Product backlog. Product to-do list. Product roadmap.

While all three phrases may seem similar, they’re vastly different. A product roadmap is more than a to-do list or a backlog. 

A product roadmap is a strategic document that visualizes the how and why of your product. An ideal roadmap provides different views for different stakeholders and presents all relevant data that needs to be integrated and planned for. It is presented in a way that makes it easy for stakeholders to engage with it. 

And that’s exactly what we’re going to talk about in this article. 

In this article, we’re going to discuss,

  • How to create a roadmap from scratch?

  • Different types of roadmaps

  • Best practices to follow when creating a product roadmap

An expert-led guide to building your roadmap

Don’t want to create a product roadmap from scratch? Look no further, here’s a free product roadmap template to help you get started right away. 

Airtable’s product roadmap template allows you to customise your product plan according to your needs. So from creating a high level product vision for your executives to mapping out a detailed step by step plan for your development team, Airtable’s product roadmap template brings all the elements of your product plan together in one place. It makes it easy for all team members to access all of the information from one place. 

Create a roadmap: 5 steps to follow

A product roadmap integrates strategic and practical elements in a visual timeline for key stakeholders. When properly and comprehensively designed, it can play a critical role in a product’s future success. 

Building a product roadmap that is a unifying force for the entire organization is a 5 step process. 

 1. Determine goals and strategy

Before you dive into the murky waters of creating a product roadmap, identify your WHY. 

  • Why do you want to build this product? 

  • What are your short-term and long-term goals for this product? 

  • What is your product vision?

Knowing your end goal/destination helps you sort your priorities and convince stakeholders to invest in your product. 

Next, determine your WHAT. 

  • What kind of a product are you creating?

  • Are you creating a new product, improving a product that already exists, or creating a product for your internal team?

  • Will the timeframe of the roadmap be - months, quarters, or years? 

And finally, understand your audience. 

  • Which audience pain points are you addressing through your product?

  • What customers will use your product?

  • How will the product benefit your consumers?

Understanding key stakeholders’ concerns will help you design a product roadmap that gets their buy-in. 

These elements should already be fairly well-determined by research conducted before product development, but they’re spelled out as foundational/guiding principles for the roadmap. 

For example, if you’re creating a photo manipulation app for your SaaS business, the first thing you need to do is pinpoint the pain points of your consumers. Does your audience prefer using photo apps over websites? Which features can they not live without? 

For some, it could be an easy collaboration with clients. So you’d need to add commenting and sharing features to your app. 

And what are your goals for the app? 5000 downloads the first month? Increase conversions by 20% at the end of the quarter? 

Create SMART goals (​Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound) and make sure strategic vision can translate to time-defined, measurable outcomes. 

2. Gather and prioritize ideas

When you’re gathering ideas and information for your product, there are two main groups you can look at for help (i.e after you’ve finished your own brainstorming session).

Your customer support and sales team 

Customer support teams are a great place to start because they’re in direct contact with your customers and have a clear idea of your customers’ needs and requirements. They can relay customer feedback to the product teams to ensure new products or features are solving the right problems. Sales teams, similarly, have an abundance of data on customers.

Their insight can not only help you shape your product, but also give you ideas for future releases and updated features. 

Product user community

Product hunt, Reddit, Quora, and Facebook groups are all excellent places to gather ideas. The best ideas come straight from the horse’s mouth - that is, your potential customers and experts in your niche. 

As a product manager, it’s more likely that you have too many ideas to deal with than having none. So when you have a whole host of ideas for your product, how do you prioritize them?

Incorporate a wide range of insights

When assessing ideas for your product, start by taking a data-driven approach to it. Include real-world customer data and insights in your vetting process. 

This includes conducting competitive analysis. Outline the strengths and weaknesses of the products of your competitors against your product. 

Use prioritization methods

Use methods like Kano (it compares product investment with customer satisfaction) and MoSCoW (it has 4 categories - must-haves, should-haves, could-haves, and will not have) to prioritize your ideas. 

