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5 Tips from 5 PMs to Improve Your Team’s Product Roadmap

Jerry Cao
By Jerry Cao on 2nd February, 2016 Updated on 22nd April, 2020

Aptly named, a product roadmap is a document that lists out the approximate schedules for a product lifecycle, including:

  • High-level business goals
  • Features aimed at achieving these goals
  • KPIs for tracking progress

As shown in the below example from Aha!, product roadmaps are simply an organizational tool to keep the entire team on track, and, like the product itself, will change and adapt continually throughout the design process.


Photo credit: Aha! Product Roadmapping Software!!

We’ve pulled advice from some expert product managers across web on how to make the most useful product roadmap possible.

1. Try a Collaborative “GO” Roadmap

Product roadmaps require collaboration. They need to account for all business goals across departments, the timeframe needs to be tempered based on all departments’ restrictions, and they require everyone working in the same direction. You can’t expect the entire team to rally behind a plan they had no input in.

Product management instructor, writer, and consultant Roman Pichler suggest holding a 2-4 hour workshop with all the right people. Working together to create a basic, goal-oriented (GO) roadmap firmly cements which goals to prioritize, and gives the PM everything they need to know to make a more detailed PR.


Photo credit: “10 Tips for Creating an Agile Product Roadmap.” Roman Pichler. Pichler Consulting.

As shown in Pichler’s free template, GO roadmaps illustrate:

  • Date – When will the product ship?
  • Name – What are we calling it?
  • Goal – What problem are we trying to solve?
  • Features – What core functionality is required?
  • Metrics – How will we know we accomplished our goal?

If 2-4 hours isn’t not enough time to create a working GO roadmap, perhaps the fault lies in the product design or lack of research. In which case, the roadmap is not the problem.

2. Don’t Research What Features Users Wants — Research Why They Want Them

When UX guru Jared Spool and product management expert Bruce McCarthy work together on an idea, it’s time to pay attention.

Spool describes the application of McCarthy’s idea on “themes,” not features. This means product design should not focus on releasing a new feature as much as solving a customer problem. Why doesn’t the user want this feature… and is there a better solution?

This strategy also puts you on the forefront of your market with new ideas, instead of trying to “catch up” with your competitors and their features.

As we first suggested in the free Guide to Usability Testing, make sure your user interview questions focus on behavior rather than opinions.  

3. Rate Features to Prioritize Them

Rate each feature, upgrade, or step beforehand so you know where everything should go.

Entrepreneur and head UX designer Clémence Debaig rates each item in three categories, and each with a scale of three:

  1. Pain — Painful, Confusing, Opportunity
  2. Effort — Small (1), Medium (2), Big (3)
  3. Business Value — $, $$, $$$


Photo credit: “How to Build a Product Roadmap Based on User Research.” Clémence Debaig. Shake Up ID.

She then charts the features by Pain and Effort rating, with scalable sized circles to represent the business value.


Photo credit: “How to Build a Product Roadmap Based on User Research.” Clémence Debaig. Shake Up ID.

This visual aid helps make the decisions about how the importance of each item compares to each other.

Based on where the features map out, you can better decide where they fit into the roadmap and how many resources to allocate. At UXPin, prioritizing proposed features was actually the first step of our redesign process. 

4. Say “No.”

Roadmaps also define where you don’t want to go.

Brian de Haaff, CEO of the product roadmapping software Aha!, reminds us that, if you don’t say “no” to certain features or ideas, your roadmap will become diluted and unrealistic.

When first presenting the roadmap, support your decisions with user research. Explain any quantitative data (in-app data, site metrics, etc.) and qualitative data (user interviews) that support your feature prioritization.

Second, learn to separate your target personas from secondary ones so you can prioritize aspects for your key users. Different types of users will want different things, so satisfy your main audience before attempting to satisfy everyone.

5. Saving Dates for the Project Timeline

According to PM and co-founder of ProdPad Janna Bastow, the ideal product roadmap focuses on strategy rather than release dates. 

But, of course, realistically this isn’t always possible. PMs are questioned from all sides about schedules and dates — rightly so, because this information is helpful for other departments to do their job.

The key is communicating that a roadmap is not the same as a project timeline. The product roadmap includes themes and strategic initiatives under three time horizons (current, near-term and future.). As your themes shape up and move up to the “Current” column and you start to finalize functional specs, start handing over release planning to project managers who can allocate resources and set dates.

More Information

For more tips on creating useful product documentation in the UX process, check out the free Guide to UX Design Process & Documentation. We explain how to create and use 25 useful documents across the 7 main stages of product design.

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