What’s the most challenging part of product management, in your opinion? Is it working with stakeholders, managing a team, planning a strategic roadmap?
According to ProductPlan 2019 report, 32% of product managers (PDMs) admit that their most complex task is to create a realistic action plan that leads to achieving a strategic goal.
Setting short-term & long-term objectives and planning initiatives are key to any website/app development process. They’re as important to the overall product success as the market analysis or creating a USP.
Unfortunately, not all managers understand the original mission of roadmaps and confuse them with static presentations of product evolution.
As a result, development machines get stuck on the off-road instead of going smoothly along the predefined path.
Here we’re sharing basic information on how digital product roadmap works and tips on how to build action plans for different audiences.
What is a digital product roadmap?
In tech terms, the digital product roadmap is a presentation of the product growth that consists of steps (milestones) needed to reach the primary aim. In a broader sense, it’s a communication method used by managers for keeping the team and stakeholders involved in the product development aware of the changes in strategy and tactics.
Note, that strategy planning precedes road-mapping that breaks the product vision down into core initiatives.
Roadmaps are universal instruments helping companies and individuals manage various processes — setting and altering strategies, creating marketing campaigns, implementing innovations, allocating human resources. These visual documents accompany each stage of the product lifecycle – from the introduction to decline.
It’s critical to distinguish release plans from feature backlogs.
A feature backlog is a set of the desired functionality prospects are awaiting from your solution. When creating roadmaps you schedule features that come with your MVP and later – with each product update.
Speaking about product development, there are several types of blueprints for actions you can apply to your processes.
Plans for a single product and a portfolio. If the company is developing several solutions and each is coordinated by an independent PDM, it may become challenging for stakeholders to track the changes in each direction.
To an end, you can create an overarching plan of actions that is to present the development paths for outcomes grouped under a certain category.
The criteria for clusterisation may be the following:
- enhanced performance;
- market expansion;
- mobile experience;
- user satisfaction.
Since roadmaps are designed for different audiences and serve different purposes, it’s a good idea to diversify your plans.
- Product team — include milestones, tasks with status, and timeframes.
- Executives — feature a release schedule and execution plan.
- Marketing & Sales —
- Customers (if you present them with your strategy plan) — all you need is to showcase the product vision and direction you’re heading in.
Besides, blueprints differ in the presentation approach — Timeline or Kanban view. Kanban view gives a full picture of task progression and completion. It’s oftentimes used for managing sprints and feature releases.
Timeline presentations showcase the entire product’s development with assignees, tasks, and deadlines, which provides the management and the team with a global product concept.
There’s another thing to keep in mind. Product plans and product development presentations differ by nature and timescale.
While the former is set for longer periods and reflect the ultimate goal of your website or app, the latter defines major steps and events between product versions releases.
What to include in a product roadmap?
What sets an effective roadmap apart from the rest of the templates? A few important attributes that make it easier to understand the expected result.
The must-haves in a digital product roadmap you can’t (and shouldn’t) avoid are goals, epics, stories, and timelines.
So, a product roadmap should include:
1. Goals (or themes)
The goal should give an answer to “Why the product should be developed?” question.
For instance, you’re building a real estate crowdfunding platform. Your goal could be something like “Allow real estate developers raise funds from everyday investors on a platform with fully-automated fundraising and investment process”.
Make your goal/theme clear and comprehensible so that everyone understands it. To make your goal more meaningful, add some data proving your idea.
Goals can be achieved through epics describing functionality or user stories that are necessary to implement. Let’s take the above-mentioned example: creating a platform for investing in real estate projects. The epics, in this case, could be “Enable investors to sign up on a platform and manage their investment portfolio”, “Allow real estate developers create fundraising campaigns and monitor the funding process”, etc.
The next level-down is stories, development tasks that are performed under a certain epic. For example, implementation of the investor registration on a crowdfunding platform requires design, front-end and back-end work.
All these items explain a planned list of must- and nice-to-have features laid out in product evolution.
Apart from these attributes, visual presentations come with a timeline, swimlanes, and statuses.
Timelines help you schedule product releases and set deadlines for assigned tasks.
There’s a discussion on whether or not you should add deadlines to your digital product development roadmap. No matter what you decide, there are a few tips to ease your work with dates:
- deadlines are important at the tactical level; don’t bother with them when setting strategy;
- focus on your audience: time frames are important for dev specialists while salesmen need expectations more;
if your target user is public and you’re eager to present digital product planning results on your website, simply say “will be available in 2021” or “in the next version/update”.
