Learn about the benefits of a product roadmap and how to build one. Plus: the three golden rules of the roadmap.

What is a product roadmap?

A product roadmap is a high-level document that describes how a new product will be brought to market. It lays out the vision, priorities, and strategy that inform the arc of product development, as well as the day-to-day work of teams and stakeholders.

The goals of a product roadmap:

  • Clearly lay out the vision for a product

  • Serve as a guide for creating and implementing product strategy

  • Keep everyone involved on the same page and collaborate smoothly

  • Facilitate communication between stakeholders and teams

  • Market the product to consumers

While a product roadmap can be detailed and thorough, it’s generally never finished; they usually remain a work-in-progress. The product roadmap is often conceived by a product manager and serves as a statement of intent for how product development should unfold. Because many factors and market conditions influence the direction the roadmap takes, it’s a living document that changes over time. 

What a product roadmap is not

A product roadmap is a strategy document that shapes product buildout, but it is not a daily to-do list. To-do’s fall squarely under task management, which is quite different from project management. You can think of to-do’s as a checklist that affect the overall shape of your day and week, while a project roadmap will identify patterns and influence product development. 

While a product roadmap can technically be a single document, it’s usually more like a hub of information that can be viewed in different ways, depending on who’s involved in the product-building process.

Who uses a product roadmap?

The product roadmap is one of the only assets in a company that nearly every employee uses. It’s useful for leadership to make strategic decisions. It’s critical for technology teams and leaders to keep product development on track. It’s helpful for marketing teams, sales teams, and many others. 

Here are a few ways people use and rely on roadmaps: 

  • C-suite/executives — As they define strategic goals, executives use roadmaps to ensure that all teams are aligned around those goals over time.

  • Product managers — Often the creators of roadmaps, product managers know what needs to be done to achieve higher-level objectives. They map out the path to get there. 

  • Product developers — These teams use roadmaps to keep track of progress and stay on target with deadlines.

  • Marketing — Roadmaps help marketing teams determine product positioning and create accurate messaging for products. 

  • Sales — Giving a sales team access to the roadmap lets them describe future plans and features to customers.

What are the benefits of using a product roadmap?

1. Keeping teams aligned

When product, engineering, or other teams operate in a vacuum, information becomes siloed and their communication gets off track. Holding everyone accountable to a product roadmap ensures that they understand product priorities and can make departmental decisions that align with big-picture goals. 

2. Helping engineers visualize what’s next

As they plan out their weeks, months, and quarters, engineers building the product need to know how to rank and pace their work. Knowing that there will be a major product release in Q3 might inform a front-end engineering team’s plans for that quarter, or the security engineers’ recruiting efforts. Roadmaps are often the main tool used to visualize the overarching plan.

3. Promoting collaboration

If you want to create a successful product that does well in your target market, your team must collaborate. Supporting collaboration means providing employees with the right collaboration tools and giving each team insight into what other teams are doing. This is one main benefit of all teams working with a single product roadmap.

What are the challenges of developing a product roadmap?

1. Prioritizing information

Product roadmaps must be high-level and strategic to be effective. If they get too down-in-the-weeds detailed and exhaustive, they can be, well, exhausting. Knowing what types of information to include is half the battle. As you decide which details go into your roadmap, remember that the purpose of the document is to support the “why” more than the “how” of a product build.

2. Tailoring a roadmap for different stakeholders

Many teams in your company will use the product roadmap. The HR team may need insight into which resources will be required for hiring developers. Sales teams may need to know when the product will be ready to sell. Marketing heads should be closely looped into product messaging as it changes.

3. Creating a roadmap that evolves over time

Product roadmaps must be living documents, changing over the course of a product’s life. While they can be created in a variety of formats and are often highly visual documents, using a technology platform that enables easy updating without creating version-control issues is key. 

What does a product roadmap look like?

A product roadmap can take a variety of forms, such as a features roadmap, a strategy roadmap, and a portfolio roadmap. The structure a roadmap takes—and the platform it’s built on—depends on how it will be used.

Features roadmap

One of the most popular types of roadmaps, the features roadmap is used to plan software product releases.

It helps bring a digital product to market initially, and aids in critical, ongoing feature development. It helps align product designers and developers with marketing, sales, and customer support teams.

