A product roadmap is a high-level plan that shows how a product is likely to develop over the next few releases. While that's true for any roadmap, there is no one right product roadmap format. Instead, you should choose the roadmapping approach that works best for your product. This post shows you how to do it.
Feature-based vs. Goal-oriented Product Roadmaps
Product roadmaps come in different shapes and sizes. But the two most popular formats are probably feature-based and goal-oriented roadmaps. The former are built on product features such as registration, search, or reporting, which are mapped onto a timeline.
Goal-oriented roadmaps focus on goals or benefits instead. Sample goals are acquiring users, retaining them, increasing engagement, activating users, generating revenue, and removing technical debt. Features are viewed as second-class citizen. They are derived from the goals and usually used sparingly.
The following picture illustrates the two different roadmap formats showing two major release, m and n.
Not that independent of its format, your product roadmap should tell a realistic and coherent story about the likely growth of your product. It should execute the product strategy so that each release builds on the previous one moving you closer towards your vision. It should not contain a random sequence of goals or a loose collection of features!
A Sample Goal-oriented Roadmap Format
If you would like to try out a goal-oriented roadmap, then take a look at my GO product roadmap template below. You can download it from romanpichler.com/tools/product-roadmap or by clicking on the following picture.
Choose the Right Product Roadmap Format
While I am biased towards goal-oriented roadmaps, they are not always the best fit. To select the right roadmap format for you product, consider the maturity of the product and the stability of its market. The younger your product is, the more uncertainty and change are likely to be present. A young product therefore benefits from a roadmap that focuses on product goals. Older, mature products lend themselves to feature-based roadmaps that provide more details. The reason for this is simple: As your product reaches maturity, it experiences fewer changes, and you are in a better position to correctly anticipate its growth.
But your product’s age is not the only driver that influences your product roadmapping approach. If your product is mature but its market segment is volatile, for instance, as competitors keep adding new features or the technologies change, you will have to update your product to defend its market share. As a consequence, uncertainty and change creep back into your roadmap. This makes it difficult to plan ahead in detail and to correctly forecast when which feature will be released. Instead, you are better off creating a roadmap that is built on goals.
Taking into account product maturity and market stability results in the following matrix.
The matrix above captures the maturity of your product on the vertical axis and the stability of its market on the horizontal axis. By distinguishing a young and a mature product and a dynamic and a stable market, four quadrants emerge that help you choose the appropriate format for your roadmap.
I recommend using a product roadmap that is based on goals when your product and / or your market are likely to change. Employ a feature-based roadmap only if your product has reached maturity and the market is stable. This is in contrast to what I see most organisations do: Create feature-based roadmaps even though the product and the market change. Don’t make the same mistake. Use feature-based product roadmaps only when little change and uncertainty are present.
But bear in mind that mature products can change too. You may, for instance, rejuvenate a mature product like Apple has done with the iPod Nano. To keep it attractive, the company has considerably changed the product since its launch in 2005. It has shrunk its size and shape and it has given it a touch screen. You may therefore have to switch from a feature-based roadmap back to a goal-oriented one!