How to Build a Product Roadmap and What Tools to Use To Build It

Kateryna Mayka

A product roadmap is a visualization of the strategic development of a product.

The key advantage of the roadmap is that it clearly communicates the "what" and "why" of the strategy to all stakeholders. Since this tool is easy to understand for any specialist or investor, it is possible to use it to explain the business strategy at various meetings with internal teams or stakeholders.

As a design agency, we've been working on different projects and we know that in order to cooperate effectively all the departments that work on product development should understand what they are doing and why.

For example, when we were working on Gamaya, a data analysis platform, our task was to redesign the UI/UX, but make it easy to implement for developers (check the case study).

In such a situation, a product roadmap comes in handy. As both designers and developers have an access to the roadmap they can effectively cooperate together and meet all the deadlines.

In this article, we want to share the knowledge on how to build a product roadmap as well as provide you with a list of tools that will help to optimize this process.

You might be asking: “Do I really need a product roadmap? Can I just use a product backlog or a to-do list instead”. In the next section, we will explain why the product roadmap is an important document in every project.

Why do I need a roadmap?

Let's imagine a situation in a large or medium-sized company. Along with the existing products, the organization is launching a completely new one, for example, a mobile application. The development of such a product is a resource-consuming process.

Paying off all the time and investments spent on development requires a lot of preparatory work with customers and leads. At this stage, a significant difficulty arises. Marketing materials are essential for the sales team to warm up the target audience. In its turn, in order to prepare the product presentations, the marketing department needs a working version of the product.

Without a detailed production plan, the way out of this situation will be the following:

  • The marketing department waits until the mobile application is completely ready
  • Then the marketers create promotional materials.
  • The sales department receives materials and starts reaching the target audience.
  • As a result, there are multiple failed deadlines and losses in profits.


To establish effective communication between departments, it is necessary to develop a strategic action plan. This plan should:

  • Include the main stages of work on the project
  • Indicate the people responsible for them
  • Set deadlines

To make this strategic vision clear a company uses a roadmap. A quick glance at the roadmap is enough to understand who is responsible for performing a specific task at a given point in time.

Thus, a roadmap is a visual representation of a list of tasks that need to be completed in order to achieve the desired goals in the long term. With the help of this tool, it is easier for different departments or specialists to arrange parallel execution of work on separate tasks within the project. That is, the roadmap contributes to the formation of teamwork, regardless of the complexity of the project.

Steps to create a product roadmap

Creating a roadmap for a new product is always challenging. There are so many aspects that you shouldn’t miss on your map that you can feel uncertain about where to start. Here is the list of four steps to help you build a product roadmap that promotes an effective product development process.

Define why your product exists

The first thing you should start with when creating a product roadmap is finding answers to the following questions:

  • Why do you want to develop this product?
  • Why do you want to develop it at this very time?
  • Why do you want to develop it with these exact features?
  • Why do you want to develop the product for this target audience?

Try to answer the above questions together with your team. It will help you to create the right strategy that will be useful during the whole development process.

It is preferable to accompany each answer with relevant data to justify all the resources you’ll spend on the product.

Going through this first step may seem too theoretical and may cause a great temptation to skip it. But believe, it’s better to write the strategy down on paper and not just keep it in mind.

Besides, the ability to clearly state the reason for the product’s being will make you more confident during the first stakeholders' meeting. A clear understanding of “why” in your product’s strategy alongside the roadmap that coincides with the company’s long-term goals give higher chances that stakeholders will support your further steps.

Identifying the reason the product exists will help to make more strategic and consistent decisions throughout the development process. Whereas in case you can’t answer these questions, perhaps it’s not worth starting working on this product at all.

Identify who’s going to use your roadmap

After finding the reason for your product’s existence it’s time to think about who you are creating this roadmap for.

The product manager creates a roadmap for different people that will somehow interact with this product. That’s why in case you build a single roadmap keep in mind that executives, sales team, marketers, developers, and even customers will see the same document.

All these people have different goals and want to see different information on the roadmap. It’s very important to make the map suitable for different audiences:

  • Executives are interested in core business goals. They want to see key elements from your product strategy, without too many details. The data that concerns the size of the market will interest them too.  

Executives often care about long-term vision and growth, key performance indicators, and the progress of internal teams. Below is a product roadmap example tailored for executives.

product roadmap example for a product owner
Image credit: roadmunk.com

the sales team wants to know when the product will be released ( don’t set specific dates, just present a general timeline) and what benefits it will give the customer.

Here how the roadmap for the sales team may look like:

example of a product roadmap for the sales team
Image credit: slideteam.net

the marketing team is interested to know the product’s features that can compete with other propositions on the market.

Here is an example of a roadmap idea for marketers

product roadmap example for the marketing team
Image credit: aha.io
  • developers need to know their tasks with specific requirements and deadlines. That’s why their roadmap may look like this:
product roadmap template for developers
Image credit: productplan.com


The key message of this section is not to forget to make the roadmap suitable for different audiences. You can create several maps for each team, or use online tools for roadmap building.

