In our quest to create better products and truly connect with our customers, there are countless things we can do. From running surveys to interviewing customers on the phone, we take part in various activities to learn more about our customers and involve them in the decision-making process for our product.
One of the best feedback and product planning tools out there is a product roadmap. While they are gaining in popularity in recent years, product roadmaps are still underutilized in the world of SaaS, despite having massive potential.
Today, we’ll show you everything you need to know about product roadmaps.
Introduction to product roadmaps
When talking about roadmaps, it’s usually in the SaaS product framework. In other words, it’s most commonly SaaS applications (products) that have roadmaps. This doesn’t mean that you can’t have one if you work in other industries - on the contrary. However, for the sake of illustration, all of our examples will be based on SaaS products.
What is a product roadmap?
According to Atlassian, the company behind many great software products, a product roadmap is “a plan of action for how a product or solution will evolve over time”.
In simpler terms, a product roadmap is a visualization (map) of the road your product will take in the upcoming months.
It includes the features and aspects of your SaaS product that you plan to release in the future, along with accompanying data such as internal team comments, customer feedback, deadlines, images, etc.
It’s a tool to communicate with your existing and potential customers. A roadmap shows them that you’re committed to improving and building on your product in the period to come and that you’re willing to invest time and money into making your customers happy.
There are two basic types of roadmaps:
- Private (shared with certain audiences only, e.g. your customers)
- Public (shared with everyone and usually hosted on your website)
Why is a product roadmap important?
Other than being nice to have, there are quite a few advantages to having a product roadmap for your application. What’s even better, a roadmap will not only benefit your own customers but your team as well.
Here are some of the main reasons why a product roadmap is important for your product, marketing, and sales.
1. A great feedback channel
When done properly, a roadmap is a superb way for your customers to leave feedback to you. Tools like FeedBear allow your customers to make comments on your roadmap as well as vote for features that are important to them.
2. Showing the way into the future
For a company that’s about to invest hundreds or thousands of dollars in your SaaS product subscription, knowing what you will do with the product is highly important. A product roadmap shows them what you plan to release in the future, which shows them that signing up with you is a good investment.
3. It builds transparency and trust
If you want your customers to trust you, there is no better way to achieve this than showing them what you’re working on and what they can expect. A roadmap tells your users that you’re not afraid to admit your flaws and shortcomings and that you want to share with the world that you’re building something instead of being secretive and announcing things when they’re done.
As for the downside of product roadmaps, there is only one: if you have a public roadmap, your competition can see your roadmap just as easily as your own customers. But don’t worry - you should be looking at making your own customers happy and a roadmap for your own product cannot really benefit your competition all that much.
Create your own product roadmap
You’ve realized the massive value a product roadmap can bring to your SaaS business and you’re ready to create one for yourself. However, creating one from scratch may sound like a chore, especially if you’ve never done it before.
How do you create a product roadmap?
Before we go into the more practical issues such as tools to use for creating roadmaps, let’s talk about what happens before you start the creation process.
Determine the strategy
What is your main aim when creating a roadmap? Is it to get more feedback, increase transparency, improve communication with your customers, align your organization to have the same goals, or something entirely different?
Having a roadmap is a worthy cause as is, but it’s even better when you know why you’re creating one and what you’re trying to achieve. When you’re working towards a bigger goal, you’ll have an easier time getting buy-in from your team members - but more in that in a minute.
Decide who should have access
As mentioned before, roadmaps can be public or private. Public ones are as simple as it gets - everyone with access to the link can see them. With private, you get to control who can access the roadmap and how.
Think carefully about which group of users needs to see your roadmap and why. Maybe it’s just the paid users, maybe it’s enterprise customers or some other portion of your customer base. Or maybe you just want your team to have access for internal strategy purposes. The strategy you decide on in step 1 will largely determine this step as well.
Collect feedback and create ideas
The crucial step is to collect feedback from your customers and team so you have something to put on your product roadmap. Not everything your customers suggest will become a feature that you’ll develop. Moreover, not every feature will have the same priority.
This is arguably the most difficult part, especially if you’re not using feedback software. It may require you to collect significant amounts of data manually before you’re able to move on to the next steps.
You can collect feedback virtually anywhere: google search results, forums, social media, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, live chat on your website, customer support emails, call recordings, sales meetings, etc.
Put the features on the roadmap and group them in releases (optionally)
Now that you know what features you want to work on and what kind of priority they have, it’s time to put them on a proper roadmap for the world (or a portion of it) to see. You can use a variety of tools for this purpose, but more on that soon.
What should your roadmap include?
Depending on what you want to achieve, you’ll have different elements in your product roadmap. However, there are some basics that every roadmap should include.
You probably know that making a hard promise on when something will be done is not such a great idea. Priorities change, people come and go, unexpected things happen. Instead of talking in terms of days or weeks, set deadlines for features in terms of months or even quarters.
