Roadmap Guide: Getting started with roadmaps

product and portfolio roadmap

Ever had that moment where your vision for your products and projects seems crystal clear to you, but your team appears to be marching to the beat of a different drum? It’s a scenario that demands a magic wand, and guess what? I’ve got one for you – it’s called a roadmap.

It’s not just about having a vision; it’s about communicating it in a way that’s crystal clear to everyone involved. And what’s more clear than a roadmap? It’s not just a chart – it’s a tool that aligns every team member.

Ready to learn more? This guide contains the nuts and bolts of roadmaps. Learn how to build roadmaps for different audiences and groups, what your roadmaps should contain, and the benefits of using roadmaps with your product and project teams.

Table of contents

What is a roadmap?

In the world of product and project strategy, think of a roadmap as your compass for guiding your participant’s journey. It’s a dynamic visual that maps out your product and project evolution. A roadmap is your master plan, spotlighting the big-picture goals and initiatives your dream team is aiming for. 

But a roadmap is much more than a chart. It’s a strategic communicator, ensuring everyone from product managers, project managers, development teams and executives are all on the same page. It’s the glue that aligns these diverse stakeholders and makes sure they’re all marching to the beat of the same drum.

A product roadmap communicates the vision, priorities and progress of a product or project over time. A roadmap lays out what needs to happen to get something done in a clear visual way.

Why use a roadmap?

Most times, project and product teams understand what needs to happen over the next weeks. However, understanding how this ties into the organization’s bigger picture can sometimes be difficult to see.

Clarity. A roadmap builds transparency and accountability so you can keep your projects and work on track.

Alignment. Teams and stakeholders get clarity over the major steps and activities needed to meet their objectives.

Communication. Roadmaps provide a simple, concise, and easy to understand communication tool which can be understood by anyone.

Build roadmaps in minutes

Build project and product roadmaps and share with your teams.

What does a roadmap look like?

Not all roadmaps look the same, but there are elements common to most roadmaps.

Lanes. Roadmaps are normally organized into lanes (sometimes called swimlanes). These are used to visually organize the roadmap. Lanes could be used to represent things like functional areas, product lines, priorities, or teams.

Initiatives, projects, or features. Lanes then contain your work. Depending on what level you want to represent your roadmap, your work could be projects, features, or large-scale initiatives.

Milestones. Major events are often represented as milestones.

Timeline. Roadmaps are normally organized as a timeline. Roadmaps can span a couple of months or extend years.

Releases. If you organize your work into release (or phases), the roadmap may contain anticipated release dates and show what work forms the release.

We can see some of these elements in the example roadmap from Kelloo below.


What are the benefits of using a roadmap?

Using a product roadmap offers several key benefits for product and project teams.

Strategic direction. A product roadmap outlines the vision and goals for the product over a specific timeframe, helping teams understand the overarching strategy.

Prioritization and focus. By visualizing the plan, teams can prioritize work based on strategic goals.

Communication and alignment. A product roadmap serves as a communication tool, fostering collaboration among product managers, developers, and other stakeholders.

Engages and informs stakeholders. Stakeholders can easily grasp the plan, leading to increased confidence and buy-in.

Adaptability and iteration: A roadmap is not static. It can be adjusted and updated based on feedback, market shifts, or internal learnings.

What types of roadmaps are there?

The biggest benefit of a roadmap is the strategic vision it communicates. A roadmap can combine product, project, and organization goals to ensure everyone is on the same page. Here are some examples of roadmaps you could build.

Product roadmap for agile projects and teams

If you are running agile projects and teams, your roadmap could be used to communicate the key events on your projects. 

So this could include things like when your sprints start and end, which teams are working on them, and how the sprints align with things like product release dates.

Roadmap for product teams and product owners

For product teams and product owners, your roadmap may be organized to show when the different projects or initiatives that deliver your products are happening. 

Things like stage gates and review checkpoints may be added to provide richer information.

Portfolio roadmap

Portfolios of projects have many moving parts and a roadmap helps to understand the relationships and dependencies that bind it together. 

Projects don’t exist in isolation and the portfolio roadmap helps executives make linkages between projects, products, and the overall goals of the organization. Roadmaps can also help you better understand when work can happen based on your overall portfolio resource capacity.

Roadmap for leadership and executive teams

Leadership and executive teams need to see the big picture to understand what projects are driving toward their organization’s goals. 

So a roadmap for this group can be used to communicate high-level information to help them understand when things like new products are being delivered to market or key strategic goals are being met.

Marketing roadmap

Marketing teams can use roadmaps to communicate what they want to accomplish and the steps they are taking to get there. 

An example could be an organization launching a new product and the marketing team needs to coordinate marketing initiatives based on deliverables from teams such as IT and sales.

Roadmap best practices and considerations

Here are some of the things to consider when building a product roadmap.

Roadmaps are not detailed schedules, Gantt charts or plans

Project schedules, plans, and Gantt charts go into more detail than a project roadmap. A roadmap is the bird’s eye view, a project schedule, plan, or Gantt is granular and detailed. The purpose of a project schedule or plan is day-to-day project activities, management, and control. A roadmap is about communication.

Understand your audience

Clarify who will be using the roadmap and what they will be using the roadmap for. The audience for a roadmap can vary based on the context and purpose of the roadmap. It is quite common that a roadmap can also be used by many audiences.

Are they an executive team that just needs to see when big milestones are happening or are they a product team that needs to step down a level and understand a little more context about timings?

Understand your organizations goals and strategy

Start by setting the vision and goals for your product and how they will support overall organizational objectives.

This could include analyzing things like:

  • What problems you are trying to solve?
  • What do you need to do to your product to add value for customers?

You are trying to identify the “big ticket” items that you want to achieve over the coming year or so.

Assign broad timelines to your initiatives

Start laying out the initiatives (the work and projects) that will help you meet your goals. You will not be able to do everything at once so consider what priorities you have. Also, consider if any factors are driving when things need to happen – for example a trade show you need to attend to show off your new product.

Another factor to consider is the resource capacity of your organization. You need to ensure you are not working on too many things at the same time. Juggling too many balls at the same time inevitably means you will drop a few. Focusing on fewer things often means you get more done quicker.

Paint a picture - ensure your roadmap has visual appeal

The key thing about roadmaps is that they are visual tools for communicating a vision. So use color, icons, notes, and comments. Anything that helps you get the message across.

How to create a roadmap

You have a couple of choices when it comes to creating a roadmap. The first option is to use an Excel spreadsheet roadmap template, Google sheet, or presentation software like Microsoft PowerPoint. These are simple to get going with but do have downsides. Any roadmap will be difficult to share, will have limited visual appeal, and will be static. 

Alternatively, consider roadmap software. These fall into two categories. Stand-alone roadmap software which just lets you paint a picture. Or tools like Kelloo which incorporate roadmaps alongside resource planning, resource forecasting, and multi-project planning.

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