If you want to design product development efficiently, you have to proceed strategically. Because without well-thought-out planning, this can quickly become an organizational challenge.

A clear schedule, such as the product roadmap, which brings together all the information on planned projects and the necessary development processes, can make work much easier here. In the following, we will explain how to create a product roadmap step by step.

What is a product roadmap?

A product roadmap is a strategic product management tool that graphically displays the development of a product over time. It includes the status quo, the final goal of product development and all the tasks and milestones that occur along the way.

Why are product roadmaps so useful?

Product roadmaps offer a whole range of advantages that make the product development process easier:

  • Tasks are presented clearly, which allows better orientation for the teams involved.
  • The prioritization of individual activities becomes clear.
  • Project coordination is made easier.
  • Progress can be checked easily.
  • Flexible processes are supported, as necessary adjustments can be made anytime. This is particularly useful for resource and budget planning.
  • The workflow can be easily documented.
  • Maximum transparency is ensured internally and externally. All those involved can easily agree on content and plans using the roadmap.
Product Roadmap

Best Practice: Develop a product roadmap template

Depending on which tools and methods are used in the company, digital documents, Sketchnote representations or even analogue collections of notes can be the means of choice to visualize the roadmap. Digital documents in the form of bar charts, which are similar to a Gantt chart, have proven particularly useful:

The individual tasks are plotted on the y-axis, and the x-axis shows the dates or periods. Each bar represents a task and spans the range from the start to the end date. The duration and timing of the individual tasks can be seen at first glance.

How the development process is presented must be coordinated with the respective project and those involved. While external partners are more interested in the big picture and key strategic milestones on the way to market, the internal development team needs a granular overview of the tasks.

From vision to market maturity: 5 steps to the product roadmap

With a few simple tricks, templates can be created that can also be used in the company in the long term. In the following, we will show you how you can do this concretely.

1. Defining the product strategy

Describe and review the product strategy that the team has agreed on. Only when the strategy has been determined can the product roadmap based on it be created. Overall, note the following points at this point:

  • The basic product idea and specifications, such as product design
  • the relevant buyer persona to be addressed
  • the status quo and anticipated development of the relevant market
  • Needs and demands of this buyer persona: Which solutions for which problems should the product provide?
  • The product characteristic serves as a unique selling point (USP).
  • the life cycle of the product
  • the objective (e.g. operationalized as turnover or sales)

2. Definition of individual milestones and tasks

Concrete intermediate goals can now be derived from this general strategy, which must be achieved on the way to the product’s market launch. These can be, for example, internal milestones such as publication dates for promotional material or design deadlines, but also external milestones such as industry events. You define each of these milestones based on the following criteria:

  • Date: When should the intermediate goal be reached?
  • Scope: What tasks must be completed to achieve this milestone?
  • Purpose: What added value does this generate? How does this milestone contribute to the development of the product?
  • Metric: How can the achievement of this milestone be checked?

Starting from these milestones, list all the tasks and activities involved in the overall product development. To facilitate the creation of the product roadmap, you should do the preparatory work now and determine the responsible teams, start and end dates and priority of the individual activities.

3. Create bars for each activity or task

Now that all relevant preparations have been made, you can start designing the actual roadmap. To do this, first create the x-axis as a timeline that describes the course of the project up to the final deadline in days, months or quarters.

Then create a bar for each task that spans the range from the start date to the end date. This way, you can automatically see from left to right which tasks are due at the beginning and which follow.

Milestones are not displayed as bars, as they usually do not cover a period but take place on a specific date. Diamonds have established themselves here for visualization so that the milestones are clearly distinguished from the tasks.

4. Group bars

Now that all tasks are in the form of bars, you should sort them for a better overview. Which factor you use to make a corresponding grouping depends on your specific project and the respective goals. If the roadmap is primarily intended to facilitate coordination between departments, tasks should be grouped according to the responsible teams.

For example, a roadmap can contain different sections for marketing and sales.

If the focus is more on achieving long-term, abstract product development goals, the individual tasks can be sorted according to higher-level projects. Whichever form of grouping you choose, make the separation of the individual sections graphically recognizable so that it is obvious at first glance.

Within the individual sections, you can arrange tasks thematically for a better overview, for example, by accommodating the bars of related subtasks in one line.

5. Sort bars by priority

Now that the bars are grouped and sorted by topic, the prioritization should become clear. To do this, place the tasks with a high priority higher up and arrange all the others below them in descending order of importance.

Bonus: update roadmap

One of the most important points at the end is: update!

Of course, it would be great if your plan worked out exactly like that. But let’s be honest: which project goes exactly as planned for months? Depending on your project’s time, creating a roadmap is rarely enough – set a fixed time for updating.

The chair could be updated at least every 3 months and communicated to all stakeholders. Imagine that the prototype fails after the first customer test, which must be fundamentally rethought. Then both management and marketing must know how your planning steps will be shifted.

Additional tips for your product roadmap

Product development is a complex, lengthy process requiring numerous teams’ cooperation. This is exactly why product roadmaps are a valuable tool because they present the entire process so clearly that it can be grasped at a glance.

In this way, every team member knows at all times which tasks are due and how they are to be classified in the overall context of the project. At the same time, the clearly defined goals can be constantly checked and flexibly adjusted.

And best of all: product roadmaps can be easily created with simple software programs such as Saasfe.

1. Use graphic elements for a better overview.

There are numerous visual aids available to make your roadmap even clearer. For example, you can color the bars differently to indicate the status or priority of a task. Arrows from one bar to the other can demonstrate that one task is dependent on the success of another.

There are basically no limits to your imagination. Make sure everyone involved knows the meaning behind the different colors and shapes. It is best to create a short legend for this.

2. Regularly review goals and strategy.

Regularly review the goals you are aiming for: Is the time schedule realistic? Has the timing of the market launch been chosen wisely? Does the planned milestone fulfil its purpose? Spontaneous market changes may make adjustments necessary. So don’t be afraid to make adjustments and optimize plans during implementation.

3. Don’t get bogged down in details.

Don’t think too small when creating the roadmap. Not every small subtask (such as formulating an e-mail) has to be listed here. Rather, the presentation serves to maintain an overview, show connections and be able to classify one’s own tasks in the project context. So present the big picture, not the weekly to-do lists of each individual – because that damages clarity.

4. Use helpful programs and tools.

Product roadmaps can be created with a wide variety of programs. While some use developer tools such as Saasfe, others use Excel and similar programs that can be used to easily create bar charts. However, if you don’t want to create a roadmap from scratch and prefer to use an existing template, you can also use specialized product roadmap tools.

Conclusion

Roadmaps are not a jack of all trades when it comes to project planning – but they are somehow close; after all, you can decide in what level of detail you want to create the roadmap and what information should be included.

Regardless of whether you are creating a roadmap for a specific project or collecting rough blocks of topics for long-term planning: roadmaps clearly visualize structures and dependencies on a timeline. As soon as you start, the process will become clearer, and you will remember important steps, tasks and topics that you might otherwise have forgotten.