Determine if your product ideas are meeting your goals

Rank each of your ideas to help filter relevant ideas. Ranking is the best way to determine if your ideas are meeting your goals and your customer requests, or not. Prioritizing ideas based on metrics also removes bias and provides validation. 

Once you’ve validated product ideas, work with your internal team and leadership to determine which of the ideas are meeting your goals and how likely are you to achieve those goals.

3. Identify features, requirements, and dependencies

Features are a product’s characteristics that deliver value to consumers. These could be things like menus, buttons and toolbars, etc. 

Requirements define a product’s purpose and functionality. And product dependencies are anything that a product depends on - they have a direct impact on the progress of a product and can cause disruptions if not handled correctly. 

Once you’ve finalised your product idea and are sure it meets your goals and vision, the next step is determining product features, requirements, and dependencies. To get started, 

  • Align key stakeholders and get buy-in. However, be ready to say no when you feel a certain feature that they’re requesting would not work well with your product. 

  • Edit ruthlessly. Prioritize only what has proven value and is closely aligned to the strategic vision that drives the roadmap

  • Create user stories. Map out your product features into comprehensive user stories to understand what works best for your audience. You can also group features together in themes to create a story within your product roadmap and make it more visually appealing. This also allows engineering teams to build the best possible solution to the audience’s problems. 

Some examples of product features of a SaaS HR software can include application tracking and recruiting, employee time-off management, notices and announcements - depending on the requirements of their target audience. 

Since the main purpose of a product roadmap is to give internal teams and stakeholders a look into the product you’re planning to build, it’s essential to keep it as user-friendly as possible. Creating a roadmap with Excel is needlessly arduous and not user-friendly for all stakeholders who engage with the roadmap. 

So invest in a product roadmap tool like Airtable that makes it super easy for teams to collaborate and engage with the product roadmap. Airtable is an all-in-one collaboration platform that help product managers manage their workflows, especially when creating innovative new products.

4. Organize tasks and timeline

Once you’ve organized your product tasks into themes and are beginning to place Agile processes into the roadmap such as epics (collection of user stories that are working towards a common goal), it’s time to work on the timeline. 

While you want to develop a thorough timeline for all tasks of your product roadmap, you don’t always need to display them at a granular level in your roadmap for all stakeholders. 

For example, when you’re reviewing your product roadmap with your internal stakeholders (i.e your development teams, etc), you may need to present estimated timelines for each task. 

But when you’re sharing your roadmap with your user base, industry experts, and other external stakeholders, you might want to leave out specific dates and just let them know a general idea of what’s coming when.

So instead of pinpointing exact dates for every task, many product managers focus on plotting tasks at quarterly and monthly level. 

Examples of commonly used timelines include,

  • Q1, Q2, Q3, Q4

  • Months of the year

No matter what type of roadmap you’re creating, be thorough, but resist being overly granular - remember, a product roadmap is not a project management tool.

And make sure progress and outcomes are measurable. Without a measurable target, it’s very difficult to tell if your goals are being met in the given timeline or not. 

An expert-led guide to building your roadmap

5. Assign views and update throughout lifecycle

And lastly, assign views for different stakeholders and constantly update the product roadmap through its lifecycle. A product roadmap is not a stagnant document, it evolves with the product. Review and refine roadmap as needed through the entire product lifecycle

When assigning views for different stakeholders, consider which views make sense for which stakeholders. 

For example, for your sales team, you’d like to highlight the release dates and benefits of your product. For the engineering team, specifics about the product itself and the tentative timeline so they can start creating the product. For marketing, the focus should be on the competitive advantage of your product over other products in the niche. 

You don’t necessarily need to create multiple versions of your product roadmap (and work with a gazillion Excel sheets), you can simply use a user-friendly online tool that helps you with assigning different views to different stakeholders with ease. 

And keep sharing progress updates as milestones are reached with your internal and external stakeholders to keep them in the loop with what's happening. 

Product roadmap types

Depending on your audience, there are two main types of product roadmaps,

External roadmap

External roadmap is for external stakeholders like your potential user base, industry experts, influencers, and so on. It highlights features of your product that would help increase sales.

