Feature-based roadmaps: Explanation, Guide, and Template

A screenshot of Savio's product roadmap, which is a feature-based roadmap

Feature-based roadmaps are the most common type of product roadmap.

They’re popular because they give your stakeholders what they want: a look at the features you’re planning to build and a rough time frame for that.

Sure, lots of people criticize feature-based roadmaps because they can encourage you to be a bit of a feature factory instead of thinking about your long-term product strategy or what customers need.

But the fact is they’re useful. And you can still be customer-centric with them.

Here’s everything you need to know about feature-based roadmaps, including how to avoid the common pitfalls.

What is a feature roadmap?

Feature-based roadmaps are just roadmaps that are oriented around the individual functionalities you’re planning to deliver. They communicate the direction and progress of the development of product features—which features you’ll build and some indication of when. They typically include information about the specific features, priorities, and estimated release dates or time frames.

They’re often presented in contrast to goal-based, theme-based, and outcome-based roadmaps.

  • Goal-oriented roadmaps don’t display the specific features you’ll build; instead, they communicate the specific business and product goals that you’re working towards. Say, better activation and downloads.
  • Theme-based roadmaps don’t display specific features either; instead, they display the themes you’re working towards. For example, you might prioritize UX improvements (the theme) and then include features relevant to that.
  • Outcome-driven roadmaps are built around customer and business values rather than features (which ultimately may or may not deliver value to your customers). Your roadmap specifies customer behaviour outcomes you’d like to see.

Note that the line between these different roadmap types is a bit fuzzy and porous. Some people talk about goal-based roadmaps and outcome-based roadmaps being the same thing; others make a distinction. (I can see both sides, but I’m choosing to make a distinction consistent with research by Münch and colleagues).

Feature-based roadmap examples

There’s no one-size-fits-all version of a feature-oriented roadmap. You can customize it to include any information you like or any roadmap design features that make sense for your teams.

Here are some examples of different feature-based roadmaps.

Example 1: Feature-based Kanban board roadmap

In this example, each feature is displayed on a Kanban-style roadmap board. The time frame is displayed in simple “Now/Next/Later” categories. It’s also an “evidence-based” roadmap because it displays customer data on each card.

Kanban boardHere’s a feature-based roadmap formatted as a Kanban board in Savio. It has three stages represented by columns, and each card represents a feature. Each feature also displays four pieces of data relevant for product decisions: cumulative MRR of all customers that asked for the feature, opportunity revenue from all prospects that asked for the feature, priority, and the number of customers that requested each feature.

Example 2: Feature-based timeline roadmap

Here’s another example of a feature-based roadmap. You can see that each feature is represented as a bar on the chart. This roadmap gives the reader a sense of what month the feature will be delivered.

An example feature-based roadmap over a 12-month period. Image source: Münch, Trieflinger, Roling, and Eißler, 2020.

Example 3: Feature-based Gantt chart roadmap

Here’s a feature roadmap that is styled as a Gantt chart. You can see that the features are again represented as bars here, but that the timelines and delivery dates are very specific—down to the day. You can also see that the progress the team has made on each feature is represented on the roadmap.

An example of a Gantt-chart feature roadmap. Source.

Is a feature-based roadmap right for you?

Feature roadmaps are popular, but not everyone loves them. Here are the benefits and challenges associated with them so you can decide if it will work for your team.

Benefits of feature-based roadmaps

Feature-based roadmaps offer several benefits. Here's a breakdown:

  • Clear deliverables: Feature-based roadmaps provide a clear overview of the planned features, functionalities, and expected delivery timelines. This helps align stakeholders' expectations and ensures everyone has a shared understanding of the product's direction.
  • Effective communication of priorities: Feature-based roadmaps allow external stakeholders to understand which features are being prioritized and why. This enables more informed discussions around resource allocation, trade-offs, and decision-making, leading to better alignment between the development team and stakeholders.
  • Iterative and adaptive planning: By organizing features into iterations or releases on the roadmap, teams can adapt and refine their plans as they gather feedback and learn from previous iterations. This flexibility enables continuous improvement and iterative development, ensuring the product meets evolving requirements.
  • Stakeholder input and buy-in: Feature-based roadmaps provide a structured framework for gathering input and feedback from stakeholders. This allows for a collaborative prioritization process, enabling stakeholders to contribute their insights and have a say in shaping the product's roadmap.

Criticisms of feature-oriented roadmaps

While feature-based roadmaps offer several benefits, they are not without their criticisms. Here are some common concerns associated with feature-based roadmaps:

  • Lack of flexibility: Feature-based roadmaps can be rigid and less adaptable to changing priorities or market conditions. If new information or customer feedback requires a shift in direction, it can be challenging to modify the roadmap without disrupting the planned features and timelines.
  • Potential for misinterpretation: Stakeholders may interpret feature-based roadmaps as set in stone when really, they’re plans. This is especially true when it includes timeframes or specific delivery dates.
  • Overemphasis on new features: Focusing primarily on features may overshadow other important aspects such as user experience, technical debt, or infrastructure improvements. This narrow focus can result in neglecting crucial areas that are essential for the long-term success and sustainability of the product.
  • Inadequate response to customer needs: Relying solely on predefined features can limit the ability to respond quickly to emerging customer needs or market demands. Customer feedback and evolving requirements may not be adequately captured in the planned feature set, leading to potential dissatisfaction or missed opportunities.
  • Lack of strategic alignment: While feature-based roadmaps focus on specific features, they may not clearly convey the strategic direction or vision of the product. Without a strong alignment between the roadmap and broader strategic goals, there is a risk of losing sight of the larger objectives and delivering features in isolation.