With swimlanes, you can group items by certain criteria, be it themes, epics or stories.
For example, you’ve got a marketing, dev and design teams working on your food delivery application. In the roadmap, you can state product initiatives each team is responsible for: e.g., security for web team, UX improvements for designers, competitor research for marketers.
Colour statuses are great when it comes to communicating your tactic and strategy and monitoring the product advancing.
It takes only a quick glance to see what tasks are planned/approved, in progress or successfully completed.
But that’s not all. The roadmap type and level of detail define its elements. You may want to add legends, bars, tags, bars, and metrics.
How can digital product planning benefit your company?
The answer is definitely ‘yes’. Roadmaps are super beneficial to any product development team and here’s why:
- by using them, PDMs are able to adjust product strategies to constantly changing business environment;
- metrics embedded in blueprints enhances the planning and prioritisation processes;
- work programmes allow executives to keep CEO, CTO, owners, engineers and the target audience posted on how the product is evolving;
- well-thought-out tactical actions determine the success of the strategy implementation;
- road-mapping is a collaborative process bringing together different departments and experts;
- special software for making blueprints increases the efficiency of PDMs’ performance;
ProductPlan Report — roadmap tools
- with detailed plans, it’s easier to avoid chaos in managing several products simultaneously;
- blueprints help companies be effective in terms of time and human resources allocated for product growth;
- every party keeps abreast with the ongoing situation and future initiatives.
And now let’s have a quick look at some factual info describing trends in preparation and prioritisation works.
- big companies tend to develop plans for longer periods than small businesses;
- 69% of roadmaps are updated on a monthly or weekly basis;
- 33% of PDMs rely on special software when it comes to road-mapping;
- 26% of executives admit that ranging and scheduling initiatives is one of the most challenging tasks;
- 58% of managers report that they build different action plans for different audiences;
- 41% of blueprints are aimed at top managers and dev teams.
Types of product roadmaps
ProductPlan says that there are three popular types of roadmaps:
- Timeline-based. If deadlines are super essential for your stakeholders, try this type of blueprints. Project initiatives are organized taken into account the period they’re set for. For stakeholders, it’s an opportunity to see what you’re currently busy with. For you, it’s an argument to explain why the team can’t move faster or shift deadlines.
- No-dates. Again, if you create a product roadmap report for marketing or sales groups or other departments, opt for date-free docs. Their goal is to generate interest and set expectations for clients, communicate the product message and benefits for sales reps and the product vision — for top management.
- Kanban roadmaps. The previous types are to focus on the product strategy, while Kanban blueprints are expected to show current initiatives. They’re great for teams involved in the product development since they display the status and priorities of each task and activity.
Other digital product development roadmap examples: initiative, product and release roadmaps.
Creating a digital product roadmap from ground zero
1. Do your homework
Start with the market and competitive analysis. Identify your target audience and their pain points. The functionality of your solution should solve the problems of your clientele. Without a clear understanding of your solution’s mission and ultimate goal, you won’t be able to craft a feasible strategy.
2. Prioritise features and attributes
Think about the functionality your product can and may have. Group attributes by their complexity and importance. Then define the scope of features for every product release, schedule versions and updates, and don’t forget to set real dates.
- when developing a roadmap use impact mapping technique to plan and organize activities that will help teams achieve the product goal;
- try the product tree technique to visualize the overall scope of the product and the way it will be developing;
- you can start with a theme-based roadmap to present a bird’s eye view of your priorities and then create more detailed blueprints;
- when reviewing or re-prioritising features take into account dependencies and risks related to tech aspects, finance or regulation.
3. Season your plan with the right metrics
To sound more persuasive, your document should present some real data. It’s essential not to include all the stat related to your product as some numbers may lead the audience in the wrong direction. Here are some examples of data you may find relevant to include in your product plan. Long story short, all the metrics can be divided into a customer- and business-oriented indicators.
- consider concrete goals and KPIs as starting points when reviewing your roadmaps;
- you can rely on expert opinions, industry analysts, and competitors when selecting metrics for your roadmaps;
- carefully choose the metrics you’re going to use in a roadmap, avoid irrelevant data; experts advise using up to 5 indicators;
- make sure metrics you rely on correspond to the product goal.
4. Your blueprint is ready for sharing
Product plans aren’t to be stored on the Google Drive; they should go live. There are plenty of ready-made templates for building blueprints with an option to add collaborators. Unlike Excel spreadsheets or .ppt files, online roadmaps are accessible to any party.
