For project managers, maintaining up-to-date product roadmaps can feel like an uphill battle.
In Agile development frameworks, we seek flexibility in response to evolving product needs and a just-in-time approach to work plan details and scheduling.
To be accurate and effective, product roadmaps need to be as flexible and responsive as the development process they represent – quite a challenge if your “roadmap” is a collection of slide decks, spreadsheets, and other standalone documents.
What Is a Product Roadmap Really?
The product roadmap is the overall view and action plan for the development of a product or solution. As its name states, it’s essentially a map that lets you know in which direction the product is going as well as what the reasons behind each functionality are.
Product roadmaps sit close to the top in the hierarchy of Agile project management tools. They’re intentionally high-level, capturing the product vision, the major features planned for release, and a general timeframe for the project.
What Is the Purpose of a Product Roadmap?
A product roadmap remains more than just a step-by-step representation of where product development is going. Here are all the other benefits that creating and maintaining a clear product roadmap will provide:
- Define the product development strategy and guide the strategy execution process
- Keep stakeholders aligned with all product changes and upcoming actions
- Spot technology gaps and potential threats to the product development process
- Establish timeframes and tie them to goals
- Support internal and external communication and scenario planning
- Maintain a clear overview of the product vision
- Monitor product changes or new client requirements
- Prioritize time and resources investments
- Keep the whole team in the loop with what’s going on with the product, keeping them self-aware of their own work path
- Build your team and see if you need new employees or external collaborators to finish work on time
What Should be Included in a Product Roadmap
Product roadmaps are both powerful communications tools and essential team planning tools.
- For leadership, business owners, and other stakeholders, the product roadmap provides at-a-glance insight into the development effort. It helps to ensure that the product vision is shared among the key players, the vision is aligned with other business goals, and there’s a common understanding of the features in development.
- For the development team, which spends much of its time focused on the dozens of individual features and bug fixes, the agile product roadmap helps maintain awareness of the larger picture and keeps the team moving in the direction of its near and long-term objectives.
Product owners and project managers have a huge arsenal of information at their fingertips.
A challenge in building effective product roadmaps is separating the wheat from the chaff to present the essential product development elements in a context that is crisp, clean, and easily understood.
Too much detail and you risk having your overall vision get lost in the noise; not enough detail and you’re missing out on opportunities to engage key players in your strategy and generate enthusiasm for the product vision.
While the specific elements of a product roadmap will vary slightly depending on the style of roadmap and the intended audience, common pieces of a product roadmap include:
- Projects and Epics - These elements group tasks and describe the work to be done, telling your product’s story at a high level. A ZenHub Project is a high-level plan with a desired start and end date. Projects help you envision your future plans. The scope of projects may not yet be defined and you can modify project start/due dates. A ZenHub Epic is a theme of work containing sub-tasks (issues) required to complete the larger goal. Adding epics to a project allows you to accurately track project progress.
Depending on the scope of your product roadmap, you may have multiple projects with their specific epics or a roadmap that shows a single project with epics as the highest level of organization.
To better illustrate these concepts, consider the example shown below:
Here, we’re roadmapping a Project named ‘Video editing feature’.
Within this Project we’ve defined three Epics representing individual chunks of work to track the progress of this project. Epic 1 ‘Video upload loading’ is already completed, Epic 2 ‘Video filters’ and Epic 3 ‘Video edit button UI’.
We’re tracking the Project ‘Video editing feature’ progress (75%) by story points completed per Epic. When looking at the Epics still in progress, we see one Epic is 75% complete, and another Epic is 12% complete. The Epics provide a natural grouping of tasks letting all team members see how the individual issues fit together as they work toward the larger goal.
- Features – Features describe a new or improved functionality, showing work to be done at a more granular level. In ZenHub and GitHub, issues show work at the feature level.
- Releases – Releases capture the effort of moving a group of features into production, an activity that generally spans multiple sprints and epics.
- Timeline – All roadmaps will have some type of time component. However, they may or may not show specific dates. Some roadmaps will indicate time commitments at a higher level, such as quarters, while others might make no time commitments at all, simply arranging features in the order they will be worked. The default timescale for ZenHub Roadmaps is shown in weeks but you can adjust this to weeks or to months or quarters in order to see what the team is working on week by week or the entire year.
- Status – Roadmaps typically have some way to indicate the status of work at the feature or epic level. The status might indicate that the work is un-started, in progress, or complete. It can also give further information such as the percent complete or the number of story points remaining.
In ZenHub we track progress by either story points or issues complete. As you can see in the graphic below, the ZenHub date line acts like a "pace line" as you progress through your projects and epics. If the progress bar is to the left of the date line, the project is behind. If the progress bar is to the right of the date line the project is ahead.
Product Roadmap Examples
There's no one-size-fits-all product roadmap template.
Different styles of roadmaps mix and match the above elements and lay them out in a way that facilitates communicating your vision to the target audience.
Next, we’ll review a few product roadmap examples and discuss what elements they might highlight to help achieve your communications and planning objectives.
Strategic Product Roadmap
As the name implies, strategic product roadmaps organize around the goals and priorities of projects. They’re focused on describing the problems that new products will solve and the additional value they will create.
Strategic product roadmaps place less emphasis on specific features and precise time estimates than some other formats and may even leave out dates altogether. When details of features and functionality are displayed, they’re placed in the context of the strategic imperatives they support.
Portfolio Product Roadmap
Portfolio product roadmaps bring multiple projects under one umbrella. For organizations managing efforts across overlapping teams and stakeholders, this top-down approach can be an invaluable tool. It helps ensure that strategic goals are understood and that the goals of individual products are consistent with the organization’s broader vision and direction.
Because portfolio roadmaps organize at the product level, they’re likely to only show detail down to the epic or release level, not generally showing individual features in development.
Releases-Driven Product Roadmap
Releases-driven product roadmaps group features and organize them according to the release schedule. Like features-driven product roadmaps, they’re useful for communicating with teams that have a need for some level of detail about the functionality that is planned for delivery. Also, like features-driven product roadmaps, releases-driven product roadmaps are better suited for near-term planning when the coming functionality and level of required effort are more clear.
Using ZenHub to Create Your Product Roadmaps
So where do you start to build your next product roadmap?
ZenHub takes the pain out of building and maintaining product roadmaps. Fully integrated with your GitHub repositories, ZenHub Roadmaps helps you easily build roadmaps that are always accurate, customizable to meet the needs of your organization, and automatically updated to reflect your current GitHub data.
With ZenHub Roadmaps you organize your Projects and Epics into a highly intuitive Gantt chart view that gives your entire team needed perspective on your highest-profile software projects.
This feature lets you automate the roadmap building process and make it easy to deliver engaging, precise, and up-to-date project information across the organization.
As with all ZenHub capabilities, ZenHub Roadmaps are tightly integrated with your GitHub repositories, which means no more re-entering of key data and no more struggling to keep your reporting current. Customizable views help tailor your roadmaps for the intended audience so you can provide all players with important project perspectives that are appropriate to their role.