That way, you’re still giving a realistic prediction of when something will be done but you’re not tying yourself into a hard deadline. It’s always a good idea to give your product team some flexibility and room to breathe.
What kind of features do you want to roll out and what is your overall strategy? Once again, we go back to the basics: your main purpose of creating a product roadmap.
Depending on the purpose, you’ll have different structures. If you merely want to launch features, you can have cards with features and call it a day.
However, if you’re trying to show a larger perspective to the world and your customers, you’ll want to organize your product mission and vision into themes, epics, stories and features - arranged from biggest to smallest in size.
Once you know the type of structure you want to use and the timelines for your planned deliverables, it’s time to make it look good. Great roadmapping software such as FeedBear allows you to group and color-code your roadmap elements.
This way, not only is it more aesthetically pleasing, but it’s also easier to follow for your customers and your team.
How do I plan what goes in the roadmap?
The only correct answer is - it depends.
Some teams create roadmaps based on their internal plans for product development. If you have a vision for what you want your product to achieve, then your roadmap will have all the elements you decided on internally as a team.
However, if your main aim is to base the roadmap on customer feedback, you’ll need to pool that feedback from various sources. Emails, social media, live chat, forums, you name it. Once it’s all in one place, it needs to be sorted and prioritized and then the most relevant features go to your roadmap.
If you use quality feedback software such as FeedBear, getting that data is a piece of cake. All you have to do is go to your feedback board (which contains feedback from all your relevant sources) and transfer it to a roadmap. It’s that easy.
But there is another concern as well - you will probably have a LOT of feedback. When lots of customers want to provide feedback, two things happen:
- You will often have the same issues appear more than once
- You will need to prioritize what you want to work on
This is another place where feedback software comes in. It prevents double entries and lets your customers vote on features. That way, you’ll have the same or similar features in one place.
Feedback software also lets you prioritize by adding different values to features so it’s easier to make a decision for your team. Many times, deciding on what gets built and prioritized requires a mix of different criteria, including costs, the time to develop, the value to existing customers and many others.
Why is roadmapping important?
As mentioned above, there are several good reasons why roadmaps should be a part of every software company’s customer experience, marketing, and sales strategy.
It explains priorities. The great thing about a roadmap is that just by taking a glance at it, you immediately know what the company’s priorities are and what they will work on in the times to come.
This is not only important for your customers, who want to know whether they are committing to a company with solid plans for the future. It’s also crucial for your own team that need to know the vision of the times to come.
It shows that you listen to your customers. A company that invests in product roadmaps is a company that pays attention to what their customers say and shows intent to actually do something about the feedback they get.
It shows a clear vision for the future. If a company wants to invest in your product and they have 500+ seats and this is an app that their business depends on, they will want to see what you have in store for the years ahead.
The different types of product roadmaps
Not all roadmaps are the same and there are many different types based on what you intend to do with them. The most basic distinction is between public and private roadmaps, as mentioned above. We will get to the benefits of using a public roadmap shortly.
When it comes to the different sorts of roadmaps, we would single out three main types:
- Product roadmaps (for your overall product, including all of its aspects of design, development, functionalities, user experience, etc.)
- Field roadmaps (with different areas, such as user experience, content, design, information structure, etc. - more comprehensive in nature)
- Specialty roadmaps (e.g. focusing on a single area of UX, a specific set of features)
Depending on your goals, you’ll decide on one of these or a hybrid mix.
Web-based tools to create a product roadmap
One of the easiest ways to create a product roadmap is by using specialized roadmapping tools. Instead of creating locally hosted files, create web-based pages which are easy to share internally and with your customers.
Here are some of those tools that will make it easy for anyone to create a roadmap.
With simplicity and user-friendliness at its score, FeedBear is the best choice for roadmapping. Just collect your feedback, add it to a feedback board, pick your most important features and create a roadmap! Even if you’ve never used roadmapping software before, you’ll set up FeedBear within minutes.
One of the best-known project management tools in the world, Trello also makes it quite easy to create a product roadmap out of your boards. The problem is that it’s not intended as roadmapping software, so a lot of great features will be lacking. Moreover, sharing your roadmaps publicly can be quite a challenge.
Primarily built as a prioritization tool, Airfocus has a neat roadmapping feature as well. The roadmaps look good and function especially well if you’ve done all the previous steps through Airfocus too. However, the user interface can be a bit clunky.
This is a very comprehensive product feedback tool that does much more than roadmaps. While that is one of its biggest strengths, it’s also a major downside. The software is powerful but also quite complex for users who want just roadmaps. Additionally, it’s quite pricey compared to the competitors mentioned above.
One of the more popular roadmapping offers out there, it has all the necessary features to collect and act upon customer feedback. It’s intuitive and easy to use but quite pricey if you’re looking to add more than a handful of users and share your roadmaps with a larger audience.
