A product development roadmap gives product-centric teams a standard blueprint to set scope, direction, and expectations across organizations and groups. It is the vital link that translates organizational strategy into actionable plans. If prepared correctly, it can accelerate innovation, optimize cycle time, and increase agility in the face of disruption.
Portfolio, program, product managers, New Product Development leaders, and others share roadmaps to align stakeholders on how teams will combine programs and technologies to deliver on initiatives that drive business change. If 84% of CEOs believe innovation is the engine that drives growth, then roadmapping is akin to “Google Maps,” which gets you to the destination in the most efficient way possible.
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Instead of manual spreadsheets and whiteboards, product development roadmap software is a powerful visualization tool that shows all that must happen to take a product from concept to market, including:
- Responsible teams
- Priorisation des activités
- A linear timeline
- Visual indicators
- Metrics for ongoing analysis
Unlike a product roadmap encompassing a product’s purpose and long-term lifecycle, a product development roadmap communicates specific timelines, dependencies, and milestones necessary to launch a product. Because each product is part of a more extensive portfolio, it is a best practice to use Product Portfolio Management software with integrated roadmaps to connect data and insights into a complete, big-picture view.
Types of Product Development Roadmaps
Organizations often wonder how to create a product roadmap, but there are a few considerations before you get started. Different work methodologies best suit specific products and goals, and your chosen process will direct the roadmap design. Cross-functional teams commonly want to use their preferred methods, making it essential to select software that can support flexible ways of working.
As the world of work continuously evolves, so does the concept of a roadmap. The objective is to bring cross-functional teams together to bring the best product experiences to market. Waterfall, Agile, and hybrid models are among the most commonly used roadmaps.
Traditionally seen in industries with defined deadlines, structured planning, and regulatory requirements, such as manufacturing, construction, and non-connected consumer goods like clothing and furniture. Waterfall offers a sequential, linear model for managing a product development roadmap. Before the project begins, there is a clear end goal. Each step must be completed before work on the next phase begins, and there is a fixed budget and timeline.
PMI 2020 Signposts Report revealed that of more than 3,000 global project professionals surveyed, a “traditional” approach like Waterfall was used in 56% of the projects they completed in the past 12 months.
More flexible than Waterfall, Agile is an iterative model for managing a roadmap. Industries such as software and biopharma frequently use Agile to create products requiring testing and retesting. Video games, wearable devices, and vaccines are good examples. An Agile strategy is adaptable, built for speed, and prioritizes cross-team collaboration and continuous improvement.
Gartner’s 2022 Agile in the Enterprise survey report’s respondents said they use Agile for half of their work, with 7% saying they use it for all their work, while 50 % use it for less than half of their work.
Smart devices are everywhere, and few products exist on the market today without some level of “connectivity.” This progression created the desire for more hybrid models that integrated Agile and Waterfall. This integration makes it easier for cross-functional teams to collaborate on and manage a product development roadmap.
Some consider the Agile-Waterfall hybrid model as the most flexible because it combines the best of waterfall for planning and agile for execution. It allows different teams to use their preferred model while keeping collaboration intact. Typically, software teams utilize Agile, and hardware and product development teams opt for Waterfall.
Why Are Roadmaps Essential?
Developing a product is a complicated process that involves multiple stages, various teams, and numerous, often complex, interdependencies. Cross-functional teams must work together closely, as communication is vital throughout product development. With a 95% rate of product failure, as reported by MIT, organizations can improve their chances for a win by establishing a solid product development roadmap that aligns with their overall product strategy. Without a roadmap, even the most well-conceived products have a high risk of failure, leading to delays, overspending, and missed opportunities.
McKinsey says, “Beyond woefully insufficient budgets, anemic resource allocations, and misaligned success metrics, companies too often follow a traditional, siloed approach that creates blind spots, handoff issues, and inefficiencies. All of these scenarios have a significant impact on product revenue, profitability, and ROI.”