Feature roadmaps best practices

Honestly, I think feature roadmaps get a bad rap. I get that the way some companies implement them, they can turn into rigid plans that don’t consider customer needs. But you can definitely make plans to build features that are flexible and consider customer needs.

Here is my own set of best practices for feature roadmaps, developed over 20 years of leading product and product teams:

Tip 1: Use business goals to prioritize

I’m not mad at the idea that you should use goals to prioritize your features. Thank you goal-based roadmaps for that idea.

We do that at Savio: we choose an area to focus on (say, reducing churn) and then choose features that help accomplish that goal. For example, we might filter and sort our feature requests to see which were most requested by churned customers, and prioritize those.

So ya, absolutely use your goals to guide your prioritization. Do you need to structure your roadmap around your goals? You can, but I don’t know that it’s necessary. But use them to construct your roadmap for sure.

Tip 2: Use vague timelines and disclaimers.

It’s true that stakeholders can look at a feature roadmap and see a commitment.

One way to combat that is to make the timelines vague. That way, you’re not committing to the features on a specific day or even month. You’re just saying that you’re planning to build them next.

Another thing I recommend is to include disclaimers—either on your roadmap or when you present it. For example, you can say something like, “This roadmap represents our plan for building features at this moment. It can change.” Having that uncertainty baked into the roadmap is useful.

Tip 3: Set aside a specific dev budget for tech debt and strategic features

When you focus on features, it can be easy to forget about technical debt and strategic features.

My strategy for addressing that is to set aside an explicit budget for those. You might say, “Cool, 50% of our dev time will be dedicated to customer features, 25% to strategic features, and 25% to tech debt.” Then, when you’re prioritizing, fill up your roadmap with those proportions.

Tip 4: Display customer data

One criticism of feature-based roadmaps is that they aren’t customer-centric.

In my opinion, that’s a criticism of roadmaps in general rather than feature roadmaps. In fact, I think it’s way easier to choose features based on customer feedback metrics than it is on broader themes or goals.

At Savio, we include customer data right on the roadmap. That way, everyone can see how many customers requested a feature, how much MRR it represents, how much opportunity revenue is associated with it, and more.

The win here is that you’re building the voice of the customer right into your roadmap. It’s way easier to make customer-centric decisions with that information displayed. (And, as a side benefit, it’s stakeholder-proof because everyone can see why you made the product decisions you did.)

How to make a feature-based roadmap

Great, so how do you make one? Here’s how I would do it. (For more detail, check out my full guide on putting together your product roadmap).

Step 1: Define your product vision and objectives

Every roadmapping exercise should start with a clear understanding of your product vision and strategy. If you don’t have that yet, do that first.

Learn more: Product vision and strategy guide

At this point, decide on your specific business goals for the sprint, month, or quarter, too. For example, maybe you want to increase sign-ups or trial conversions or expansions. Choosing these specific goals will help you when it comes to prioritizing features.

Step 2: Get your list of features

Feature roadmaps display features on them. So figure out what new product features you might build first.

Get together your product backlog or list of initiatives.

You probably already have a feature backlog with all the ideas for new features you might build. (If you use Savio, this will be your feature request list).

Guide: Where to get ideas for new features

Step 3: Collect feedback and feature requests

To set up a good system for prioritizing features, it’s useful to know what your customers are asking for.

So make sure you have a good feature request tracking system. That means making sure that all your customer-facing teams (customer success, sales, customer support, etc.) can easily centralize the feedback they get into one place.

Step 4: Prioritize features to your roadmap.

Now, choose the features you’ll build first.

Of course, this step is pretty complicated. In fact, it’s probably one of the most difficult parts of product managers' jobs. It’s also where our stakeholders and teammates have the most feedback (yay!).

I’ve written about prioritization before, so if you want detailed advice, you can check out those pieces:

  • How to prioritize feature requests
  • How to prioritize features to your roadmap
  • Prioritization frameworks

Here’s the biggest tip I have as you move forward: use your customer feedback to help you decide what to build. Listening to your customers helps you build a product they actually want and also helps you build loyalty.

Step 5:  Allocate resources and set timelines

Cool, you have your priority features. Now make sure they fit in your Dev budget and assign rough dates for when you think they’ll be done.

Step 6: Decide how to display the information

You’re building a feature-based roadmap, so you know that you’ll include features on your roadmap. But make decisions about all the rest of it.

What information do you want to display? What design elements will you use? Will you display exact release dates, or not? Will you make it in Powerpoint, Google Sheets, or a purpose-built roadmapping tool?

Make those decisions at this step.

Step 7: Communicate the roadmap to all stakeholders

At this point, you just need to share your roadmap with your team's stakeholders.

Get feedback from internal stakeholders. Make any changes necessary. Then publish and share with both internal and external stakeholders.

Feature-based roadmap template

Looking to quickly build a feature-based roadmap with your feature requests?

It’s easy to set up in Savio—just start a free trial. Then click “roadmaps” and your template will be ready to fill in.

Making a feature-based roadmap in Savio

Setting up a roadmap in Savio is easy. Check out our knowledge base article for step-by-step instructions.

Other roadmap types to consider

Not yet decided on feature-based roadmaps? Here are some of the alternatives you can choose instead.

Roadmap types by what information is displayed:

Roadmap types by workflow framework:

Roadmap type by design style:

Up Next: What are the other types of roadmaps?

Note: If you are looking for another deep dive into the world of product management, take a minute to check