Product Roadmap Best Practices
Product roadmaps are, well, maps 🗺️. But instead of representing a physical territory, they are a guideline for the development and evolution of a product. The roadmap is a record of what a product aspires to be, what actual steps are on the table to achieve that goal, and what new developments your company has planned for the future.
We have discussed the basics of roadmaps before. But in this article, we’ll explore the best practices for creating and curating a successful roadmap.
Here are the best practices to make a successful product roadmap:
Have different types of roadmaps
What are you trying to achieve with your roadmap? Even though roadmaps are always a guide for product development, different types are best suited to specific goals. The two main types are internal and external roadmaps (private versus public), with some subtypes related to who’s your target audience.
Internal product roadmaps are meant for you and your team and are used as company guidelines on the goals set for a product. Good internal roadmaps communicate what steps are needed to achieve your short and long-term goals. The idea is to coordinate work, develop strategies, and keep all the teams on the same page.
Internal product roadmaps can be a single company-wide document to keep your entire workforce in sync, or it can be a collection of team-specific maps focused on what each area needs to keep in mind. For example:
- You can have a dedicated developers roadmap that includes more technical information.
- You can have a marketing roadmap focused on how each update can solve your customers’ problems. Or a roadmap that includes sales goals projected for a new feature.
- You can have a management roadmap that will allow your team managers or C-suite executives to see a broader picture of where the product is going and what each team is working on.
- You can even have an investor-specific roadmap that will sell them on the new developments that your product will include soon.
External product roadmaps (also called public roadmaps or client-facing roadmaps) are meant for users and potential customers, created to be seen by the world! This kind of product roadmap is usually less technical and more focused on the benefits provided by each update. How will this new feature improve the user’s experience?
Think of them as a form of advertisement and enticement for what’s to come. This will improve user engagement and promote your product as an evolving and future-facing tool. And as you keep your audience informed about what’s already completed, you’ll increase feature discovery. Users will know what to expect next and what to go test right now!
Involve different teams
In the roadmap game, there’s no “one ring to rule them all” (Hi, LoTR nerds! 🧙♂️ 🤓). Sure, decisions may be taken by management, but products are collective efforts. Each of your teams has different organizational needs and a particular insight on their workflow, and they can contribute with that knowledge to create a roadmap that sets realistic expectations.
For example, your sales or customer success teams are closer to your users and they’ll know more than anyone else about customer behavior, wants, and needs. Your product team will be best suited to measure the viability and value of a particular endeavor, while your development or engineering team will know how much time and effort it takes to transform any idea into a real usable feature.
Remember that roadmaps reflect the long-term vision of your product. Regardless of the product roadmap you create (single company-wide or team-by-team), feed on the inputs of each of your teams. That way, you can:
- Differentiate what roadmap items need to be tech-oriented and what need to be user-focused.
- Estimate timelines and deadlines based on experience and realistic goals.
- Learn what each team needs to keep in sync with other teams, with management, and within themselves.
- Coordinate global goals, strategies, and collective efforts. Organize inter-team workflows.
Be aware of deadlines
You can use status to show in what stage of development is each of your roadmap updates. Different status tags can organize the timeline and even show what’s already been accomplished to boost product discovery and usage. Some example status tags are: proposed, planned, in progress, on beta, completed, or launched.
But even though status is useful –and included in most roadmaps– it doesn’t reflect time. Your audience will know you’re working on something, but when it’s gonna be ready? What will be next?
To show, or not to show deadlines? That is the question ⏰. It depends. The if and how to use time as a parameter in your roadmap is tricky. There are at least three different approaches, each of them with its own pros and cons:
- Priority order communicates which updates are the most important to you and in what order you’ll be tackling them. It’s good to give your customers an idea of what you value the most and in what features you’re investing the most resources. The con is that ordering your updates can be interpreted as a sequential path, fixed, and without parallel development. It also doesn’t communicate how much time to wait until further development.
- Deadlines are set delivery dates and are great for transparency. Your users will know when you’ll be launching or updating your product. The con is that a fixed date can restrict your workflow, forcing you to deliver even if something happens and you need to take more development time than expected. Unaccomplished deadlines may tarnish trust or confuse your customers. Example deadlines can be dates like “August 8th” or specific weeks like “1st week of May”.
- Timeframes are similar to deadlines. Instead of using a fixed delivery date, you set a time range to complete the update. For example, quarters or semesters give you more flexibility in your delivery without losing the transparency provided by a fixed deadline.
You can combine approaches too! For example, ordering updates by priority while showing timeframes. You can even set deadlines in private to organize development work and show timeframes to customers to give yourself some leeway to adapt to unexpected situations.
Update your roadmap frequently
A product roadmap is a living document that changes with time. Setting everything up without revising may expose you to:
- Not delivering an update in time because of unexpected issues.
- Compromising to develop features that may result unfit for your users or outpaced by tech that wasn’t available when you created your roadmap.
- Crafting unwanted features that don’t drive up product usage.
- Working without proper user feedback, or getting it too late in the development process.
As a product evolves, the roadmap should change too. Updating your product roadmap constantly shows the work your team is doing. It also allows you to expand ideas, update items based on experience, add new projects, and change paths when needed. The key is to keep a transparent relationship with your customers by giving them information that reflects reality and not empty promises.
