October 17, 2023
Bringing a product to market requires following a bumpy road full of obstacles and turnovers that are hard to avoid. However, with the help of a solid navigation system, it can be easier to stay on the right track.
Such a navigation system can be set up during the product design process – and is called a product development roadmap. In this article, we will explain how to build it.
A product development roadmap is a detailed plan for bringing a product from concept to market release. It includes all the stages of development, outlines the major milestones, and defines tasks and primary deliverables required to transform the concept into a fully working product. From that perspective, it is a kind of schedule (although more complex than a regular one) that ensures every stakeholder, including management, investors, and team members, is on the same page when it comes to the stage and goals of their work.
There are no obstacles to preparing the product development roadmap for different stakeholders to provide them with all necessary information but not to overwhelm them with details. The roadmap for C-level executives should focus on the business side of the product, converting technical jargon into non-technical, business-oriented terms. For product owners, roadmaps should serve as a board smoothing collaboration and communications between teams and departments, and for developers – roadmaps are supposed to provide a better understanding of what business goals are supported by specific product features.
The product development roadmap should clearly answer the questions of HOW you plan to achieve product goals and fulfill business strategy objectives.
A product development roadmap ensures that the development process doesn't encounter potential setbacks that could impede its success.
Without it, the team may not clearly understand the product vision, goals, and requirements, making it difficult to make informed decisions and prioritize tasks effectively. In consequence, it may result in misalignment among critical stakeholders, and – if misalignment includes decision-makers, the risk of the project collapsing halfway.
Yet, that is just one problem. The other challenge in developing a product with no roadmap is extending the scope beyond its original intent. It is especially problematic at startups or scaleups when the team – "young, scrappy, and hungry" – is overly enthusiastic, trusts their guts, despises corporate-like "pitch-decking," and skips the "paperwork." Unfortunately, this romanticizing can make product development extremely complex, bloated, and difficult to manage, leading to delays and cost overruns. And missed deadlines, delayed launches, and lost opportunities are the factors mainly responsible for crashing new businesses. Because even the most promising ideas can't be endlessly sustained by VC's funds.
And there is also a challenge "in-between" when a lack of a roadmap leads to simply poor product quality. Then, it is easy to skip or neglect the critical aspects of the product development process, such as design and testing. Not by mistake but by the lack of time. This hastiness typically contributes to a sales decrease and – worst case scenario – reputation damage.
The product development roadmap matches broader product goals with teams' efforts to create great products.
The product development roadmap can be considered more tactical than a product roadmap – which is a more strategic, high-level document. They are closely related but serve different purposes and focus on other aspects.
The product roadmap represents the overall direction of the product by outlining the major initiatives, features, and goals that need to be pursued to achieve the desired outcomes – from a business and technical point of view. It answers the questions of what and why.
A product development roadmap is a more detailed plan, answering the question of how and when a product is supposed to be developed, including all the stages of development. It provides a granular view of the development process, outlining the specific tasks, milestones, and deliverables required to bring the product to market. This may include information on product design, development sprints, testing, and quality assurance.
The major difference between the two roadmaps is that the product roadmap is typically updated less frequently than the product development roadmap. It is not set in stone, of course. Still, it can be updated once a quarter or even a year. In contrast, the product development roadmap is updated as often as needed, weekly, biweekly, or even daily, as progress is made on individual tasks. It can't be an accurate source of truth if it is outdated.
The product roadmap is a high-level view of the product's vision and strategy, while the product development roadmap is a detailed plan for developing the product.
Goals defined in the product development roadmap should be aligned with the product roadmap and serve a higher, strategic purpose.
The next step is identifying key features and requirements that are needed to achieve the product vision and goals mentioned in the first stage.
Once the key features and requirements are identified, they must be prioritized based on their importance and feasibility. This involves assessing factors such as customer demand, technical complexity, and business impact.
The roadmap should include not only tasks but also people designated to deliver them in the agreed timeframe. This includes assessing the team's capabilities, identifying any shortages in skills or knowledge, and determining the budget and other required resources.
The product development roadmap needs to reflect the real course of events to stay relevant for the team. It requires constant monitoring of the progress, including moving parts and interdependencies, shifting resources, changing priorities when realities force you to do so, etc.
Building a proper product development roadmap can be a real challenge as, typically, it has to involve various dynamically changing factors. It is easy to make mistakes, and the most common ones overload the roadmap with small details. Of course, the roadmap must be detailed, but it is important to include only these details on the ones crucial for a specific audience.
Overloading the roadmap, including too many features or initiatives, would make it difficult to prioritize and execute. It is important to focus on the most important qualities that will have the greatest impact on the product's success.
The product development roadmap is supposed to be actionable and so should be developed with input from all relevant stakeholders, including executives, investors, customers, and the development team. Not involving stakeholders can result in a roadmap that does not align with the needs and priorities of the business and its customers.
Creating a product development roadmap while we are having a business strategy, product roadmap, and tons of other documents, presentations, and papers may seem like a waste of energy that can be used in, well, actually creating a product. However, skipping the most pragmatic and actionable document may (and likely will) backfire when the development process is stuck in a dead point, will grow to gargantuan proportions, or end with a product that fails to fit in the marketing niche.