RST Software
Editorial Team
Ross Krawczyk
Reviewed by a tech expert

Product roadmap development: driving innovation through strategic planning

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Whether using pen and paper or dedicated software, whether brainstorming with your product team for hours or pondering alone — the creation of a product roadmap is a non-negotiable task, given its instrumental value to every innovative startup. In the constantly evolving and intensely competitive landscape, the ability to strategize is not just beneficial, it is absolutely crucial. A product roadmap, serving dual roles as a strategic compass and an operational blueprint, becomes an indispensable tool. But what exactly is a product roadmap, and why does it occupy such a pivotal role?

What is a product roadmap?

A product roadmap is not just a fancy chart or a glorified to-do list. Instead, it is a strategic tool that depicts a product's evolution throughout its lifecycle.

The roadmap often takes the form of a timeline, where each element signifies a distinct objective or functionality the group of features aims to realize or provide.

Familiar structures encompass:

  • timeline roadmaps, illustrating features and rollouts in a time-ordered manner;
  • theme-centric roadmaps, categorizing features and launches under broad themes or objectives;
  • swimlane roadmaps, arranging features and launches according to specific teams or departments.

Why do you need a product roadmap?

Think of a product roadmap as a multilayered but compelling story of your product. It aligns your team's efforts seamlessly with the overarching goals and aspirations, ensuring that every step taken is purposeful and aligned with the startup's vision. For instance, when Apple introduced the iPhone, the roadmap was not just about releasing a phone. It was about revolutionizing communication.

Essentially, a product roadmap articulates the reasoning by justifying the “how” and the “why” behind every product-related decision. It articulates the product vision, its alignment to strategy, and the value you are delivering to users and business. This makes it a crucial tool in strategic planning.

Furthermore, a product roadmap helps prioritize updates and features, as well as monitor the progress over time and make adjustments to your plans as needed.

How to create a product roadmap

Creation of a product roadmap can be both exciting and challenging. It is like piecing together a complicated route, where each step need to be performed on time to reach the destination:

Step 1. Set the vision: This is the overarching goal that you want your product to achieve. It is the biggest and the most attractive picture that guides all your efforts.

Step 2. Define goals: These are specific, measurable objectives and KPIs that support your vision. They give your team something concrete to work towards. For instance, one of your goals might be to attract 20,000 users within the first three months after launch.

Step 3. Identify initiatives: These are the high-level efforts you are going to undertake to achieve your goals. They are like the big projects or themes that you intend to focus on. For example, one of your initiatives might be to develop an MVP within the next 6 months.

Step 4. Detail features: These are the specific functionalities that your product needs to have in order for you to achieve success and increase market share.

Step 5. Prioritize: Not all features are created equal. Some are more important than others. Prioritization helps you focus on what is most essential and valuable to your users.

Step 6. Estimate timeframes: This is a tricky step when you try to estimate when each feature and initiative will or should be completed. It helps you plan your resources and manage expectations.

Step 7. Choose a format: This is where you decide how to present your roadmap. It could be a simple spreadsheet, a PowerPoint presentation, or a fancy auto-updating roadmap created with a dedicated roadmap software. The key is to choose a format that goes in line with your goals.

Step 8. Communicate: This is where you share your roadmap with your team and stakeholders to build buy-in and alignment.

Nevertheless, the creation of a product roadmap is not devoid of hurdles. The most formidable one is the temptation to include an excess of details. When the roadmap becomes overloaded, it turns into a complex, hard-to-decipher, and unproductive tool.

The second obstacle is the absence of flexibility in crafting a product roadmap. When market dynamics shift, adhering rigidly to even the most meticulously planned roadmap is not advisable. However, with the appropriate strategy, these challenges can be surmounted, resulting in a roadmap that genuinely propels your product development.

How to update your product roadmap

Refreshing your product roadmap is akin to maintaining your automobile; merely acquiring a gleaming new one is simply insufficient. Regular inspections and adjustments are necessary to ensure it operates seamlessly. This process entails merging necessary changes and fresh insights from all teams and stakeholders, much like a mechanic would with various car parts. It is imperative that all stakeholders meticulously document their contributions and address any bottlenecks in the product development trajectory.

These regular updates preserve the roadmap's relevance and alignment with your overarching strategic objectives, fostering a culture of perpetual improvement. Your roadmap should thus remain a dynamic document that mirrors your product's course. As your product evolves, your roadmap must evolve in tandem.