Creating a digital product roadmap doesn’t end after the meeting with interested parties. You, as a product director, should be ready to spend a great deal of the time on updating your blueprint and keeping the audience informed.
- use different types of roadmaps for various goals, teams and stakeholders;
- make sure that every roadmap is visible and easy to understand at a glance;
- share only the live samples updated regularly;
- create and communicate roadmaps as a presentation of intentions rather than a strict plan.
Building a product roadmap: how we do it
At JustCoded, we help startups and mature businesses engineer web and mobile applications from scratch and accelerate existing development processes.
To deliver bespoke solutions on time and within a predefined budget, we recommend our clients start with the discovery stage.
Based on where you are with your product idea, the discovery stage may be shorter or longer.
We offer 3 discovery stage plans:
- Express: works great for well-elaborated requirements. Most probably you have already done your homework regarding the business goals, flows and would like to clarify a thing or two, get a detailed estimate, and a technical feasibility assessment.
- Standard: fits existing digital products and websites that need adjustments or further development. The main goal here is to
understand how the product currently works, which challenges exist, and how we can address them tech-wise.
- Advanced: ideal for very early-stage ideas or for complex systems that require full-scale research and analysis. Due to in-depth and detailed
planning we can eliminate risks and uncertainties, saving you up to 50% on the development budget.
All of the three options differ by the scope of work, deliverables, and cost. However, the roadmap is included in all of them and only differs by level of detail: express discovery presumes high-level roadmap, while standard and advanced provide a detailed roadmap.
We begin with developing a digital product strategy and roadmap that help us decide on the right solution to meet your product goals. When there is a detailed plan on our hands, we’re ready to present release schedule, ballpark estimate and resources needed for a project realisation.
Our business analysts collect all the details (challenges, competitors, user needs, technical limitations) to build a feasible roadmap.
Here are a few of our clients we did business analysis for.
Luxury Shares is a fractional ownership platform for real estate development companies and property owners.
The project was complex in terms of the design (the client wanted to create the enticing holiday atmosphere) and functionality (there was a requirement to integrate an investment user flow).
To better understand the concept, we ran several calls with the client and made a list of requirements which further were included in the product dev roadmap.
The Intern Group
We redesigned a website for The Intern Group, the largest global internship provider. The client wasn’t pleased with their old website performance and set the goal to increase conversion rate and website speed.
Through web design audit, we revealed plenty of bottlenecks that negatively influenced user experience. The best solution, in this case, was to rebuild a website from scratch, which we did.
After careful project analysis, we created the detailed project scope, planned works and activities to meet the tight deadline and budget.
MEO SPORT is an example of MVPs we elevate. Several years ago a young London-based startup reached out to us seeking help in building a scalable product.
Our task was to design a responsive website for a matchmaking platform bringing athletes and brands together and then convert it into a mobile app.
Solid documentation of the scope paired with responsive communications allowed us to translate the client’s vision into a reality.
There’s hardly anything better for a development company than a client with a clear understanding of the final outcome.
We were lucky to collaborate with one of such companies — Focus — a risk management platform created by Silo35.
Since requirements were pretty clear, we dove deep into the business and project peculiarities. We used our findings obtained at the business analysis page to create a functional specification and digital product workflow.
Teamwork is our helper in the digital product roadmap process.
Teamwork has many tools to simplify the daily routine of development units and coordinators: handy environment to enhance planning, collaboration, product delivery and results reporting.
It comes with a combo of great features — BoardView, Gantt Chart, Calendar, Messages, Dashboard and others.
With the Board view, managers can track the task progress and put the workflow on the autopilot. Gantt charts allow you to observe the timeline, set milestones, and assign tasks.
Ready-made templates are useful if you want to save time on creating similar task lists.
In the collaboration module, you can find parameters and permissions for different user roles. The message function is another great feature letting collaborators leave comments and communicate with each other.
Teamwork is free for small squads who are just starting their development journey. For larger clients, they have Pro ($9/ mo) and Premium ($15/ mo) plans.
A few thoughts before you go
In the past, battles were won by the armies with effective strategies where each action was fixed on paper.
A roadmap is your scenario in the battle for potential customers and product success.
Only those PDMs (Generals) who invest enough time into creating product growth paths and update them on a regular basis may be confident that the team and development are on the right track.
Excel files and presentations have plenty of drawbacks when it comes to roadmapping, that’s why we recommend that you try dedicated software that will unite your army around the product concept.