Determine the main themes and start creating the roadmap

As you know why you are developing the product and which audiences will use the roadmap it’s time to actually start creating it.

  • First of all, you need to determine the main themes and organize them in order of importance. Themes are the highest-level strategic objectives for the product. They outline issues that the company will work on. For example, the theme can be “faster photo upload” or “improving the onboarding process”, etc.
  • Then set timelines for each of these themes and group them into swimlanes according to set priorities or department that will work on these tasks (check the example below).
swimlanes of the product roadmap
Example of swimlanes. Image credit: productplan.com

Swimlanes allow participants of the product development process to quickly understand their tasks and how those tasks influence the complete picture of the project.

  • Finally, place epics under each theme. Epic is a big chunk of work that is used to organize tasks during the development process. Epics in their turn are divided into smaller assignments that are called user stories. In case you need to be more specific put user stories under the epic.

Look at the following extract from a product map:

Components of a product map swimlanes, themes, epics nd user stories
Image credit: productplan.com

The phrase “Web application” at this roadmap is a swim line, “first-time user experience improvements” is the theme, then “redesign sign up process” and “smart user onboarding flow” are epics, and “support portal search” and “activity emails 2.0” are user stories.

As you create each theme use the same strategy as in step one: define why you need to add this theme on the roadmap and sort it according to its priority.

Be ready for changes

The product roadmap is not a stable document and it may change over time because of various aspects. For example, the company may change the way they distribute resources among departments, your competitor may launch an update that will cause a shift in the new feature release date, etc.

That’s why when you build a roadmap you should always leave some space for adding new features, making improvements, or correcting the direction in which the product is moving.

Once in a quarter, you should reconsider the themes you’ve determined to ensure that they still meet the company’s goals. As the priorities of the company may change and your roadmap should be flexible to those changes.

We hope this guide gives you enough insights on the topic. Now let's learn what product roadmap toolkit will help you implement all the above information into an effective roadmap.

Where can I create a roadmap?

Here is the list of the best online softwares that will help you create a roadmap.

Spreadsheet applications

The easiest and completely free option is to create a roadmap in Excel, Google Sheets, or another spreadsheet application.

product roadmap in Excel
Image credit: officetimeline.com

Advantages:

  • Free of charge
  • Easy to navigate
  • Ability to view changes (in the cloud service)

Disadvantages:

  • Difficult to make quick changes
  • No templates

Roadmunk

Roadmunk is a convenient application, which contains a lot of templates for different purposes: portfolio development, IT product, general strategy, etc. There are several options for displaying the road map. In addition, there is a 14-day trial.

product roadmap idea
Image credit: roadmunk.com

Advantages:

  • A wide choice of templates
  • Two options for displaying the roadmap
  • Chat for current tasks
  • Separate block with ideas

Disadvantages:

  • Price

ProductPlan

An application is similar in functionality to the previous one. It includes templates and has advanced integration with such services: Jira, GitHub, Slack, PivotalTracker, Trello, Azure DevOps, Confluence, Microsoft Teams.

tools for product roadmap building
Image credit: productplan.com

Advantages:

  • Easy to navigate
  • Several options for displaying the roadmap
  • Chat for current tasks
  • Separate block with ideas
  • Synchronization with popular project trackers

Disadvantages:

  • Price
  • No predefined templates

Jira roadmap

Jira roadmaps are available in different versions for different Jira Software Cloud subscriptions. The obvious benefit for Jira users is easy integration.

Where can I create a prodmap?
Image credit: atlassian.com

Advantages:

  • Included with Jira Software Cloud
  • Wide possibilities for customizing roadmaps

Disadvantages:

  • Schematic map display
  • Complex interface

Aha!

The advantage of the application Aha! is a free version for startups. In general, the application interface is overloaded with details.

Poplar product roadmap building tools
Image credit: aha.io

Advantages:

  • Wide possibilities for customizing roadmaps

Disadvantages:

  • Schematic map display
  • Complex interface
  • Price

Hygger

An interesting alternative to standard roadmaps created especially for developers. The app consists of a project tracker and a roadmap. Available effective free version.

What tools to use to build a product roadmap?
Image credit: hygger.io

Advantages:

  • Price
  • Integration with a project tracker
  • Integration with third-party services


Disadvantages:

  • Insufficient visual display of the map
  • Complex interface

Each of these tools will help you optimize your roadmap creation process.

Conclusion

A well-developed product roadmap is a strong strategic tool. Regardless of the complexity and duration of the project, a roadmap will help to establish effective work between different departments that contributes to successful product development and adherence to the long-term company’s goals.

To learn more about how a good product map should look like check Product Map Design Examples.

Read more about SaaS design