Using Product Roadmaps as a Strategic Growth Tool

Have you ever thought of using product roadmaps as a strategic tool for growth?

Built correctly, roadmaps take your business to the next level, helping you understand what your customers want and how you can deliver it to them. They allow you to focus on providing value over time, while also making sure you’re not wasting time building something that doesn't actually add value for their customers.

After talking to several product professionals, we’ve gathered all the ins and outs of how you can use a strategic product roadmap as a tool to grow your business.


Product strategy vs. product roadmap

A product roadmap is a high-level overview of where you want your product or service to be in the future. It shows what features you plan on adding over time, how long those features will take to develop, and when they'll be available to customers. It's more about long-term planning than anything else

A product strategy document is more detailed than a roadmap but still less detailed than an actual business plan or financial forecast. The main purpose of this document is to explain why certain decisions have been made regarding your product/service portfolio

While they both define what you want to achieve, they do so in different ways. Product strategy describes how you want to achieve your goals, while a product roadmap shows what you plan to do next. This means that while a product roadmap will show your future plans (e.g., features), it won't explain why these features are needed or how they fit into your overall vision for the project or product.

This is where the role of product management comes into play: It's up to them to define what needs to be done next, make sure that everyone involved understands their vision and purpose, and communicate this information clearly through effective communications tools such as roadmaps and presentations.

What makes a good product roadmap?

A good product roadmap helps you achieve your goals. You should make sure it’s clear, concise, and actionable so you can keep everyone on the same page — even if not everyone knows all the details at once. Additionally, roadmaps need to provide a bird's-eye view of where things are going, but also show how each feature fits into that bigger picture. 

So how do you make sure your product roadmap is helping you achieve your goals? Here are five things every great roadmap needs:

  1. A clear statement of purpose.
  1. A set of priorities that align with the vision for your business and its customers' goals.
  1. A set of goals (objectives) that you can measure against your priorities to assess whether you're making progress towards your vision (what you want to achieve).
  1. An explanation of why each feature is important, outlining its benefits for customers, users, and the business itself (what's in it for them?).
  1. The actual timeline for every action item and how long it will take to accomplish each goal.

Besides focusing on where things are going, Andrea Saez, Senior PMM at Trint, defines product roadmaps as a document for both communicating direction and building influence:

You’re using product roadmaps to influence conversations, customers, stakeholders, team members. You’re bringing them along in your journey of how you think you might be able to get to those objectives and what the best path forward might be as you get more information.

Andrea Saez, Senior PMM at Trint

Andrea also says it’s ok to stop getting caught up in what the perfect roadmap should look like and have multiple roadmaps lined up instead:

It depends on the audience. When you present to your board, it might not be the same type of roadmap like what you might present to your customers or developers. It’s ok to have one source roadmap for the product team and then different versions of that depending on who might be looking at it and what type of information they need.

Andrea Saez, Senior PMM at Trint

Avoiding the build trap

One of the most common mistakes we see when it comes to product roadmap planning is the "build trap." The build trap is a situation where you're so focused on building new features that you don't have time to plan for how they will be released and how customers will use them.

Matt O'Connell, Co-founder and CEO of Vistaly, notes this is a common challenge for companies that immediately want to jump to a solution and quickly knock features off the list:

You start to get into this game of building a lot of things and throwing all ideas into a backlog where you’re going to end up in a space where you’re shipping features faster. But the question there is: Are you really solving your customers’ problems?

Matt O'Connell, Co-founder and CEO of Vistaly

The result? Customers get overwhelmed with too many new things at once, and they don't know which ones are important. This leads to unhappy customers, churn, and confusion.

The key to avoiding this situation is to create a clear and transparent product roadmap. This means giving customers public access to your product's roadmap so they can see what's coming next and when they can expect it.

Start by announcing upcoming major changes in advance of releasing them, even if it's just an approximate timeframe or list of features. This allows your team to get feedback early on in the process so they can make changes before investing too much time and money into something that might not work out anyway.

Matt recommends shifting from focusing on outputs to outcomes when prioritizing work:

Just focusing on how much work you’re doing doesn’t immediately convert into value. Focusing on outcomes [i.e. the change you’re trying to create] allows you to pragmatically walk your way closer to solutions that will work. That comes by pulling some of your data, studying user behavior, and talking to your customers.

