Kanban Roadmaps: Explanation, Guide, and Template
Kanban roadmaps can be powerful product management tools. Image source: Adapted from Wikipedia Creative Commons.
Kanban is a workflow management method that helps you visualize your work on a board. Each board has columns that represent a stage in your workflow. Then each piece of work is a card that moves through the stages.
Kanban has been adapted to become an agile software development process. Product managers then further adapted it into a type of product roadmap.
This article explains what you need to know about using Kanban roadmaps—what they are, their pros and cons, when to use them, and how to set one up.
What is a Kanban roadmap?
A Kanban roadmap is simply a type of product roadmap that uses a Kanban board style—a board with columns and cards.
“Kanban” is a Japanese word that means “visual board” or “sign”, which refers to its distinctive board style. It was originally developed at Toyota as a method for lean manufacturing, but it was eventually adopted by software developers who turned it into a specific framework and implementation of an agile methodology.
Some people will tell you that “Kanban roadmaps” aren’t really a thing because they don’t follow true Kanban methodology. They’re not legitimate, somehow, because they don’t follow the specific agile project framework that “Kanban” now comes to refer to in software development. Instead, they’re just a roadmap on a board.
Sure, I guess.
In my view, “Kanban” just means (literally) a visual board. So a Kanban roadmap is a real thing—it’s a roadmap that’s designed as a visual board. They’re as real as any other style of roadmap that’s useful to product managers.
But if agile practitioners want to protect a more specific meaning for “Kanban”, fair enough. You do you.
The big picture here is that you can configure your product roadmap to have cards, columns, and lists and that looks like a Kanban board. And that style of roadmapping works really well for some product teams.
Examples of Kanban product roadmaps
Here’s an example of a Kanban product roadmap in Savio. This one is set up to have its columns Now, Next, and Later, but that’s a choice we made. You could have other columns. Notice that because it also displays relevant customer information for each feature, it’s also an evidence-based product roadmap.
Here’s a Kanban roadmap 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.
Here’s another example of a Kanban roadmap, this time put together in Trello. (Get this template for free here.)
Here’s an example Kanban roadmap built in Trello. Get this template here.
Some of the advantages of structuring your roadmap as a Kanban board include:
Visual representation: Kanban roadmaps are visual and clearly show a workflow and the status of work items at a glance.
Focus on flow and efficiency: Kanban roadmaps emphasize the flow of work and aim to optimize the efficiency of the workflow.
Flexibility and adaptability: Kanban roadmaps are highly flexible and can be adapted to changing requirements or priorities. Cards, representing new features or other work items, can be easily moved, reprioritized, or modified as needed.
Workflow transparency: Kanban roadmaps promote transparency by providing visibility into the entire workflow. Everyone involved in the project can see the work items, their progression, and any bottlenecks or blockers.
Collaboration and shared understanding: Kanban roadmaps encourage collaboration and shared understanding among team members. With the visual representation of the work and the transparent workflow, everyone can have a common understanding of project goals, priorities, and dependencies.
There can also be some disadvantages to a Kanban roadmap type. They include:
Poor long-term planning: Kanban roadmaps focus primarily on visualizing and managing the immediate workflow and work items. They are not designed to provide a comprehensive long-term plan or strategic overview.
Limited deadline management: Kanban roadmaps do not inherently provide a mechanism for managing deadlines or time-bound deliverables. While you can track deadlines, it’s not built-in—and it can feel like it’s awkwardly added on.
Dependency management complexities: You may struggle to represent complex dependencies between work items or teams on a Kanban roadmap.
Lack of capacity planning: It can be difficult to incorporate capacity planning into Kanban workflows and manage workload allocation. Some teams struggle with ensuring that teams are not overloaded or underutilized.
Potential for information overload: Kanban roadmaps rely on visualizing work items on a board. These can become overwhelming if there are too many items or if the board is not well-organized.
Kanban roadmaps for other teams
Kanban is great for other kinds of roadmap use cases—not just for product roadmaps. For example, you could use this style for:
Customer support roadmaps
And many more.
Is a Kanban product roadmap right for you?
Roadmaps are a personal choice. The right one depends on:
Your product and its workflows
Your teams and how you organize them
What information you need to display
Your own personal preferences for what you like
Kanban is ideal for you if:
You want to be able to quickly visualize your features and their stage in your workflow
Your product workflow is pretty fixed and doesn’t change depending on the feature
You don’t need to display exact dates
You and your team like the way features are visualized on a Kanban board
How to make a Kanban roadmap
Setting up a Kanban roadmap is quite simple. Here’s how I would do it:
Choose your tool. You can make a physical Kanban board in your office, or you might try a specific tool. If you’re going with a tool, consider Trello or Savio.
Set up your columns. You could go with very basic “Now/Next/Later” columns, or outline a more complex workflow with multiple columns. It’s a good idea to have a product backlog column to hold any feature ideas.
Slot in your features. Now you need to put your feature ideas into the appropriate column. Here’s a guide on where to find feature ideas.
Prioritize. Eventually, you’ll have to decide on which features, functionality, and initiatives are a priority. Use a prioritization framework—maybe even Savio’s—to decide which features move from the backlog into the “Next” column (or your equivalent). We also like to prioritize features within a column with the highest priority at the top.
Connect to your dev workflow. Ideally, your product roadmap connects to your dev tool. That way, as the feature moves through stages in your dev tool, it’s automatically updated on your Kanban product roadmap and stays up-to-date.
Share. Now share your roadmap with your stakeholders. You may want to tweak what is displayed here depending on your audience.
You can also choose to put in other design elements like swimlanes to keep different teams’ work or projects separate.
Kanban roadmap template
Want to quickly set up a Kanban product roadmap in Trello? Download the template:
Making a Kanban roadmap in Savio
If you’re building your product development roadmap in Savio, Kanban roadmaps are simple to set up (step-by-step instructions in our knowledgebase, here).
No template required—just start your free trial.
Other roadmap types to consider
Not sure whether Kanban is for you? Check out a few of the other styles. Here are some popular roadmap types and styles to choose from.
Roadmap types by what information is displayed:
Roadmap types by workflow framework:
Roadmap type by design style:
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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