Ah, product roadmaps! If you’re dipping your toes into the world of product management, you’ve probably heard this term tossed around like confetti at a parade. So, what is it exactly? Why is everyone in the office so obsessed with it? And why should you care? Let’s break it down in plain, simple terms.
The first thing you need to understand is that the product roadmap is just like your go-to travel Google Maps. It helps you get from Point A to Point B. It’s that simple! I know that didn’t seem to do much in our goal to demystify it, but that’s how we’ll make the connections.
💡 Quick pro tip: Overwhelmed by all the buzzwords in product management? Fear not. Many of them are just everyday English words wrapped in fancy lingo. Simplify the words first and then the application of the word won’t be too difficult.
To really grasp what a roadmap is, we need to get two big-picture things straight:
- The Vision
- The Strategy
Roadmap: The map for your road
I’d be using Google Maps as props for my explanation. So let’s assume you need to make a road trip to a particular destination. I’d walk you through this process while explaining the concept of product roadmaps side by side. Let’s answer a series of questions about this road trip:
The Journey Starts With a Vision
Imagine you and your friends decide to go on a road trip. The first question to answer is, why? Maybe you’re all dying to visit that new garden in town that’s 8km away. That’s your vision.
Some people hit the road on a whim, often for emotional reasons. But when you’re going with friends, you need a clear reason for the trip. In product management, this ‘reason’ is known as your product or company’s vision
💡 The Vision: This speaks to why the business even exists in the first place. One of my favorite business visions is that of Amazon, “Our vision is to be Earth’s most customer-centric company, where customers can find and discover anything they might want to buy online, and endeavors to offer its customers the lowest possible prices.”
Congratulations, we have a vision for our road trip. next, we need to answer the question, How do we get there?
Strategy: The How-To Guide for Your Vision
Now, we’ve got to figure out how we’re getting to that garden, We could:
- Walk all the way to the garden — That will take us 2 hours and 7 minutes, We’d also be out of breath by the time we get to the garden, which is counterproductive.
- Jog to garden — According to my running app, I jog at an average of 07:39 minutes/km. If we jogged to the garden at this rate. We’d get to the garden in 61 minutes and 22 seconds, which is just a little over an hour but chances are we’d be sweating and would need time to recuperate energy and probably freshen up before we can enjoy any activity.
- Hail a cab — If we were to do this, We’d have to spend some money to get to the garden faster. We could hail a cab but we’d have little control over comfort and who we would enter the cab with. It will make stops along the way and will probably take us an average of 30 minutes.
- Take an Uber — This will cost us a slightly higher fee, but we’d get there on time, in comfort and we’d have more control over the route. it would take us 13 minutes to reach our destination.
After some discussion, we decided Uber’s the way to go — quick, comfy, and efficient.
💡 The strategy talks about how the vision will be attained. Your vision usually says nothing about whether you would need to build a mobile app, or web app, or rent a big store in the middle of town. This usually comes about in the strategy phase.
Roadmap: Your Personal GPS
One thing the roadmap does is that it visualizes your strategy in time intervals. It is important to note that your product strategy is influenced by your business strategy, and your road map is a useful tool for implementing your product strategy and aligning stakeholders.
It also fosters alignment across all teams involved in achieving the business goals. For those in a product team, this includes developers, designers, sales, and support. In the context of our road trip analogy, this will be the Uber driver. When we made the request, the roadmap was plotted for him by the GPS. It shows him the fastest route, where to turn, and where there’s traffic and it also tells him when we have arrived.
These are qualities your roadmap should possess, according to Roman Pichler, one of my biggest influences in product management. Your roadmap should adhere to the SMART framework.
Specific: Add as many details as you can anticipate.
Measurable: You should be able to measure what success looks like.
Agreed: Everybody involved in making the roadmap successful needs to agree to the
Realistic: While building your product, things can come up and that could cause a change in direction. Agile tells us to plan to respond to changes, so we need to commit to what is realistic and change as we get validation and clarity.
Time-bound: Although it’s not advisable to be too specific as regards time, a common practice is having quarterly road maps or seasonal roadmaps. This sets a timeframe for the roadmap without being overly restrictive about timing
Subscribe to my blog because in my next article, we’d look at the types of roadmaps and how to practically create one.