Matt O'Connell, Co-founder and CEO of Vistaly

Using roadmaps to align the company around common product outcomes

Product roadmaps are a key tool that companies use to align their employees around common goals by answering these three questions:

  • What’s our vision?
  • What are our strategic priorities?
  • How will we achieve these priorities?

There's no single right way to create a product roadmap. But there are some best practices that you can follow if you want your product roadmap to be effective at achieving these outcomes:

  1. Start with a clear goal in mind.
  1. Make sure everyone is on board with the plan (and make adjustments if they're not).
  1. Use milestones and checkpoints to track progress.

Matt O'Connell suggests gradually moving from business to product outcomes to better manage your goals:

Let’s take an example of breaking down your business outcomes into product outcomes. Say wanting to increase conversions. You need to figure out why users aren’t converting and what the challenges here are. You might find out there’s a critical workflow like users falling off whenever they start engaging with your product. So a product outcome in this case could be reducing the time it takes to complete that workflow. That’s something a product team can work with. They can start interviewing customers to ultimately figure out how to reduce friction.

Matt O'Connell, Co-founder and CEO of Vistaly

Giving stakeholders a better view of the entire development process

If you have too many items on your roadmap, it can become hard for stakeholders to understand what’s going on — especially if they don’t have much experience with software development. The trick is finding the right balance between detail and scope.

The problem is that most product roadmaps are too high-level or abstract. They don't provide enough detail about what's coming up next in the dev process. And that can lead to confusion (and missed expectations) down the line.

So how do we fix this?

By adding more granular milestones and phases to your roadmap, you can give stakeholders a better view of the entire development process through product roadmaps.

Essentially, there are three ways to approach the development process in your product roadmap:

  1. The big picture: Use the roadmap to answer questions like “Why are we building this?”, “How does this fit into our larger vision?” and “What do we want to achieve with this release?”
  1. The details: Roadmaps provide more context about each project and what it means for users. For example, if you want to add support for a new payment method in your ecommerce store, your roadmap could show how this will impact customers, sales channels, and your business model.
  1. Focus: By putting everything in one place, roadmaps help teams focus on what matters most at any given time. Instead of getting distracted by requests from different departments or customers, everyone can work towards common goals and priorities.

Andrea Saez also makes the distinction on when you should be using a product roadmap vs. a release plan for communicating internally:

“It depends on the conversation you’re having. If you’re talking about the expectations for next week or month, that’s where a release plan comes in. That’s more on the progress of things you’ve already decided to work on. Whereas the roadmap is a lot higher level, focusing on the things that you’ve committed that capacity to as well as those that may be going into discovery soon. And then aligning with the other teams to get beta testers or user research aligned. That’s the opportunity for the entire team to get aligned on what and why you’re doing something.”

Andrea Saez, Senior PMM at Trint

Final takeaways 

To ensure growth progress as expected, you need to make sure you’re sticking to all of these best practices for building strategic product roadmaps.

And there’s more.

From regular meetings to keep the team aligned (Andrea’s team, for instance, has them every two weeks), to always ensuring you’re working cross-functionally, and learning to say “no” to feature requests.

Don’t forget you need to update your roadmap at least every quarter. Allocate dedicated time slots in your calendar to make sure you’re actually taking the time to review the product roadmap and take into account new changes.

As for the next steps, make a list of all the tasks you need to handle after you’ve got your initial product roadmap lined up. Here’s a suggestion you can adapt to your own needs:

  1. Closely monitor your product roadmap for changes and trends. If a new feature becomes popular with customers, or if a competitor introduces a new feature, it might be time to adjust your roadmap accordingly.
  1. Communicate effectively with stakeholders and other teams within your organization. Make sure everyone knows where the company is headed, so they can help get you there faster. The regular meetings will help here.
  1. Get feedback from stakeholders. Once you have your initial product roadmap ready, you must get feedback from everyone involved in its implementation process. This includes not only customers but also employees and other stakeholders who are closely related to it. 
  1. Grow your team as needed to meet project deadlines and keep up with demand from customers and users.
  1. Keep an eye on competitors’ products to make sure your organization doesn’t fall behind on innovation or other important metrics like market share or revenue growth.