Timeline-Based Roadmaps: Explanation, Guide, and Template

Calendar dates on a table, representing aligning features on a timeline roadmap

One of the big questions in product roadmapping is whether you should include precise dates.

Product roadmaps are planning documents, so virtually all of them include some kind of time frame for your new product features and initiatives.

But how detailed should you be?

Timeline roadmaps are for people who want to set very specific product milestones. If you lean towards detail in your planning, they could be right for you. In this article, I’ll cover what timeline roadmaps are, their pros and cons, and how to build them.

What is a timeline-based roadmap?

Timeline-based roadmaps are visual planning documents that display product features, milestones, and sometimes tasks plotted along a chronological timeline. They help teams plan, communicate, and track progress effectively, and they can create alignment between teams around what features you’re planning to deliver and when.

How do timeline roadmaps differ from other types of roadmaps? It’s the emphasis on the temporal aspect that sets it apart.

Timeline roadmap examples

Timeline roadmaps are usually structured like the following example below. Notice that features, initiatives, and tasks are represented by horizontal bars along a timeline. The example also includes milestones with specific dates.

Here is an example of a timeline roadmap for project management. Source.

Is a timeline-based roadmap right for you?

Here are some considerations before deciding whether a timeline-oriented roadmap is right for your team.

Pros

Some advantages of timeline roadmaps include:

  • Clear timeframes and deadlines. With a timeline-based roadmap, your deadlines aren't just words on a page, they're visual cues. The clarity they offer can help your team members feel comfortable they understand their deadlines and the dependencies between teams.

  • Easy visualization of the project lifecycle. Timeline-based roadmaps give you a bird's eye view of your product's lifecycle. You can see the journey from concept to launch laid out in a single, coherent, easy-to-understand narrative.

  • Useful for tracking progress and delays. The timeline structure makes it easy to track progress. And if there are delays, they become immediately visible, allowing you to take swift corrective action.

Cons

Timeline-based roadmaps also have some disadvantages. Here are some of them.

  • Unrealistic expectations. A detailed timeline can create unrealistic expectations among stakeholders or team members regarding the project's progress and delivery dates. If the timeline is overly optimistic or if it changes, stakeholders may become disappointed or frustrated.

  • Lack of detail. Timeline roadmaps typically focus on high-level milestones and tasks, lacking in-depth details or specifics. This can be a disadvantage when it comes to complex projects that require more granular information or when precise task dependencies need to be communicated.

  • Overemphasis on the timeline. When the focus is heavily on the timeline, other crucial elements—like quality, customer feedback, or market changes—may not get the attention they deserve.

  • Feature factory. The way many teams create timeline roadmaps can be myopic. They may skip a careful reflection of the organization's goals in favour of detailed feature planning. The result can be that you efficiently pump out features without ensuring that they’ll actually provide value to the customer.

  • Lack of context. Timeline roadmaps may not capture the broader context or rationale behind project decisions, making it challenging to understand the underlying reasoning or strategic objectives behind certain milestones or tasks. (Hint: this is why Savio encourages evidence-based roadmaps that display customer feedback data along with your features and timeframes).

Who is a timeline-based roadmap for?

Timeline roadmaps are beneficial for various individuals and teams involved in project management and planning. Here are some situations when you might benefit from using timeline-based roadmaps:

  1. Your product development team wants one. Some teams, like product development teams, want detailed, specific plans for developing the product. If your roadmap is just for your dev team, a timeline might be useful. Also, your devs will likely understand its tentative nature—they’re less likely to see the specific dates on your roadmap as firm commitments.

  2. Your other stakeholders want one. If your executive team wants you to include specific dates, then you might not have much choice—even if it’s not your first pick.

  3. Linear product development. When your business follows a sequential product development process, the timeline-based roadmap might be really handy. An example might be a manufacturing firm preparing for a new product launch. Each phase, from ideation to mass production, can be carefully located on the timeline, ensuring a smooth transition and efficient management of each stage.

