One template to make your life immediately easier.
A few things can limit product teams more than a poorly defined roadmap.
Do you remember a time when you had to:
- Cut corners to meet deadlines
- Painfully negotiate scope with stakeholders
- Struggle to decide what to do because everything is mandatory
- Didn’t know where to start, as you had a mountain of requirements in front of you
If the above rings a bell, I welcome you to my club—the feature factory club. You get your membership card when delivering features becomes your ultimate success metric.
I’m sorry to welcome you here because this club isn’t fun. On the contrary, everyone is stressed and frustrated. But we all have one thing in common: We want to escape from the feature factory.
What is a Product Roadmap?
First, we need to have a shared understanding of what a roadmap is. You will find several definitions of it, and each company may interpret it differently. One of the key aspects is understanding where the roadmap is located in the big picture of a product management equation:
- Why → Product Vision
- What → Product Strategy
- Who → Target Audience
- When → Product Roadmap
- How → Discovery and Delivery
The roadmap is the glue that holds together vision, strategy, audience, and getting things done. Without a roadmap, teams struggle with prioritization and get lost—but a roadmap isn’t a plan that tells us precisely who does what by when.
Common traps are:
- Feature roadmaps: Scrum teams have to deliver outputs instead of aiming for outcomes
- Strict deadlines: Meeting deadlines is what matters most
- Dependencies: Teams cannot get their work done because they are tightly coupled with other teams
What does a meaningful Roadmap lead to?
When you get your product roadmap done right, your teams know which essential milestones they need to achieve and understand what they can ignore. With that, they can focus and create outstanding results.
I’ve been part of dozens of teams now, and I cannot tell you a solution that works for everyone; what I can do is tell you what maximizes the chance of thriving.
- Vision → Top management defines where to land
- Strategy → Top management and product leaders clarify the product strategy
- Target Audience → Based on the evidence, product management sharpens the audience and defines who to serve and who not to
- Roadmap → Leaders set goals, and teams define how to reach targets
When the team is empowered to achieve goals, they have higher success chances
A prescriptive roadmap describes outputs, while an empowering roadmap describes outcomes. Let me give you some examples:
- Output: Show product recommendations during check-out
- Outcome: Increase basket size by 10%
- Output: Implement a chatbot to address delivery issues
- Outcome: Reduce customer service requests related to delivery by 50%
Output forces execution, while outcome opens up to explore different solutions.
Setting a Roadmap
Have you ever tried googling the term “product roadmap?” The results can be overwhelming. You’ll find too many options, and the question is, what should you use?
Let me tell you one thing. Some templates will give you more trouble than you need. Finding the best format is hard because the only way is to try out different options. After experiencing different roadmaps, I came up with one that worked the best for me. Let me share it with you.
This format is simple, and it works like the following:
- Now → What matters most right now. This should provide the focus for one to three months. The key is never to commit to individual initiatives but to the lane called “Now.”
- Next → This column represents aspects you know are relevant, and will potentially work on right after you finish the critical ones. The content evolves based on what you learn.
- Later → Digital products are dynamic. You cannot predict more than six months ahead. Whatever enters here means you’re considering working on it only after you finish the other parts. These are topics that you lack evidence of and aren’t convincing enough to go to the previous columns.
- Trash → This is the most critical part. You need to agree on what you don’t do, and that goes to the trash. Sometimes I say that great product managers increase the size of the trash bin instead of the product backlog.
Let’s move from the abstract to something concrete. The following represents an example of a roadmap using this template:
This is a real roadmap for one of the e-commerce I worked for. Back then, we struggled to balance customer lifetime value and acquisition cost. We knew we had to help customers find products they wanted to have a better balance between lifetime value and acquire costs, the LTV: CAC ratio.
Many feature options came to me. Everyone had a solution. Some examples:
- Redesign the product detail page
- Increase the newsletter frequency
- Present products according to the persona
- Price differentiation per location
What’s the issue with the above solutions? The truth is, they present no issues, and all solutions make a lot of sense. The real trap is that they are already solutions and not the outcome. This would force the team to implement solutions instead of solving problems. After a lot of discussions, we could commit to the following:
- Now → Increasing basket size has become our ultimate goal. We came up with two targets, reduce no-result searches, and increase recommended products added to the cart.
- Next → Right after, we wanted to come back to growth while keeping our customers satisfied. We had some ideas, so we made them clear but agreed not to tackle them during the next three months.
- Later → Growth would become our focus, and we wanted to continue exploring it later. Some aspects came to mind, like new markets and creating new revenue streams, but we all agreed that that would be a talk for another coffee.
- Trash → During our lengthy exchanges, we agreed to drop some of our beloved topics to ensure we would not get distracted. We concluded that promoted products and free vouchers weren’t part of our identity, so we trashed them. Combined with that, we agreed that search was our core and we could not outsource it, which made part of the trash bin too.
Is this roadmap oversimplified? Yes.
Does it get the job of providing focus to the team done? Yes.
Do you need a complex roadmap? No.
Often, your real job is to simplify what everyone else is complicating.
Let me make your life easier. You can download my template from here.
Roadmaps aren’t bad by design, and companies doing bad roadmaps aren’t intentionally evil. Sadly, many teams haven’t experienced a different way of working. What about taking that as an opportunity?
With true intentions of helping to deliver results faster, executives welcome new ideas. The secret is to make the change as small as possible and prove with results.
One final hint: With outcome roadmaps, your accountability grows. You must reach results instead of simply putting features live. It’s more stressful work, but more fulfilling. You may experience some sleepless nights when you face the unknown, but you’ll be proud of your achievements in the midterm.