Roadmaps are a powerful antidote to such scenarios, and roadmap software offers several benefits for product development. At the highest level, it connects the vision to a guide for execution and delivery. It ensures work is aligned with strategy and roles and surfaces risks and dependencies. The software serves as a central hub with pertinent facts for each team and team member that direct action on a structured timeline.
Product development leaders rely on these centralized sources of information and structure to efficiently manage and oversee the development of specific products, clarify goals and objectives, and coordinate cross-functional work. With everyone unified around a clear vision and direction, cross-functional teams can prioritize critical tasks and make autonomous decisions that speed delivery with fewer risks.
How to Get Started with a Product Development Roadmap
By grounding your product development roadmap with goals, strategies, and priorities, you build your pathway wisely, always keeping outcomes and alignment at the forefront. The following steps will lay the groundwork for a visual depiction of your strategic plan representing the potential work and milestones supporting the organization’s strategic objectives.
Use product development roadmap software to build your roadmap to ease the process significantly. Leaders can easily visualize, communicate, and share the roadmap and critical launch dates with internal and external stakeholders.
1. Define your product development strategy and goals
The most important pillars of a product development roadmap are business objectives, strategic targets, or defined outcomes. All teams must understand the “what” and “why” behind the product being developed. Clearly defined goals establish what the roadmap is to achieve, and OKRs act as a goal framework that can convey the why behind the roadmap. OKRs can also be used to prioritize items on a roadmap. Desired outcomes can later be translated into a graphical timeline of critical items required to achieve the defined goals.
2. Gather input from participants and assign roles and tasks
The roadmap becomes the source of truth for multiple people and groups, making it imperative to get everyone’s input, especially stakeholder and leadership buy-in, and ensure clarity around who is responsible for what. Collaborative, dynamic workspaces like Kanban boards make it easy to assign tasks and for participants to see due dates, real-time task statuses, and overall progress toward the goal.
3. Prioritize product features
Every product feature has a cost, from the raw materials and parts needed to make physical components—all with sustainability implications—to human resources, equipment, and packaging design. Make sure you’re focused on features important to buyers. Table unjustified ideas (perhaps to be considered in another iteration) and prioritize the features that add value against available resources, keeping product objectives and business strategy in mind.
4. Map out phases of development
Just as the roadmap defines the what and the why, by mapping out the when, you establish a distinct timeline of product development stages with epics, stories, sprints, and teams to ensure a smooth handoff between planning and delivery. Defining stages will also make reviews more effective. Be careful to include the right level of detail to avoid overwhelming participants or leaving them with too many questions.
5. Create automation and template repeatable processes
Automation is vital for efficient product delivery, making templates a massive timesaver for standardizing processes and creating visual indicators. A template should not be static, however. A unique and tailored approach to templating creates enormous value in its ability to surface potential roadblocks early and allow for ad-hoc roadmap items with new realities. It is also essential to recognize that continued developments in artificial intelligence have made automation an even more powerful and accessible part of building a product development roadmap.
6. Iterate and continuously improve
The best roadmaps are dynamic and adaptive to expected and unexpected disruptions, representing the most current plan related to the strategy and objectives. Building a roadmap requires regular evaluation of delivery progress, the impact of changes, and lessons learned, then the ability to re-align when needed.
An Organized Way to Deliver Great Products
Product development roadmap software offers a practical and modernized approach to the often complicated product development process. It eases the coordination and communication of cross-functional work, reveals the impact of change and disruption for faster adaptation, and reduces cycle time so companies can be more responsive and competitive.
There are other product development collaboration tools, but roadmaps visually represent who, when, what, and how the organization plans to transform a good idea into a great product. With product stakeholders on a single path toward a shared strategic vision, product-focused organizations can consistently deliver products customers want at the right time without waste.
Roadmaps should never live in a vacuum, as too many interrelated components and data points are used to direct them. You create a robust, connected, transparent infrastructure when a product development roadmap capability is integrated within an enterprise product portfolio management system.
Download The Essential Buyer’s Guide for Product Portfolio Management Solutions to see how this comes together in a single product development hub.