How to make a timeline-based roadmap, step by step

Ready to roll up your sleeves and create your timeline-based roadmap? I’ve written a more detailed guide on how to create a roadmap from scratch, but here's a brief step-by-step process to guide you.

Step 1: Define the product vision and strategy

Before anything else, you need a clear product vision.

What's the end goal? What problem is your product solving?

Once you've defined that, formulate a strategy that aligns with this vision. This becomes the foundation of your roadmap, guiding every decision and step that follows.

Related: Product vision vs. product strategy

Step 2: Identify key milestones, releases, and features

Next, it's time to break down your strategy into key milestones. These could be stages like ideation, design, development, testing, or launch. You should also identify any major product releases within these milestones.

Then, within each release, list the specific features that you'll be working on. This is actually its own mini-process that includes:

If you use a roadmapping tool like Savio, you’ll already have your backlog of potential features. Then, you just need to worry about prioritizing the most important ones.

Guide: The Savio method for prioritizing features

Step 3: Estimate timelines for each feature

Once you've laid out your milestones, releases, and features, start allocating time frames to each and turn it into a visual chart.

Tip: Do this in concert with your development team. They’ll likely be better at estimating how much time a feature will take to build.

This step transforms your roadmap into a timeline-based one, giving your team a clear picture of the project lifecycle.

Step 4: Review the roadmap with your team

Reviewing the roadmap and gathering feedback from your team is a crucial step in the roadmap creation process. This step ensures that everyone is on the same page and that the roadmap is realistic, achievable, and aligned with the team's goals and capabilities. Typically, this step includes:

  1. Schedule a review meeting. This meeting should include all key stakeholders, such as team leads, project managers, and anyone else who plays a significant role in the project.

  2. Present the roadmap. Explain the overall goals, the timeline, the key milestones, and the tasks required to achieve each milestone. Make sure to explain the rationale behind each decision to help your team understand the roadmap better.

  3. Encourage feedback. You can ask specific questions to guide the discussion and ensure that all aspects of the roadmap are covered.

  4. Discuss and resolve concerns. If there are disagreements, facilitate a discussion around them. Remember, the goal is to create a roadmap that everyone understands and feels confident about.

  5. Incorporate feedback. Review the feedback and decide if you need to adjust the timeline, re-prioritize tasks, or make other changes based on the feedback.

  6. Follow up. Share it with your team again. This ensures that everyone is aware of the changes and agrees with the final version.

If you need approval for the feedback, get it at this step.

Step 5: Monitor and adjust the roadmap as needed

Finally, remember that your roadmap isn't set in stone. It's a living document that should evolve with your project. Regularly monitor your progress and adjust the roadmap as necessary. Whether it's a delay in one of the milestones or a sudden change in strategy, your roadmap should reflect these changes accurately.

And there you have it—a comprehensive, timeline-based roadmap. Remember, the value of this tool lies in its ability to provide clarity, facilitate communication, and steer your product development process in the right direction.

Note: Looking for more in-depth information? Take advantage of our comprehensive guide on creating your product roadmap.

Timeline-based roadmap template

Let's get hands-on with a basic timeline-based roadmap template. This simple yet effective tool can help you produce a timeline roadmap quickly.

Download: Timeline roadmap template (Google Sheets)

What's in the Template?

The template consists of a linear timeline, broken down into increments that you can change to match your product lifecycle. For example, you could choose weeks, months, or quarters. Then, you can organize your features and deliverables vertically using swimlanes to indicate the team responsible.

A screenshot of a timeline-based product roadmap template. Get the template here.

Remember, a template is just a starting point. Customize it according to your product's unique requirements and your team's preferences.

Timeline product roadmap tools

Rather than a template, you might want to use a purpose-built roadmapping tool to create, share, and update your roadmap. These tools can offer features like drag-and-drop, easy updating, and secure sharing which can greatly ease the process.

We’ve got a list of product roadmapping tools here.

Look for the one with good integrations and timeline displays that work for you.

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: Roadmap types, their pros, and their cons

Last Updated: 2023-07-04

Kareem Mayan

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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