What is a Product Roadmap? And Why Do You Need One?

What is a Product Roadmap? And Why Do You Need One

As any manufacturer knows, developing a new product is a marathon, not a sprint. There are countless steps between the initial ideation and the product launch, and it’s important to ensure that each step is fully aligned with the business’ broader goals. To ensure this kind of alignment, and to keep the process moving forward at an efficient pace, most manufacturers employ a series of roadmaps.

A roadmap is essentially a way to visualize strategic plans, helping product teams move toward their goals while ensuring transparency at every step of the way. There are a number of different types of roadmaps, with the product roadmap being one of the most essential. But what is a product roadmap, exactly, and what sets it apart from, say, an engineering roadmap, or a finance roadmap?

Many Types of Roadmaps

To explain the significance of a product roadmap, it might first be helpful to explain some of the other types of roadmaps that a business might use. Consider three common examples:

  • Business roadmaps. A business roadmap is used by executive leaders to communicate a company’s big-picture vision, denoting short-, mid-, and long-term goals. This roadmap might be conveyed to lenders or to investors as a way of raising capital.
  • Engineering roadmaps. An engineering roadmap is generally created by a product manager and provided to the engineering team, providing clarity about things like technical features and timelines. The engineering roadmap helps engineers to visualize the individual tasks they need to complete before the product is ready for launch.
  • Marketing roadmap. The marketing roadmap provides a general timeline for the release of a product, allowing marketing team members to plan and coordinate any activities to promote the product.

So, What About the Product Roadmap?

By contrast, a product roadmap is a high-level document, created by the product manager to outline the goals for the product in relation to the broader business strategy. A product roadmap provides a detailed look at how a product is developed over a set period of time. The product roadmap is intended to promote alignment between different team members and departments, allowing them to visualize how each product feature or milestone relates to the company’s bottom line. A product roadmap can also be an important way to present business leadership with the “big picture,” offering a one-stop-shop for information related to a product’s marketing requirements, financial implications, and more. Finally, product roadmaps provide unity and clarity among cross-disciplinary teams; it is a “master” document that all employees and departments can access, ensuring everyone’s on the same page regarding relevant product details.

Key Elements of a Product Roadmap

Product roadmaps can be highly beneficial, but only when developed strategically. Some key considerations include:

  • Transparency. A product roadmap is no good if it’s kept in a silo or developed in isolation from key constituencies. A product roadmap should be made with input from all departments and provide information that is accessible to everyone involved with product development. Without transparency, a product roadmap simply won’t benefit alignment.
  • Centralization. In keeping with that last point, a product roadmap should be stored in a centralized location where it’s easily accessible to anyone within the organization who might need it. Cloud-based storage is usually the way to go.
  • Up-to-date information. To be truly useful, a product roadmap must be kept up to date with all relevant information, ensuring that everyone is on the same page. When all personnel have access to the latest information, they can make better decisions that save time and workload. 

The bottom line? A product roadmap should be conceived as the single source of truth for your organization; the one place teams can look when they need accurate and up-to-date information about a new product.

Adapting a Product Roadmap

If your company doesn’t have a product roadmap, consider how adopting one can help your entire organization work more efficiently, with all parties oriented toward the same shared goals.