Now, Next, Later Roadmaps: Explanation, Template, and Guide
Now, next, later roadmaps are a simple and quick way to plan your product development and keep teams aligned. Here’s what they are and how to make one.
The most difficult question in product management is often, “What should we build right now?”
“Now, next, later” product roadmaps were designed to help product teams answer that question. They organize features into three simple categories:
- What you’re working on now
- What’s coming next
- What you can think about later
They’re an elegant way to structure your roadmap, but they also have their downsides.
In this article, I’ll explain what Now, Next, Later product roadmaps are, their strengths, their drawbacks, and how to make one.
Now/Next/Later roadmaps TL;DR
- They are a simple product roadmap that categorizes your features into what you’re currently working on, what you’re going to do next, and what you’ll get to at some point.
- The pros are that they’re simple, they’re easy to understand, and they’re flexible—you can change them around easily
- The cons are that they’re typically not very detailed and they often don’t have the information that some stakeholders (like execs) want
- Build a next/now/later roadmap in Savio for free right now, or use this free template in Trello.
What is a now, next, later roadmap?
A "now/next/later" roadmap is a strategic planning tool commonly used in product development and project management to visualize and prioritize features, tasks, and initiatives. It helps teams and stakeholders understand the current focus, upcoming priorities, and future plans.
Most next/now/later roadmaps use a Kanban-style roadmap structure. The roadmap is divided into three main columns:
- Now: This section represents the current phase or sprint. It includes the features you’re actively working on or are in progress. It outlines the immediate priorities and goals that need to be accomplished in the short term.
- Next: This section outlines the features you’ll build in the immediate future, say, the next sprint or quarter. It includes upcoming priorities and goals that are already planned.
- Later: This section represents the longer-term goals and initiatives that are not yet scheduled. These are important but are not the immediate focus. They may require further analysis, research, or resources before they can be executed.
Note: Some teams use the “Later” column as a backlog; others have an additional backlog column.
Examples of a now, next, later roadmap
What does a “next, now, later” roadmap look like? Here are some examples.
Example 1: Next/Now/Later product roadmap in Savio
Here’s an example of a now, next, later roadmap built using Savio. Each of the feature requests is tied to your feature request list in the Savio vault, as well as the feedback you receive from your customers.
An example now, next, later roadmap in Savio. Notice that each feature displays customer feedback information: the goal of the feature, cumulative MRR, opportunity revenue, priority, and the number of customer requests for that feature.
Also note that you can choose to display customer feedback on Savio roadmaps, as in the example above—cumulative MRR, the number of requests for the feature, and so on. This provides context and helps you justify your product decisions to other stakeholders.
Get started: Try Savio roadmaps for free.
Example 2: Next/Now/Later product roadmap in Trello
Here’s another example of a next, now, later roadmap built with Trello. Trello gives you lots of options for customization and design, but it doesn’t let you display customer feedback as easily and can’t connect to your customer feedback.
An example now, next, later roadmap in Trello.
Get started: Access this template in Trello for free
Is a now, next, later roadmap right for you?
Now, next, later roadmaps can be useful, but they may not be right for every team. Here are some things to consider when deciding whether to use one.
Now/next/later roadmaps offer several benefits for product management. Here are some of them:
- Clarity and focus. They provide a clear visual representation of current priorities, upcoming tasks, and future plans. It guides teams to focus their effort on immediate tasks while also providing a glimpse of the bigger picture.
- Flexibility and adaptability. This type of roadmap allows for flexibility and adaptability in project planning. As priorities shift or new information becomes available, teams can easily adjust and reprioritize tasks in the "next" and "later" sections to align with changing circumstances.
- Stakeholder alignment. The roadmap serves as a communication tool to align stakeholders, including team members, managers, executives, and even customers. It helps ensure everyone is on the same page.
- It can be shared. Some product managers are hesitant to share too much detail with certain stakeholders—like customers. Now, next, later roadmaps lack detail, which may make them more appropriate for sharing externally.
Overall, now/next/later roadmaps can enhance communication and decision-making.
While now/next/later roadmaps have their advantages, they also have a few potential drawbacks. Here are some cons to consider:
- They lack specificity. While the now/next/later format provides a high-level overview of tasks and initiatives, it tends to lack the necessary level of detail for some stakeholders who require more specific information—for example, your development team typically needs more detail than these roadmaps don’t provide.
