We’ve come to rely on a new product roadmap definition: It's a statement of intent.
This type of roadmap isn’t a set-in-stone plan. It’s a visualization of where you’re going, and it can come in many forms. But it’s also a living document, which can change.
They are commonly thought of as communication tools. We don’t disagree. But this definition doesn’t capture the whole picture: it doesn’t explicitly encompass the important fact that they are also living documents.
What is a roadmap? More importantly, what is a product roadmap? Yes, it’s a communication tool — but the ideas your roadmap communicates are often subject to change. By thinking of it as a statement of intent, you emphasize that key differentiator.
Ready to level up your product roadmap? Check out our complete guide for product managers.
Why this product roadmap definition works
1. It smooths the alignment process
Beyond the challenges associated with actually building your roadmap, there can be a lot of interpersonal friction. How do you balance the demands of sales, marketing, execs, your hairdresser, your third-cousin Pam? How do you foster a sense of openness and empathy around the product roadmapping process?
We like statement of intent because it clarifies an often messy internal process; it offers a point of reference and context that every team can follow.
2. It grows with your company
As organizations evolve, so do their roadmaps. From talking to countless product managers, we know that in young companies, roadmaps tend to be a list of features. Referring to your roadmap as a statement of intent is useful at this stage, particularly in agile organizations that don’t necessarily run on timelines. It provides a flexible framework at a volatile phase of your product lifecycle.
This gets tricky at bigger companies, where roadmaps integrate a whole lot more complexity and often include aggressive timelines. By suggesting that you think of your roadmap as a statement of intent, we’re not suggesting you ignore deadlines. In large organizations, our definition is most helpful during the buy-in process. Get four departments in a roadmap meeting, and there will be conflicting agendas. By presenting your roadmap as a statement of intent, you can mitigate knee-jerk criticism from conflicting stakeholders.
3. It’s customer-friendly
It can be incredibly valuable to show your customers your roadmap. Less valuable: making promises you can’t keep.
When customers understand that your roadmap is a statement of intent, they understand that the items on it might shift. Making it clear that your roadmap articulates intention, rather than commitment, allows you to build enthusiasm while managing expectations.
Ready to start building your own product roadmap? Try our ready-to-use product roadmap template.
Where this product roadmap definition gets complicated
A roadmap needs to relay concrete events and activities — especially at large organizations where dependencies and deadlines are involved. Thinking of your roadmap as a statement of intent doesn’t mean avoiding commitment altogether. Sometimes flexibility just isn’t possible. Depending on the stage, size and structure of your organization, this definition will have different applications. The important point is that it creates space for flexibility — if and when flexibility becomes necessary.
It will always be a challenge to get stakeholders — especially executives — to understand that roadmaps aren’t written in permanent ink. Smaller companies can often sidestep this challenge by creating roadmaps without dates. Bigger, deadline-driven companies can reinforce the idea that a roadmap is a statement of intent by explicitly visualizing flexibility.
There will always be some friction during the roadmapping process, whether it’s hostility towards the initial plan or reluctance to pivot as variables evolve. Evangelizing a definition like statement of intent can help build understanding around the product roadmap process—both with your customers and within your company culture.
What is a product roadmap? Regardless of which definition you prefer, remember: it’s not literally a roadmap.
How to create a product roadmap
Before we get into the tactical pieces that make up the roadmap (Do I need dates? Should I organize it by themes? What if I’m trying to keep things agile?), let’s talk about what you need before you even log into your Roadmunk account.
1. Establish a strong customer-focused vision and product strategy
A vague and thoughtless product strategy leaves your team without a strong sense of direction for the work they do and the goals they chase. In turn, a messy plan leads to a messy roadmap where none of the initiatives will yield any real impact.
A specific, customer problem-focused strategy leaves no room for ambiguity or confusion. Without a well-defined sense of direction and purpose, no product goals get realized, everyone’s working with a depleted morale bar because of the lack of direction. On top of that, resources get wasted left and right because no one took the time to do a proper strategic assessment of what those constraints look like and how they’ll affect the plan in the long-term.
Most importantly, a vague sense of direction leaves you with a pretty useless roadmap that only infuriates anyone who looks at it. And that just defeats the whole purpose of having a product roadmap in the first place.
For more details on how to lead roadmap planning using a strong product strategy and vision, read our guide here here.
2. Gather stakeholder and team inputs
Getting buy-in is half the roadmapping battle. It’s not as simple as putting together a comprehensive strategy, then just showing everyone the plan for the upcoming quarter and year. Dictating plans without considering the needles that different departments need to push is a recipe for roadmapping disaster.
Not to mention, different departments different core problems, so you’ll have to learn to speak their buy-in language before you present the roadmap. We’ve written a few guides to help with that process:
3. Define the high-level themes
Your roadmap is not a list of features, a backlog or a PRD. It’s a high-level overview of where you’re headed and how you’re planning on getting there. So everything you commit to on the roadmap has to tie into some aspect of the product strategy.
Even if you have a list of impressive features that you just have to include in the roadmap, you have to consider the big picture. Your objective might be achieving product-market fit, or launching “sticky” features. Whatever the goal, your roadmap should convey the plan for achieving your high-level strategy.
To learn more about establishing themes on your roadmap, ready our guide to agile roadmap planning here.
4. Present a tailored product roadmap to your stakeholders
Even after you gather stakeholder input and put together an initial roadmap, it’s still just words on a page until it gets validated using roadmap presentations and meetings.
Like with gathering stakeholder input, presenting your roadmap requires that you understand the motivations of the different departments, giving them a chance to reaffirm their alignment with the plan. Without a solid presentation, all the buy-in and alignment that you achieved up until that point will fall apart when your stakeholders realize that the roadmap doesn’t reflect any of their priorities.
Learn how to ace your roadmap presentation using our guide here.
3 product roadmap examples
No two products are the same, which means there’s no “standard” product roadmap that all companies can follow.
Here at Roadmunk, we’ve spent some time getting to know the product managers who use our tools. We learned that product roadmaps tend to fall under one of three basic high-level frameworks: no-dates roadmaps, timeline roadmaps and hybrid roadmaps.
Example of a no-dates product roadmap
In a lot of companies, like early-stage startups and companies following an agile philosophy, time-based roadmaps don’t work. No-date roadmaps are more flexible because they make room for priorities that are constantly shifting based on new learnings.
Product roadmaps don’t have to be strict with dates. You can organize them based on those themes we mentioned earlier, by owners or sprints. Here’s an example of an agile product roadmap organized by sprints:
Example of a timeline product roadmap
Timeline roadmaps are pretty straightforward. They’re product roadmaps plotted on a timeline, mostly used by companies with complex multi-departmental structures, dependencies and strict business deadlines.
Here’s an example of a timeline product roadmap with complex dependencies between multiple stakeholders:
Example of a hybrid product roadmap
And finally, the hybrid product roadmap. This type of product roadmap includes dates—but not hard dates. For example, a company might create a product roadmap that is organized by month or quarter. This style of roadmap allows you to plan into the future while maintaining flexibility.
Here’s an example: