of different companies including Telstra BigPond, Excite@Home, Optus, Westpac, eBay, Cochlear, and Macquarie University. Nick is Brainmates' lead Product Management training facilitator. He enjoys training product managers from different industries and working with them to help them deliver market-driven product innovation. He brings life to the Product Delivery Cycle framework by sharing his personal experiences as a practitioner of Product Management.

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