- Limited visibility of dependencies. Dependencies between tasks or initiatives may not be adequately captured in a now/next/later roadmap. This can lead to challenges in understanding the impact of changes or delays in one task on others, potentially causing scheduling conflicts or bottlenecks.
- Difficulty in long-term planning. While the roadmap provides a general sense of future plans, the "later" section often lacks the level of detail necessary for effective long-term planning. It may require supplementary planning and forecasting techniques to ensure comprehensive strategic decision-making.
- Potential overemphasis on short-term goals. The now/next/later structure may lead to a disproportionate focus on short-term goals and tasks. Long-term objectives and strategic planning might receive less attention, potentially impacting the overall project's success.
- Not inherently customer-focused. Finally, now/next/later roadmaps aren’t always customer-centric. They can be if you prioritize your features based on customer needs and feedback. But without embracing a firm focus on customer needs, this roadmap type could lead you to build a product your customers don’t want.
When to use
A now/next/later roadmap can be appropriate or even ideal in several situations, including:
- Agile development. Now/next/later roadmaps allow for flexibility, adapting to changing priorities, and accommodating iterative development cycles—all of which are important for agile development.
- Dynamic environments. When operating in dynamic environments with evolving requirements or market conditions, a next/now/later roadmap can be valuable. It enables teams to adjust and reprioritize tasks and initiatives as needed.
- External stakeholder communication and alignment. Now/next/later roadmaps can be especially useful for engaging and aligning external stakeholders. They present a clear overview of current priorities, upcoming initiatives, and long-term plans, without providing too much detail or making firm commitments.
Remember, whether a next/now/later roadmap makes sense depends on the specific context and needs of your product and teams. Consider factors like project complexity, stakeholder preferences, and the level of detail required to determine if this roadmap format will work for you.
How to make a now, next, later roadmap
Want to give it a shot? Here’s a quick guide for you.
(For more detailed advice and tips, check out our How to Create a Roadmap article.
Step 1: Define your goals
Determine the overall strategic objectives for your product—the product vision and strategy. These goals should align with your business's wider objectives and act as the guiding principles for your roadmap.
Step 2: Identify key features
Brainstorm and list all the features you want to include in your product over the given period of time. This list (really, it’s just your backlog) can come from a variety of sources including user feedback, competitive analysis, internal suggestions, and more.
Step 3: Estimate development time
Work with your development team to estimate how long each feature might take to implement. This doesn't have to be an exact science but should give you a rough idea of the time required. It will help you decide how many features you can build “Now”, how many can go in the “Next” column, and so on.
Step 4: Prioritize the features
Use a prioritization framework (like RICE, MoSCoW, the value vs. complexity matrix, or Savio’s prioritization strategy) to decide the order in which you'll tackle these features. Consider factors like business value, user value, development effort, risk, and strategic fit.
Categorize them into three columns: Now, Next, and Later.
Note that for this type of roadmap, you don’t need a super granular priority list. You just need to know what you’re going to build now, and then what you’ll build next. The rest of the features can go into the “later” column.
And, you’ll re-prioritize every time you update the roadmap. So you really only need to get the “Now” column firmed up.
Step 5: Document your roadmap
Use a tool or platform that allows you to visually represent your roadmap. This could be a specialized product roadmapping software tool like Savio, or something simpler like a spreadsheet or diagram in Google Sheets or Excel.
How you make the roadmap is not so important. What’s important is that it’s easy to understand and accessible to stakeholders.
Step 6: Communicate the roadmap
Share your roadmap with all relevant stakeholders, including your development team, other internal teams, executives, and (if appropriate) customers or users. Be clear that the roadmap is a plan, not a promise, and it may change based on a variety of factors.
Step 7: Review and update regularly
Schedule regular reviews of your roadmap to ensure it's still aligned with your business goals and user needs. Update it as necessary based on new information, feedback, or changes in your business or market.
Typically, you’ll set the “Now” column for a sprint, month, or quarter. So, you’ll need to review the roadmap on the same cadence to update it so it reflects what you’re currently building and what’s coming next.
Other roadmap types to consider
Not yet decided on now, next, later roadmaps? Here are some of the alternatives you can choose instead.
Roadmap types by what information is displayed:
- Feature-oriented roadmaps
- Goal-oriented roadmaps
- Outcome-oriented roadmaps
- Portfolio roadmaps
- Evidence-oriented roadmaps
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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