Why you need a public roadmap
- By Thomas Goss
Thinking about building a product roadmap? In this article we're going to tell you everything you need to know.
We're going to look at the reasons for building a product roadmap, the key considerations, the types of roadmap, and how to build a great roadmap with FeedBear.
Let's get started with some basics.
What is a Product Roadmap?
At its core, a product roadmap is a way to visually represent upcoming and ongoing updates and improvements to your product.
It’s a strategic tool that helps you to organize upcoming goals and major projects - and translate your big picture vision into discrete steps and milestones.
Product roadmaps help all stakeholders to understand the work that’s going on and coming up in the future, the overall plan and direction, and what the priorities are.
They can also be a place where people weigh in, collaborate, and align with each other over the product development process.
Who are Product Roadmaps for?
Product roadmaps are often used by tech companies engaged in complex and continuous improvements of their products.
Almost all tech companies have roadmaps. Many have private roadmaps and some like Slack, Buffer and Github took things a step further by making their roadmaps public. Roadmaps are also commonly used by games studios.
Really though, roadmaps can be great tools for a wide range of companies. If your product is worked on and improved over time, and you need a high-level representation of the work to be done to align team members, investors, partners and customers around - then building a roadmap is a great idea for you.
Why build a product roadmap?
Here are the key benefits that a product roadmap can bring to your business.
- A way to easily visualize what's important in now and in the future
- Keep team members aligned on the scope, objectives and timeline of product initiatives
- Help leadership to communicate high-level objectives easily and set clear goals
If you know where you’re going, you have a better chance of getting there. Roadmaps help you to work it out, and helps everyone to stay on track.
You should definitely have a roadmap - but what kind? In our view, creating a public roadmap and sharing your journey with the world is the best route to take.
Private vs public roadmaps - which is best for you?
A lot of companies have put their product roadmaps public over the last few years. You can just go to their roadmap, whoever you are, and see exactly what they are working on and what they’re prioritizing.
A lot of companies are hesitant to make their roadmaps public, for understandable reasons. Is a public roadmap right for you? Let’s consider the benefits versus the drawbacks.
The Pros and Cons of a public roadmap
Making a roadmap public can be a great move. Here’s why:
- Customers will love the transparency
- It can differentiate you from competitors
- You can actively involve users in the product process
- Cuts down on questions from users, as you can just point them to the roadmap
- Can attract new users who like your values and direction
Public roadmaps are a way to “build in public”, demonstrate that you value transparency, and actively involve users in the product development process by having them comment and vote on the roadmap.
There are potential downsides to a public roadmap too though.
The most common concern - “competitors will spy on our plans and copy our ideas”. This certainly could happen. The curtain is drawn back, anyone can see what your team is working on. It is certainly true that competitors could copy off your roadmap, it’s a reasonable scenario.
We’d argue though - who cares if they copy you?
Let’s consider why. If you’re doing things right, then your roadmap will be the end results of extensive user research, testing, feedback, and strategic planning.
If someone copies you, they’re going to build for your users, while ignoring their own. They are going to be following your plans, instead of innovating themselves. They’ll always be playing catch up.
In many ways it's a sea of sameness out there in a lot of industries. “Me too” businesses that just try to copy market leaders and undercut them have proliferated in recent years. The wisdom and longevity of this approach is debatable to say the least.
As Jack Ma said:
“You should learn from your competitor, but never copy. Copy and you die.”
On our own roadmap, we’re happy to share what we’re working on with our users, stakeholders, and yes, even competitors! If they want to build features based on the feedback of our own users then they are welcome to.
A second common objection to public roadmaps is that it can bind you to expectations and lead to disappointment when you miss deadlines or milestones among your user base.
This is also a reasonable objection. To be honest, if you’re constantly missing deadlines then you have bigger problems than your roadmap being public. If it’s an infrequent thing though, it's not a big problem.
People know that product development is a demanding thing. They know that roadmaps are targets, not iron-clad guarantees. They are understanding when you occasionally fall short of expectations.
The great thing about a public roadmap is that users can be more involved in the overall process. They get to see you working in real time. They’ll feel more affinity and loyalty, and will be more understanding when you miss targets as they know you’re working hard. This is much better than keeping them disappointed in the dark.
Overall, we think that a public roadmap is a great idea. There are potential drawbacks, but they are outweighed by the benefits.
How to Build a Roadmap
Now we’ve had a little background on roadmaps and why you should have one, let’s look at how to build one.
You basically need three things:
- A prioritization system
- Roadmap tools
Let’s look at them in turn, then see how FeedBear can give you 3-in-1.
How do projects make it onto your roadmap in the first place? Where do the ideas come from?
For most businesses, it's a combination of suggestions from users, insights from data, long term strategy, and initiatives from team members.
You need a decision making process for the pre-roadmap phase. FeedBear gives you this through our Feedback Board.
Your users, and your team members can post their suggestions for improvements to the product, bug fixes, and maintenance - then they can comment on the various ideas and have a free exchange of ideas.
It can become a one stop destination for everyone involved, both team members and users, to interact with the goal of making your product better. Leadership can also use the board as a place to gauge reaction to new ideas that have sprung up internally.
Time and resources are finite - so how do you decide what to prioritize? This is often decided on the basis of intuition, strategic planning, and user feedback. Ideally your roadmap gives you some data to help with this.
With FeedBear’s roadmap, you can have users and team members vote on different ideas, to get a fast idea of what’s going to be the most popular and how you can most effectively solve user pain points.
You can get qualitative input on the roadmap too by having everyone comment on the cards.
Product roadmap tools
Trello is often used for roadmaps, but it has a lot of limitations. With Trello you’ll miss out on the best part - users adding their own suggestions and comments.
You wouldn't open up your Trello board for users to add their own cards, it could turn into a complete mess. So your users will, at best, be limited to commenting on existing cards. There's no good way to create a full feedback loop, and there won't be one place for users to go to submit ideas.
Most other roadmap tools suffer from the same problems, are overly complex, are primarily designed for internal use, or are extremely expensive.
A better alternative is FeedBear. Not only do we give you everything you need to make a great roadmap, but you get a Feedback Board and Changelog too.
FeedBear gives a roadmap, and more. It's everything you need to build an effective feedback loop in one affordable tool.
You'll start by signing up for a free trial, and you'll have your feedback board up in minutes, hosted on your own domain. Users will be able to click a simple site widget to submit their ideas and requests, and they can start voting and commenting on the feedback board without the friction of signing up.
You can then organize the board with tags, pose your own questions, and engage in two-way conversations with your users. When you've leveraged the feedback board to understand your users better, and factored it into your product decisions, it's time for the Roadmap.
You'll add ideas to the roadmap with our simple editor, classify them how you wish, and open them up for further discussion and voting.
The final stage, when you've released the new feature, bug fix, or update - is the Changelog. This is the third part of the FeedBear system, and closes the feedback loop neatly.
It's one place to announce all your product updates, and lets you go more in depth and add images and multimedia too.
From the feedback board, to the roadmap, to the changelog - FeedBear is a complete system for gathering feedback, prioritizing ideas, and creating a modern product roadmap in minutes.
At $59/m for unlimited boards, unlimited users, and all features.
Just one tool to master feedback, build a better product, and grow a more engaged community.
Start building your roadmap today
If you sign up for FeedBear today, you can have your roadmap up and running today too. You can try it out for 14-days to see how you like it, no credit card details required.
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