Product Roadmap Design Elements: Best Practices and Guide
How should you display information on your product roadmap? It depends, but here are some common design elements and how to use them.
Product roadmaps are planning documents that help product management teams communicate the steps they’ll take to accomplish their product vision and strategy. When successful, product roadmaps align stakeholders and help you explain the feature prioritization decisions you made.
Roadmaps typically includes information like:
Themes and business goals
Timeframes for releases
Status or progress indicators
Customer feedback data
(Here’s everything you need to know about what goes on a roadmap.)
Great… but Kareem: What’s the best way to format a roadmap? What should it look like?
Good question. It’s up to you—it depends on what information you’re including, who the audience is, and how best you think that they should read that information.
In this article, I’ll go through the common product roadmap elements used to communicate information and how best to use them.
Overall aims for roadmap design
Let’s start with the basics. Here are some overarching principles when considering what to make your roadmap look like.
Clarity and simplicity. Less is more. A good product roadmap should be easy to understand at a glance. I suggest sticking to a clean, simple design that conveys the essential information without overwhelming the viewer. Use clear language and avoid jargon.
Visual hierarchy. Organize your roadmap in a way that highlights the most important information. Use font size, color, and other visual elements to create a clear hierarchy that guides the viewer's eye.
Flexibility and adaptability. Ensure your roadmap is easy to update and adapt as priorities and timelines shift. This might involve using a digital tool or designing your roadmap in such a way that it's easy to make changes without redoing the entire document.
Tailored for stakeholders. Think about your audience and what they need. Your Dev team might want detailed time frames and planning on their roadmap. But it may be better to keep time frames vague for external stakeholders. Use elements that make sense for each audience. (You may even need to create different versions of the roadmap for different groups.)
- Justification of decisions. Last, my business partner Ryan and I have come to believe in evidence-based roadmaps—a version of product roadmaps that displays metrics and data that justifies your product decisions. That could be the ICE score, RICE score, or customer feedback data (like MRR)—whatever helped you decide to build these features and not others.
Product roadmap components and how to use them
How exactly you build your roadmap depends on your team’s needs, whether you’re using a specific framework (like agile, scrum, etc.), and the structure of your product portfolio. Still, there are some foundational roadmap design elements that you’ll probably use.
Here are the most common product roadmap elements and what they’re good for.
Note: These are the design components and elements to make your roadmap easy to understand. Make sure you also understand what information should go on your roadmap.
Bars are used to represent tasks, projects, or product features and their duration. They are particularly helpful in visualizing the timeline of these items, showing when they are planned to start and end. Bar elements are commonly used in Gantt charts—a popular type of roadmap used for project management.
In this very simple example roadmap, bars are used to represent stages of development for an app—for example, “testing” and “deployment”.
Best practices for bars:
Length. The length of the bar should represent the duration of the task or project. Make sure to use a consistent scale across all items on the roadmap to ensure easy comparisons.
Use colors and patterns. Assign different colors or patterns to bars based on their category, status, or priority level. This helps create a visual distinction and makes the roadmap easier to understand.
Connect dependencies. If certain tasks or projects are dependent on others, use lines or arrows to connect the related bars. This helps visualize dependencies and potential bottlenecks in the project.
In a product roadmap, containers refer to sections or groups that hold related tasks, features, or projects. They are useful for organizing and categorizing items on the roadmap, making it easier for stakeholders to understand the overall structure and priorities. Containers can take different forms, such as columns, swimlanes, or boxes, depending on the specific roadmap format you're using.
Best practices for containers:
Group logically. Organize items in containers based on logical relationships, such as project phases, teams, product areas, or themes. This helps create a clear structure and makes it easier for stakeholders to understand the roadmap's content.
Use clear labels. Label each container clearly so stakeholders can easily understand what it represents. This may include using headings, icons, color-coding, or even tooltips to enhance readability.
Choose the right format. Select a container format that best fits your roadmap's purpose and audience. For example, swimlanes might be ideal for visualizing parallel workstreams, while columns or boxes could be better suited for organizing items by priority or category.
Common containers include columns, swimlanes, and boxes. Here's when to use each.
Swimlanes represent parallel workstreams. They are arranged horizontally and help organize features into teams, product areas, or even different products. Swimlanes make it easy for stakeholders to understand relationships between items and track progress across multiple groups or areas simultaneously.
Columns organize tasks, projects, or product features vertically based on categories, priorities, or stages. They help create a structured layout that makes it easy for stakeholders to understand the relationships and progression of items.