“How do I create a product roadmap in an agile context?” is a common question I am asked. After answering, “it depends” for quite some time, I’ve finally sat down to share my thoughts. In this post, I explore what a product roadmap is, the benefits it can provide in an agile context, when it makes sense to employ a roadmap, how the product roadmap and the product backlog relate, and who should own the product roadmap.
A product roadmap is a high-level plan that describes how the product is likely to grow. It allows you to express where you want to take your product. Here is a sample product roadmap that shows the anticipated development of a virtual shopping assistant:
The roadmap above states the product version, the launch date, and a summary of the new functionality.
A product roadmap can provide the following five benefits: First, it helps you communicate how you see the product develop.
Second, it helps align the product and the company strategy. By anticipating how the product is likely to grow you can show how the product helps the organisation reach its goals. This makes it easier to secure a budget for the next fiscal year.
Third, a product roadmap helps manage the stakeholders and coordinate the development, marketing, and sales activities.
Fourth, a product roadmap facilitates effective portfolio management, as it helps synchronise the development efforts of different products.
Last but not least, using a roadmap supports and complements the product backlog. This allows the backlog to focus on the tactical product development aspects, as I explain in more detail below.
I usually create a product roadmap once I can realistically anticipate how the product is likely to develop in the next 12 months. This typically implies two things: First, the assumptions about the target group, the needs to be addressed, the key features, and the business model contained in the product vision board have been validated. Second, the first version of the product has launched successfully. In other words, the product has stabilised and is now being updated, as the picture below illustrates:
While the product vision board is great to develop and launch the first product version, a roadmap allows you to peek further into the future and to capture how the product strategy is likely to be implemented over time. This, of course, only makes sense if you can look ahead with some confidence!
As I’ve mentioned above, using a product roadmap can benefit your product backlog. Here is why: As the roadmap takes care of the strategic product planning aspects, it frees the backlog to focus on the tactical work, as the picture below illustrates.
Say you release a new product version every three months. I would then suggest that your product roadmap should capture the next four major releases, while your product backlog focuses on creating the next product version.
What’s more, the product roadmap provides the context to re-stock and manage the product backlog in a meaningful way, for instance, to decide if a new epic should be added, or if it should be addressed by a future release and therefore be included in the roadmap. Consequently, the product backlog becomes more concise and contains fewer items. A concise backlog creates transparency, and is easier to manage.
The following table summaries the differences between the product roadmap and the product backlog:
As the product roadmap captures decisions about the product’s futures, the individual responsible for the product success should own the roadmap. In an agile context, the product owner should hence manage the product roadmap. The team members and stakeholders contribute, as the following picture suggests.
Having one person in charge of the product roadmap and the backlog joins up the strategic and the tactical product aspects, and establishes clear authority and responsibility.
A product roadmap allows you to communicate where you want to take your product. If applied correctly, the product roadmap and the product backlog complement each other nicely. But before you create your roadmap, make sure that you are able to forecast how your product is likely to develop in the future.
Learn more about working with product roadmaps by attending my Agile Product Management training course.