Ask your users!
So far, we have talked about roadmaps as a method to communicate future development to users, but what do users think? Developing your product without consulting with your customers may end with features that nobody uses or user interfaces that complicate things instead of making them smoother.
Data shows that users are very vocal about their good and bad experiences with a product. So why not using that feedback to improve yours? Who better than your users to tell you what they need from your product?
Your product roadmap doesn’t have to be a one-way stream. You can take feedback into account to make better decisions on what to do next and what proposed features will be the most popular. No crystal ball needed, just old listening 🔮.
There are a few ways to get feedback with a product roadmap:
- Upvotes. If you allow your users to vote for their favorite updates, you can gauge interest immediately. Don’t try to predict what’s gonna hit and what’s not! With a voting system, your users can tell you by themselves.
- Comments and reactions. Get more in-depth insights about what your users think of your roadmap updates with a comment section. They can –in their own words– explain what about an update excites them and what they would prefer to change. These detailed reports can help you close the feedback loop. That means using user feedback to make updates, communicating those updates, and getting feedback all over again.
- Feature request/proposal. To take the users’ contributions to the next level, allow them to propose the features they want to see. You could spend on expensive surveys, or you can just open a direct channel of communication and ask for your users’ ideas directly from your roadmap.
With Beamer Roadmaps, you can publish yours in a matter of minutes, no code required! Publish your planned product updates, get users’ votes, receive useful feedback and feature requests. All of this and more in a single powerful and easy-to-use tool that will allow you to communicate where your product’s going and what you’re working on.
Learn to prioritize
You may be inclined to include in your roadmap everything you plan to do, and everything you’re doing. Don’t! Too much information may be confusing and can trump the usefulness of a product roadmap.
Think about your audience and what kind of roadmap you’re working on! For example, while an internal roadmap needs to include all the information to get your team in sync, a public roadmap doesn’t.
A client-facing product roadmap needs to be simple and intuitive, communication should be clear. Instead of including lots of technical details, focus on the value, on what users get with a particular update.
A roadmap is not the place to publish every single detail about your product development process. A long list of future updates will confuse your potential customer and current users giving the idea that your product may be too buggy or incomplete.
A few rules to prioritize what to include in your product roadmap: ⚖️
- Is it popular or impactful? Some updates may be valuable for you, your team, and even your customers. But perceptions may deceive. If an update won’t entice your users or get them interested may be better to develop it without making too much noise. A roadmap is not just a one-to-one guideline of what you’re doing, it’s a communication platform, and communication has a purpose.
- Is it possible? Sometimes being too optimistic can be a bad thing. Never promise more than you can deliver. Consult with your team and make sure that every update in your roadmap is achievable in the way and time you communicate to your users.
- Is it worth it? Maybe a feature can be popular with your users but will it make your product grow. Measure the value that an update will provide against the effort necessary to develop it. Risk and reward! By calculating value versus effort you can make sure that the amount of work will be cost-worthy.
Always keep in mind that what’s valuable, risky, costly, popular, or impactful may vary depending on who you ask. Make sure to consult with your different teams and get user feedback before including something in your map.
A roadmap is not…
At this point, we have talked about how to keep best practices for any product roadmap, but before we leave, let’s make sure that your roadmap doesn’t become something it should not be:
- A roadmap is not a development blog. Nothing against them, though! Dev blogs can be engaging and allow us to get behind-the-scenes on any product. My fellow nerds will probably agree that development blogs (and project postmortems) can help you pick new ideas and improve how you develop products based on real third-party experiences. But roadmaps are not long-form writing. Roadmaps need to be impactful but concise. Product roadmaps can be a form of storytelling; the kind of tale told by a fantasy map, and not by a fantasy novel.
- A roadmap is not a wishlist. We talked about user requests and proposals as a great way to get feedback for your roadmap. But something that can kill your roadmap usefulness is to collect requests without answering them. Don’t let your roadmap become a wishing well or worst: a place where dreams go to die. Every update you publish (user request or planned by your team) must be achievable and something you at least plan to work on in the future. If not, remove it! And if you complete an update, make sure your users know, or it would be almost the same as not having completed it at all.
- A roadmap is not a backlog. A backlog is a task list of everything uncompleted that needs to be done. Even though it may sound similar to a roadmap, IT IS NOT. As we described before, roadmaps have a purpose. Don’t fill your map with small bug fixes! Product roadmaps can tell the story of what your product will become. Especially for user-facing roadmaps, you need to curate your updates to pick what will get the most engagement, impact, and value.
Even though a roadmap is not a place for these types of communication, it doesn’t mean that it’s not vital to update your users about bug fixes, or other forms of product development. You can do both. Combine a curated product roadmap with a changelog, where every update is announced and amplified. Cover all your bases, and don’t let any new feature get unnoticed!
And if you’re thinking of starting a product roadmap, or need a changelog to pair it with, then think of Beamer. Beamer is a full suite of tools that allow you to create a roadmap easily, no code skills required. You publish updates, allow users to vote for what interests them the most, send comments, and ask for features with a simple submit form. You can also create a changelog that you can embed directly in your app or site, to announce all the amazing work you’re doing to make your product what you promised it can be!