Product roadmaps are one of the most effective tools for communicating with your customers and keeping them in the loop about your plans for the future. Thanks to a variety of roadmapping tools launched in recent years, creating a product roadmap is easier than ever before.
However, this doesn’t mean that you should just wake up and decide to create a product roadmap one day. Creating and maintaining a product roadmap takes a conscious effort and you need to approach it carefully.
Here are some of the best practices to keep in mind.
Use dedicated roadmapping software
At its core, a product roadmap isn’t a very complex structure. It’s a web page with cards representing different features that you want to build in the upcoming months. Creating that kind of page is not too difficult and even inexperienced developers can handle it.
But why would you build a roadmap from scratch?
There are different tools that you can use for this. Project management tools such as Trello even let you create roadmaps out of boards, but those are not ideal either.
Roadmapping software covers a few basics that you should consider when building a roadmap:
- It allows customers and your team to comment on roadmap elements as well as upvote them
- It can be shared publicly and internally
- With public roadmaps, your team can edit while customers can only comment and vote
- A roadmap built in this type of software lets you close the feedback loop - everyone who leaves a comment or upvotes gets an email once the feature moves to the next step
- It can be integrated into your SaaS product as a widget or linked to on your website
- It should be easy to work with
- It connects to your changelog and feedback board
- It connects to the tools you already use
- It’s easy to use even for non-tech-savvy audiences
All in all, there are plenty of reasons why you should consider using a dedicated roadmapping tool such as FeedBear instead of building your roadmaps from scratch or using a tool like Trello.
Speaking of which, FeedBear offers all of the features mentioned above and you can get it for just $49 per month.
Think of the right time frame
When creating your roadmap, you’re planning for the future. Your existing and potential customers want to have a good idea of what you have in store for the months to come. Having said that, you need to decide how far ahead you want to plan.
You may want to go as short-term as planning just for a month ahead or as long-term as planning for an entire year into the future. How far you want to go will depend on many factors, such as:
- How much feedback you have from your customers
- How many feature requests you have to work on
- What your business goals are for the future
- How much you can allocate to this effort in terms of developer time
- Which industry you’re in
There is no one correct answer here. Most companies plan out their product roadmap anywhere between 4 months to a year.
Of course, one of the best tips is not to stick to specific dates because that means setting yourself up for trouble later on. Instead, speak in terms of months or quarters to give yourself some wiggle room.
A roadmap is meant for a two-way conversation
Most companies think of roadmaps as static pages where they publish features they’re working on. The product manager or someone else updates the roadmap and customers can visit it to see what’s happening. They can use it only to get information and that’s it.
This is how most companies use roadmaps and it’s far from ideal. A product roadmap is the extension of the feedback you get and it makes the ideal opportunity to have a conversation with your customers.
They should have the option to vote on the features in your roadmap. This not only lets you prioritize but it shows the customers that their vote counts and that they have a say in what you build next.
Moreover, the customers should have the option of leaving comments on your product feature cards. Perhaps they have an interesting insight and they want to help you develop in the right direction. Or perhaps they want to ask some questions and shed light on the future of your product.
These comments should be public so that your entire customer base can see them. Even more importantly, your own team should be there to discuss too.
This way, you show your customers that you’re willing to listen and adapt your roadmap based on the additional feedback that you get. No product roadmap should be a static page where a product manager shouts into the void.
You can (and should) have more than a single roadmap
If you’ve looked at a competitor’s roadmap which is advertised on their website, there’s a good chance that this is just one roadmap that they have built. In fact, it’s a good idea to build more than one roadmap for different uses.
For example, you may want to create an internal roadmap for product strategy where you go into long-term plans. Compared to a typical roadmap, this will be a more comprehensive plan for the future.
On the flip side, you may want to create a separate roadmap just for your development team, with highly specific goals and deadlines.
Needless to say, the last two roadmaps mentioned above should be private. A good roadmapping software lets you create both public and private roadmaps and easily toggle between the two different modes.
If you do want to create different sections within your public roadmap, you can split it up into themes. For example, one quarter can be devoted to new integrations, another to building new permissions and roles within your app, etc. This will make it easier both for your internal team and your customers to understand what you plan to do.
You should not set it and forget it
A roadmap is an ongoing project. Just because you created one and put it live on your website, it does not mean that your job is done. On the contrary.
As customers’ feedback comes in, some features will be prioritized. These will get moved closer to the current date so that they get finished faster. Other features’ descriptions may change and that will need updates too.
Last but not least, as features move from “in progress” to “finished”, someone needs to make that change.
The good news is that working with a product roadmap is not that difficult. Anyone with 15 minutes of education can learn how to effectively use FeedBear and keep the product roadmap up to date.
Even better news it that FeedBear allows you to communicate all changes to your customers without even lifting a finger. Previously, you would have to email your entire customer base or send them a push notification within the product.
With FeedBear, you can notify the right people at the right time. As you move a feature from “in progress” to “finished” (or any other columns of your choice), everyone who worked on that feature will get notified. That includes everyone who upvoted or left a comment - they all get an email automatically.
A product roadmap is not a backlog or a place to cover bugs
If your product team has a lot of developers and people who think in a more analytical way, they may find perfect reasoning in making your backlog into a product roadmap. Or vice versa.
After all, a backlog is a list of items that you should be working on but you haven’t got around to just yet. On the other hand, a roadmap is a list of features that are on your plate for the months to come.
Makes perfect sense to put them together, right?
Not really. Remember that a product roadmap is a tool for communicating with your customers and building the kind of features they need every day. On the other hand, a backlog is a list of tasks for your product team or developers to work on.
Keep your backlogs and product roadmaps separate. A roadmap is a strategic vision for the future that communicates what you’re looking to build and what kind of value you want to provide to your customers.
For this same reason, you should not address bugs or bug fixes in your roadmap. Admitting that you have bugs is not ideal as it is, but planning to fix them as far as months ahead is not great either.
Bugs should be left in your project/product management tool and only for your internal team to see. You can create a roadmap for bug fixes too, but keep it internal and not public. Likewise, if a task is a part of your regular business (e.g. customer interviews), it does not belong in the roadmap either.
Creating and maintaining a product roadmap is one of the most important practices of a great product, sales or marketing team. It should not be considered an afterthought and it requires a dedicated tool, someone to manage the roadmap, and a constant flow of communication with your customers.
Looking for that one tool to do it all? Sign up for FeedBear today and start creating roadmaps that your customers will love! At $49 per month, it’s a small price to pay for keeping your customers engaged and informed. Sign up today to get started!