Start building your own product roadmap with FeedBear!
If you’re looking for a great way to connect with your customers, build trust, collect and manage feedback and more, consider giving FeedBear a try!
One thing that makes FeedBear stand out is that unlike the tools mentioned above, you can get set up and started with your roadmap within minutes. Just add your feedback to a feedback board and then transfer your most relevant features to a product roadmap.
Once you’ve done that, you can change your roadmap details, from the design all the way to who gets to see it. Within 15 minutes, your roadmap is fully done and ready for the world (or a select few people) to see.
What’s great is that whoever sees your roadmap can also leave comments in dedicated cards. Your customers and your team can vote, participate and exchange thoughts before a feature even gets released.
And once it does - everyone who left a comment or voted gets immediately notified about the change.
If you run a product and want to put your customers first, there is no better roadmapping tool than FeedBear. Sign up for free today to get started!
Sharing and presenting your roadmaps
One of the biggest benefits of roadmaps is that they are shareable in nature. While product people, marketers, and sales professionals have a lot of use from them, their biggest advantage is when they’re shared with a larger audience.
How do I present a roadmap to get buy-in?
If you’re looking to present your roadmap to your coworkers, remember that just showing what it looks like and letting them interpret it is not the right move to make. Especially if you need to win them over on a new project or feature, you need to present your roadmap and get buy-in from your team.
To get your team to buy into your ideas, make sure to present your roadmaps with the following tips in mind:
1. Base your roadmap on feedback
No one likes assumptions. The ideas presented in your roadmap should be based on actual feedback from your customers or team. This is super easy to do in FeedBear, as your roadmaps are based on your feedback boards.
2. Align your product roadmap with overall company goals
Whatever roadmap you’re presenting, make sure that the overarching theme aligns with the larger goals of your company. If your main aim is to retain existing users, don’t focus on building features for new audiences - focus on collecting feedback to improve your existing offering.
3. Treat your coworkers as customers too
When presenting your roadmap, bear in mind that your coworkers need the same amount of information as your customers. People from different teams have different knowledge about your product so treat everyone the same - as your customers who need all the information to make an educated decision.
Should you make your roadmap public?
The only proper answer is - it depends.
Public roadmaps can be a blessing but they can also be a chore, especially if you have a small or non-existent product team.
Here are some pros of public roadmaps:
- Increased transparency
- Answers customers’ questions in advance (and saves your support time)
- Increased customer trust
- A great tool to build your brand
- Superb tool to persuade hesitant customers to invest for the future
Having said all that, there are some cons to public roadmaps too:
- Your competitors can see your public roadmap
- It takes time to build and maintain a good-looking and functional roadmap
- If you’re not following up on your promises, could lead to customer trust issues
With that in mind, a public roadmap is still a great idea because the pros far outweigh the cons. The biggest issue is still - but what if my competitors can see it and steal from me?
In the end, your roadmap is built for your own customers and your own product. Your competition may be able to see a few months ahead but that is probably nowhere near enough to have a competitive advantage over you.
Instead, focus on providing value for your own customers - a public roadmap is a great way to foster communication and encourage feedback. However, do make sure not to share something too sensitive in your public roadmaps.
The best product roadmap examples to inspire you
Want to see some of the best product roadmaps out there to get inspiration? Here is our hand-picked list of the very best roadmaps by companies that use FeedBear. Each of these is public so you’ll get a pretty good idea of what it looks like to have a fully open roadmap.
Built for salespeople and everyone who has to spend a lot of time on LinkedIn, this is like a contact book on steroids. This SaaS product streamlines your LinkedIn communication and workflows so you can get more done: be it sales, meetings, candidate interviews or something else.
They have a super simple and clean roadmap that lets new and potential customers to see three columns:
- Needs your opinion
- In progress
It’s as easy as that. What makes this one super intuitive is the fact that users know immediately where to go and vote for up-and-coming features and fixes.
Some SaaS products are hard to explain. MarkupHero is not one of them! This tool lets you easily take screenshots and annotate them, which can be super handy for all departments in a company or when you just want to send a screenshot of a meme to a friend.
Their setup has three columns like LeadDelta and it makes it easy to see what’s happening behind the curtains. When you jump into individual cards, you can see comments both by customers and the MarkupHero team, which increases trust in the product and brand.
Product roadmaps are a necessary part of developing every good SaaS product. If you’ve never made one before, they may seem like they’re too much work for the benefits they bring.
However, when done right, product roadmaps are one of the easiest ways to connect with your customers, collect feedback, provide valuable information to your team, and set a strategic vision for your product for the future.
If you’re one of the naysayers - you probably just haven’t used a good roadmapping tool yet. Why not try FeedBear? Sign up for our free trial and you’ll see just how easy it is to build and maintain a beautiful and functional product roadmap.