Whether it is the incorporation of a new feature desired by users or a recalibration in response to a competitor's similar offering, you should be agile enough to adapt to these shifts in the market landscape.

To illustrate the major principles discussed above, we can delve into some real-world examples of public product roadmaps that have been successfully implemented by industry leaders.

Three great product map examples

The roadmaps of GitHub, Buffer, and ClickUp, each a testament to strategic planning and innovation, offer unique insights and lessons, showcasing the diverse ways in which roadmaps can be utilized to drive product development.

GitHub product roadmap

GitHub, a platform that hosts and reviews code, manages projects, and builds software alongside 100 million developers, provides a stellar example of a product roadmap.

The GitHub roadmap is a public project board that provides transparent and interactive insights into what features GitHub is working on, what stage they are in, and when they expect to complete them.

It can be displayed in three distinct views, each offering a unique perspective that can be easily adjusted, filtered, and exported:

  • Board view: Each column displays releases planned for consecutive quarters, and is filled with separate entries for features and updates clearly labelled by function and target stage of development.
  • Table: Provides a list of entries for each quarter as a list that can be easily filtered, searched, and browsed.
  • Roadmap: Adds a calendar layer to the view.

Each entry can be opened in a detailed view that reveals a description including three points, answering why the feature is developed, what is going to be developed, and how it will work.

Buffer product roadmap

Buffer, a social media toolkit, also serves as a great public product roadmap example. The Buffer roadmap designed in Kanban-style and is divided into several lists, each representing a stage in the product development process:

  • In review,
  • Planned,
  • In progress, and
  • Shipped.

Each card on the board represents a feature or improvement, and includes a detailed description, a link to a discussion thread, and labels indicating the product area and the expected timeframe. It is a great example of a user-centered roadmap, displaying a “Suggest a feature'' button, and is integrated with forum threads called “Suggestion boards”.

This approach allows users to share their thoughts on what features they would like to see in the future, and to upvote the priority of certain functionalities. This, in turn, helps Buffer to ensure that their roadmap is aligned with the needs of its customers.

ClickUp product roadmap

ClickUp, a versatile platform designed to simplify work and boost productivity, showcases its planning excellence through its product roadmap. Divided into three classical columns: “Planned,” “In Progress,” and “Complete,” it's a clear and approachable roadmap that leverages user impact and belonging.

Though it lacks the eagle-view, ClickUp's roadmap is surprisingly non-technical and encourages voting and comments for registered users.

Seven best practices for building a product roadmap

Building a product roadmap requires practice and a set of guiding principles. Here are seven best practices to help you create a masterpiece of a product roadmap:

1. Keep it simple: Avoid adding too many details to your roadmap. The goal is to provide a high-level view of your strategy, not to overwhelm your team with the specifics. For example, instead of listing every single task required to develop a feature, focus on the main steps or phases.

2. Avoid specific dates: By eliminating specific deadlines, you can focus on the bigger picture and maintain flexibility. This allows for adjustments and shifts in priorities without disrupting the overall plan.

3. Continuously analyse: Regularly review and update your roadmap to keep it relevant. This helps in adapting to market changes and aligning the roadmap with current business goals.

4. Focus on themes, not features: Themes help you focus on the big picture and communicate the “why” behind what you are building. They provide a high-level view of your strategic goals, making your roadmap more understandable to stakeholders.

5. Engage stakeholders: A product roadmap is not just for the product team; it is for everyone involved in the product's development and use. Regular communication and feedback loops ensure alignment with needs and expectations.

6. Use a flexible format: The format of your roadmap should be flexible enough to accommodate changes and updates. Whether it is a simple spreadsheet or a dynamic, interactive tool, choose a format that allows for easy updates and can be easily understood by all stakeholders.

7. Align with business goals: Your product roadmap should align with your business goals. It should support your company's strategic objectives and show how your product plans contribute to these goals.

How RST Software can help you with product roadmap development

At RST Software, we do not just understand the significance of a meticulously crafted product roadmap in fueling innovation and strategic planning – we live and breathe it. Our team of seasoned experts is equipped to assist you in sculpting a strategic, potent product roadmap that is in perfect harmony with your business objectives and propels your product development.

Whether you are a fledgling startup taking its first flight or an established enterprise soaring high, we are here to provide the guidance and support your need to reach new heights.

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