Build your product roadmap today

Strategy roadmap

A strategy roadmap illustrates goals and initiatives on a high level, which makes it ideal for presenting product vision and direction to:

  • Executives who must buy into a timeline, resources, and budget

  • Internal teams implementing strategy

  • Outside investors

Portfolio roadmap 

A portfolio roadmap is useful for demonstrating a planned release across multiple products. 

It provides a single view of the company’s overarching product strategy, and then breaks down multiple planned product releases as well.  

This is critical for assigning resources and ensuring that the right products and features are finished at the appropriate times. It also helps internal teams better understand how their work matters to other internal teams, keeping teams in a symbiotic relationship. 

Common formats of roadmaps 

The most flexible, dynamic roadmaps are those that can be sliced up into different views and accessed in the cloud. This is why a relational database like Airtable is such a great tool for building a product roadmap. Airtable lets you arrange and rearrange information in different ways without compromising its integrity or creating version-control issues.

In Airtable, you can view your roadmap in a calendar view, a grid view, a kanban view, or a visual gallery view. You can also view the entire roadmap at once, zoom in on specific parts or areas of accountability, or filter for certain types of information. 

Calendar view

A calendar view can be especially helpful in a product roadmap because it allows stakeholders to map out timing.

Kanban view

Using kanban boards in workflow management helps you visualize your work and maximize efficiency.

Grid view

In grid view, information is listed in a linear way, much like a spreadsheet. But unlike a spreadsheet, the data does not live in the cells themselves. Instead, information is stored as records that can be pulled into other views and formats easily. 

Gantt format

Yet another way to view a product roadmap is as a Gantt chart. This view lets you keep related tasks in order, automatically reordering the roadmap with updates when timelines shift or changes occur.

How do you build a product roadmap?

Step 1: Set your goals and vision 

Start by spelling out and clarifying your product goals and vision. This means knowing not just what you’re trying to accomplish, but how you’ll measure accomplishment, using milestones, metrics, and KPIs. Your roadmap will take the “what” and “why” of your idea and map it to the ”how.”

Step 2: Prioritize ideas 

A good product roadmap will force you to rank ideas, features, and customer requests in terms of importance. Doing so early on is a great way to set up your team for success. 

Tip: Rank roadmap items using the MoSCoW Prioritization technique:

  • Must have: Mandatory Needs

  • Should have: Important ideas that offer unmissable value

  • Could have: Good initiatives and good ideas that will be slightly missed if left out

  • Will not have: Ideas that definitely won't make it

Step 3: Determine product features

Product features are the very heart of your product. They describe the functionality and value you’re offering to customers. Determining the priority order of features is the whole point of many product roadmaps. The MoSCoW exercise above may have already helped you with this. 

Step 4: Prepare your presentation

The audience for the product roadmap often determines how it should be formatted. Consider the following scenarios:

  • The roadmap is presented to a group of investors as part of a product pitch. 

  • The roadmap is shown to the engineering team in monthly all-hands meetings

  • The roadmap is shared with select media outlets to get the word out about the product in advance of product releases and help build buzz.

All three scenarios require a roadmap that looks a little different. As you create a presentation, keep the audience and their priorities or level of technical knowledge in mind.

The 3-rules of product roadmaps

As you’re doing the legwork to create a product roadmap for any audience, here are four essential best practices to keep in mind. 

  1. Understand your audience — Research the type of information your intended audience may want, and design accordingly. An executive group will be more interested in budgets and resources than an engineering team.

  2. Keep it high level — No matter who you’re presenting to, the product roadmap should never delve into feature development, marketing plans, or daily to-do’s. Keep this one general.

  3. Let the story shine through — Know your narrative and keep it in mind as you build out the roadmap, making sure you’re telling a cohesive story about your product from beginning to end.

Build your product roadmap in Airtable

One of the most famous lines in literature comes from Tolstoy: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Products are just the opposite. While happy, successful products are all unique, failed products tend to fail for a single reason: they weren’t well thought out in the first place. In other words, they had faulty product roadmaps or a family of developers that didn’t follow it. 

Give your product a fighting chance by creating a rock-solid roadmap at the start. 

Airtable’s highly customizable, cloud-based solution for creating product roadmaps is also shareable with your entire team. And it’s easy to get started with Airtable’s product roadmap templates and other Agile development tools.

Learn more about Airtable templates, our Product Ops Solutions, or check out our Product Roadmap Template and dive right in.

Build your product roadmap today

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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