Product Roadmapping: Definition, How-To Guide, and the Best Roadmapping Tools
What is roadmapping?
Roadmapping is the process of planning a project—developing the strategy, plotting the steps, and listing the resources needed to realize your vision.
Roadmapping lays out:
What you’re going to do
When you’re going to do it
Why you’re doing it
Who is responsible
In the SaaS world, we usually talk about roadmapping in the context of product development.
Product roadmapping means designing a strategy for how you’ll build your software product over a period of time. It includes envisioning what the product will look like, the features it needs, and the resources it’ll take to build. Product roadmaps give you the directions you need to get to your destination—a useful software product that your customers want.
Roadmapping results in a “roadmap” which is usually a visual document that articulates your product vision and strategy so your teams are all on the same page.
Note that the roadmapping process also includes a bunch of strategic decisions and research that aren’t always necessarily visible in the resulting roadmap document. For example, your product roadmap might be informed heavily by your customer feedback.
Benefits of product roadmapping
Product roadmaps help your company in a number of ways. Here are some of the primary benefits:
Prioritization. Roadmaps help businesses organize and prioritize their product development efforts by identifying which functionality and initiatives are most important to their goals and customers and which to build next.
Alignment. They align stakeholders by providing a clear, visual representation of the product's direction and goals, which can help everyone on the team understand the company’s vision as well as their own roles and responsibilities.
Resource allocation. They enable businesses to plan for the future by creating a timeline of upcoming releases and milestones, helping allocate resources and budgets.
Flexibility. Roadmaps help businesses adapt to change. They provide a flexible framework for updating as priorities shift and new opportunities arise.
Teamwork. Roadmaps facilitate collaboration by creating a central, shared document that everyone on the team can refer to and provide input on.
What does a product roadmap look like?
Product roadmaps can vary in how they look, but they often take the form of a more sophisticated Gaant chart. Each product feature may get its own line with due dates and people assigned. Often, they are designed to align with your company’s work framework—broken down into epics, stories, themes, and so on.
In larger organizations with more than one product or product area, it might be organized into horizontal “swim lanes” where each product has its own set of features.
Importantly, your roadmap should make sense for your organization and workflow. If you run using an agile methodology, your roadmap should align with that. If you have four product teams, each working on a different product area, your roadmap should reflect that. If you use Shortcut and organize your work into milestones and epics, then your roadmap should use those, too.
Who uses roadmaps?
Roadmaps are useful to a number of different stakeholders and internal teams.
Company leaders love roadmaps because they offer a quick way to see the product strategy and how it aligns with business objectives. They may also have some input into the roadmap itself.
(And they may even have more input than they really should. If your CEO is a bit of a wild card, see our advice for managing that here.)
Roadmapping from Product Management teams
In most SaaS companies, project managers are responsible for building the product roadmap. They use it to prioritize features and guide the dev teams on how to use their time. They also share the roadmap with the rest of the company so everyone knows what’s being built.
Roadmapping for Development teams
Ultimately, your dev teams spend a lot of time thinking about the product roadmap because they will actually build the features. They also usually have some input into building the roadmap, although it may be more about how many resources and how much time a feature will require, and less into the high-level plan.
Roadmapping for Support and Customer Success teams
Support teams and customer success teams are sometimes included in roadmapping discussions. They bring a valuable perspective because they often talk directly with customers, so they know what customers are looking for.
In customer-centric organizations, it’s these teams that will be responsible for collecting customer feedback and developing a sophisticated understanding of the Voice of the Customer. Indeed, it’s our (personal) opinion that CS should own more of the product roadmap.
Support and customer success teams also have to understand and have access to the product roadmap so they can explain which features are coming down the pipeline if they need to.
Roadmapping for Sales teams
Sales teams often have limited input into the product roadmap planning process, but they should have a good idea of what’s on it. Since their job is to sell the product to customers, it’s useful to know which features are being built in case those features are needed by a potential prospect.
Sales also has a role to play in collecting feedback from prospects and lost deals so product managers can understand why certain customers are choosing not to purchase your product.
Roadmapping for Marketing teams
Marketing teams rarely play a significant role in building a product roadmap, although they may collect customer feedback that informs the roadmap from online reviews or social media. They also need to know what features have been launched or are about to launch so that they can write marketing materials for them.
Other types of roadmaps
You can make roadmaps for any strategic process, not just to guide your product development process. Here are some other kinds of roadmaps you could create:
Marketing roadmaps. These articulate a plan of attack for your marketing goals and to organize your campaigns.
Technology roadmaps. These are a visualization of your strategic IT plans. It could include updating infrastructure or managing a data transformation.