Internal roadmap

Similarly, an internal product roadmap is for internal stakeholders like your engineering team, leadership, sales and marketing teams. It is the compilation of your product features and the development work you have identified with your team.  

Depending on who you’re reviewing the product roadmap with, it features different things. 

Some common versions highlight the target release dates, milestones, features that need to be worked on, architectural improvements to make the product scalable, and so on. 

Internal roadmap for executives

When you’re presenting your product roadmap to leadership and executives, you need to show a high level summary of how the product supports the company goals and visions. It contains specific ship dates and rough estimates of each initiative. 

Internal roadmap for sales and marketing

The internal product roadmap for sales and marketing should be focused on the benefits of your product and the features that will help them sell your product. What makes your product different from others in the market? What's your unique selling proposition? What is your product’s competitive advantage? 

All these things should be highlighted in the roadmap you present to sales and marketing teams. 

While the internal roadmap for executives contains goals that tie back to the company goals and vision, internal roadmap for marketing and sales teams should contain product goals that tie back to the marketing goals. 

Internal roadmap for engineering team

An internal roadmap for the engineering team contains a high level overview of the objectives of creating that product. It includes major goals and milestones for the engineering team to complete. It not only helps engineering teams understand the bigger picture of the product, but also make better, more strategic engineering decisions. 

Product roadmap best practices to remember 

To further amp up your product roadmap, we have a few tried and tested best practices for you. 

Agile or not? 

Agile processes are reflective of a team’s work method, so organize in a way that’s reflective of your company’s standard processes and best practices rather than designing a roadmap that they’ll have to re-shape workflows around.

Visually, an agile product roadmap usually breaks up development cycles into sprints, where epics and themes consist of several sprints. 

Consistent visual elements make the roadmap more effective

From color coding to paths, keep your visual elements consistent throughout the roadmap. Inconsistencies can not only make it visually unappealing but also ineffective when presenting to stakeholders. You want your stakeholders to easily understand what you’re presenting. 

You can use a variety of visual elements to add interest in your product roadmap, such as,

  • Gantt chart view to show a high-level overview of your product

  • Swimlanes to visually show which team member is responsible for which task

  • Workflow paths

Adapt as necessary, but stay true to your organization’s unique vision

What is your organization’s vision for this product? Stay true to that. 

Here’s how.

  • When creating features, don’t get hung up on product features that prove to be irrelevant or obsolete

  • As the product management lifecycle evolves and progresses, aspects of the roadmap will require revision

  • Aim for equity with a roadmap that incorporates the concerns of all stakeholders but is not shaped too much by one person or team’s influence

And always avoid duplicating a competitor’s approach or changing yours because a competitor’s approach differs. 

Presenting your product roadmap

When presenting your product roadmap follow the SOAPBOX framework,

  • Subject: Topic of your presentation

  • Occasion: Context of the presentation

  • Audience: Who you’re addressing - focus on the departments and stakeholders who will directly engage with your roadmap and the type of guidance each will seek from it

  • Purpose: Your goals for the presentation

  • Before: What you should do before creating and delivering the final presentation?

  • Objection Handling: What key objections or questions do you need to be prepared for?

  • eXecute: How to execute the most compelling presentation ever?

And while you’re presenting, avoid getting too deep into the weeds - keep presentations at overview level. 

Start creating your product roadmap right away

If you’re thinking of starting to build your product roadmap and don’t want to get bogged down with multiple Excel files and manual spreadsheets, invest in a collaboration platform like Airtable.

It makes it super easy for teams to not just share their product roadmaps with stakeholders, but brings ease and clarity to the entire roadmap creation process.

As Jeremy Ho, Software Engineer at Uber says, “Airtable has changed the way I organize and view my information. It gives you the freedom and structure to design a solution that fits your needs, and evolve that solution progressively over time."

Start creating your product roadmap right away

An expert-led guide to building your roadmap

About the author

Airtable's Product Teamis committed to building world-class products, and empowering world-class product builders on our platform.

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