What is Product Roadmap Software and Why You Need It?

A product roadmap is a guide that lets you communicate your vision for your product’s future. Some roadmaps show short-term visions of a product, while others show the life cycle of a product over a longer time. What works for one company won’t work for another. This is where a product roadmap software comes in handy.

In addition, your team, stakeholders, management, etc., have differing levels of detail they need to see. But there is a solution to help you create a customized product roadmap that captures everything about your product from inception to launch—roadmap software.

Hutwork Roadmap -What is Product Roadmap Software and Why You Need It

Using roadmap software to build your roadmap

Your product roadmap shows how you envision the new product rolling out. This could include features, milestones and goals, dependencies, resources, and more. Roadmap software lets you capture all this information in one place and create a visually stunning roadmap you can share with others. But how do you decide what needs to go into your roadmap? Use the following three elements as a foundation to build your roadmap on.

#1.  Your company’s goals: What does your company want to achieve? You can’t look at revenue and profit margins because those are merely indicators of how well you’re doing. Rather, you need to focus on the strategic goals your company has in place and how your product ties into one or more. Know that goals change over time, so it makes sense to check often on strategies and goals.

#2. Your users’ needs: You must filter your users’ needs through three lenses to get the big picture. First, research what your users want or need that your product offers. You can do this through market research or beta users. Second, determine how your users will interact with your product. For example, will you need to launch a desktop program and/or a mobile app? Third, research the competition and the marketplace to determine where your product fits and if it fills a gap.

#3. Your product’s feasibility: Or in other words, can you build it? You’ve determined how your product fits with your company’s strategic goals and you’ve identified your users’ wants and needs. Now it’s time to make sure your product is financially and physically workable to create. You need to consider how long it will take to build, how much money will need invested, and whether you have the internal resources to accomplish it.

All the above information can be entered into your roadmap software to create a visual roadmap at the click of a button. The beauty of using a roadmap software to create your roadmap is the ease of changing your input as the product progresses. As mentioned earlier, company goals and strategies change, users’ needs and wants may also change, and technology advances can change your product as well. You will need to stay abreast of any changes so you can update your roadmap to keep everyone focused on the vision.

Keeping your roadmap dynamic

A roadmap is more than a mere list of features. While you need features at some level in your roadmap, using roadmap software allows you to change it as circumstances change. Particularly when you show your roadmap to end users, customers, or the marketplace, you want to be flexible enough to change as their needs evolve with each iteration.

To explain to your audience why features are in the roadmap and specifically why they are in a
certain order, you need:

• Reasoning: When you considered your company’s goals, your end users’ needs, and available technology to create your roadmap, something motivated you to put the features in a particular order. Maybe you saw a way to get more clients or generate revenue. Or maybe you could reduce the need for customer support. Perhaps you wanted to increase customer engagement. There are myriad reasons you chose the features; state those reasons in your roadmap.

• Metrics: How will you measure the success of each feature/milestone/goal? Assign metrics to your deliverables, goals, milestones, etc. For example, if your reasoning for a particular feature was to increase customer engagement, how will you measure that? Having metrics in place before starting work on your product will help you keep your roadmap dynamic, especially when developing features that may change over time.

Product Roadmap Example

Customizing your roadmap for each audience

Once you’ve developed your roadmap using software, it’s time to tailor each “view” to a specific audience. Since you’re communicating your vision of your product’s future, you must consider how each audience will be affected by its eventual completion. Certain audiences will need more details than others. Here’s a matrix to understand your audiences’ needs:

As you can see, certain audiences need a high level of details in the roadmap you share with them. Here is a break-down of audiences you may have and their level-of- detail needs:

• Engineering and UX team: These individuals are your core product team. They need all details available, from metrics to features and the reasons for inclusion.

• Partners: You may contract with outside partners for certain phases of the work to be done. Partners need also need a high level of details, especially if they are helping you get your product to customers. They will need to see a list of features to help them develop websites and promote your product.

• Product marketing: This group gets your product noticed by potential users. They need to know and understand all features and the justification for each. This will help themcreate marketing campaigns that speak directly to your end users about benefits.

• Close customers: These could be your beta users who need a few more details to help them test your product. You want to create strong relationships with these close customers to get the feedback you need to improve your product.

• Customer support: While these individuals will help customers solve issues with your new product, they need not know everything such as the justifications and company goals. They do need to have an intimate understanding of the product’s features.

• Sales: Your sales team will need an in-depth understanding of your product’s features and how they benefit your end users. Details are fairly important because they need to identify market demand and how to sell efficiently and effectively.

• CEO, VPs, Directors: Upper level management isn’t usually interested in the nitty gritty details of your product. They’re more interested in timeframes, costs, and other assumptions that impact the bottom line. They need a high level overview of the product.

• Everyone else: Finally, everyone else would be those in the marketplace who may some day show interest in your product. They need to know the features and how they benefit them, but not much else. Consider only disclosing features close to being delivered.

Difference between a roadmap and a backlog

The roadmap is your guide to the product’s future, and the backlog is a record of “things to do”; Not everything in your backlog makes it onto the roadmap. For example, you have X number of features users want, but can only accomplish Y features in a single iteration. Your backlog contains the remaining features that have yet to be scheduled. Your roadmap shows what you’re working on today.

That being said, roadmaps can still contain all your backlog items, especially if you’re looking at a high level overview of future iterations. This helps you identify when new features to roll out so you can communicate those to partners, beta users, and others.

We cannot solve a problem by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. - Albert Einstein Click To Tweet

How frequently should you update your roadmap?

Your roadmap is a living document that evolves. As often as your goals, strategies, user needs, and resources evolve, change your roadmap. Keep it up-to- date and your team and stakeholders will be happier. And your life will be easier because your roadmap software helps you make changes easily while tracking everything automatically.

For example, consider how dependencies might change, which can affect your roadmap far into the future. If you consistently update your roadmap as these changes occur, you can still project a completion date for iterations and other elements that your stakeholders need to know. Also, consider how customer feedback will change the future trajectory of your product. Their suggestions might create an entirely new line for your product or enhance what you already have.

How far into the future you plan depends on your product. If you’re creating software, you may take your roadmap out 12 months. Just remember, that the roadmap will change over the course of those 12 months, and you need to capture those changes on the fly. Most importantly, you need to be ready to communicate these changes to everyone involved.

Final thoughts

Some companies hold their roadmaps close to the vest, not wanting their competition to get wind of what they’re working on. Other publish a high level view of their roadmap to get users excited about upcoming features. Consider publishing a short-term roadmap of features that are almost ready for release, while holding your longer term roadmap internally because it may change drastically as work moves forward. You wouldn’t want to frustrate your end users by publishing a future feature that never makes it into production.

Roadmap software makes keeping abreast of changes easy. Manually changing a collection of spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations is one big headache you don’t need. Make your life easier and choose roadmap software for stunning visual roadmaps.

Danny Ball

Co-founder & CEO at Hutwork. I’m working hard every day to ensure visual planning is at the forefront of today’s fascinating ideas. Click here to check us out on twitter.

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