Strategic roadmap. This is essentially a more traditional business strategy document that visualizes high-level goals and initiatives. Whereas product roadmaps outline short-term features and deliverables, strategic roadmaps present longer-term strategic planning.
How do you build a product roadmap?
Different teams build their roadmaps differently. But here are the main components of a roadmapping process.
Most roadmapping processes use information about what your customers, prospects, or potential users want from a product like yours. You can get that information from a number of places: usability testing research, interviews with customers, focus groups, and even third-party market research.
At Savio, we centralize our customer feature requests and product feedback in the Savio tool. Then, “research” is easy—it’s essentially just filtering and sorting the feature request backlog in our vault and seeing which features are most popular among the segments we care most about that sprint.
2. Planning and prioritizing
Next, someone has to decide what makes it onto the roadmap—and what doesn’t. When you’re roadmapping in a SaaS company, it’s usually the product team that gets to make these decisions. They’ll sit down with the research, think about what the company’s business goals are, and then decide what new features will best accomplish those goals.
If the company’s goals this quarter are to reduce churn, they may filter product feedback and feature requests to find out what churned customers or customers at risk of churn are asking for.
If the company’s goals are to increase acquisitions, they might filter feature requests to find out what prospects or lost deals were asking for.
If the company’s goals are to increase free trial-to-paid conversion, they might prioritize the features that free trailers were asking for.
There are a ton of different ways that you can use your customer feedback data to inform the product roadmap. That creativity is part of the joy of being a product manager! Here’s a quick video on how you can prioritize feature requests by revenue metrics like MRR.
Once you decide on your roadmap, let your team know. This can be as simple as sending out an email with the updated roadmap with what you’re working on this quarter.
Tip: enhance buy-in from stakeholders by providing reasons for the features you chose to build. If your decision-making is based on solid customer data, you’ll obtain better alignment among your team members.
5 Roadmapping tools
You can make a roadmap on a whiteboard or in a tool like Excel. But there are also a bunch of tools that can help you tie your visual roadmap to your customer feedback and development tools. Here is a list of Roadmapping tools to help you visualize and share your product roadmap:
1. Savio. Savio is about to launch a new roadmapping tool that builds onto our customer feedback and feature request tracking tool. It has a simple, clean design to make it easy to align stakeholders around your product vision. At Savio, we think roadmaps are important, but are secondary to customer feedback—that’s why the focus of our tool is on centralizing and prioritizing customer feedback and feature requests.
2. Trello. Trello is a project management tool that breaks tasks into a kanban-style board. That board can be set up to function as a product roadmap. You can make each list a step in your product development workflow, and then each card can be a feature. As you build features, you can move cards along the workflow. Trello boards can even be made public, which lets you share your roadmap with your customers.
Here is what Trello looks like when used as a product roadmap.
3. Productboard. Productboard is a product roadmapping tool that helps companies prioritize and manage their product development efforts. Productboard's roadmaps allow product managers to plan and visualize the development of their products over time. The roadmaps include different types of information, such as product goals, feature ideas, and release plans. See Productboard’s features here and information about pricing here.
A Productboard roadmap.
4. Roadmap. Roadmap is another product roadmapping tool that also allows you to collect customer feedback. Its roadmaps are super simple with “In Progress”, “Soon”, and “Future” categories. It also has a tab with features that have launched that works like a changelog. These roadmaps are aimed primarily at keeping customers informed about your product plan.
Roadmap’s product roadmap.
5. Aha!. Aha! is a product management software suite with a visual product roadmap tool. It lets you build simple roadmaps that you can share with your teams or customers. You can also integrate with Jira, GitHub, Slack, and other tools so your developers can stay on top of the features they're building.
Aha!’s product roadmap.
Product roadmaps should incorporate customer feedback
Ultimately, your roadmap is a visual representation of your product vision and how you’re going to realize it. Roadmapping is a valuable process because it ensures you use your resources effectively to build the right thing. A well-crafted product roadmap can help align stakeholders, plan for the future, adapt to change, and facilitate collaboration.
Roadmapping can be difficult precisely because it’s important: if you build the wrong product or feature, you may not achieve market fit, and ultimately fail to retain customers or acquire new ones.
One key aspect of successful product roadmapping is incorporating customer feedback. By regularly soliciting and incorporating feedback from customers, your company can ensure that your product roadmap is aligned with the needs and wants of your target market. You’ll end up building products that customers actually want and generate positive customer experiences.
Get started with roadmaps
Ready to start roadmapping? Make sure you have a good process for handling product feedback first.
Try Savio for free to see how it works.Last Updated: 24-01-2023
Kareem is a co-founder at Savio. He's been prioritizing customer feedback professionally since 2001. He likes tea and tea snacks, and dislikes refraining from eating lots of tea snacks.
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