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How To Create A Product Roadmap

October 18, 2016

Recently, a client approached us with a great product idea. He knew the industry inside and out, understood customers’ pain points, and had ideas about how to solve them.

The one thing he didn’t have? A product roadmap. A well-architected roadmap describes a project’s vision and lays out the path required to reach that destination.

Often in early meetings, the client would get sidetracked by new feature ideas that he wanted to add down the line. If we hadn’t created a product roadmap, this could have resulted in constant interruptions, breaking our focus and slowing development. Thankfully, by helping him create a roadmap upfront, he felt reassured that his ideas were accounted for and prioritized, resulting in a much smoother product development process.

When to Chart Your Course

Just as drivers determine routes after picking a destination but before hitting the road, product roadmaps are developed after the discovery phase but before design work starts.

The team prioritizing features for the next scope of work

Products always involve multiple departments — development, design, marketing, sales, and more — and each of those teams should have a stake in the route. The project manager, who typically creates the map, is the best person to choose its contributors.

Developers will want to see the big picture to judge technical feasibility, while designers should check that the mapped product meets user needs and lays the roadwork for future iterations. Sales team members might weigh in on trends to ensure the product is competitive, and they’ll want it as a sales tool when approaching investors.

Along the way, the roadmap helps teams zoom in or out. Designers and developers must understand both the big picture and each turn in the trip. Like a well-written itinerary, a great product roadmap prescribes a clear path, but it’s also flexible enough for unforeseen stops.

4 Essential Elements of Product Roadmaps

A roadmap doesn’t just describe point A and point B. It breaks the trip into states or highways, shows gas stations along the way, and accounts for driver preferences, such as scenic roads.

When crafting your product roadmap, be sure it contains these four elements:

1. A mission statement

Great products always begin with the user’s “why.” Why is the product being built? Why does the company care on an emotional, purposeful level?

To get people invested, gather stakeholders to decide on a shared “why.” It’s impossible to scope the project if the team can’t agree on a vision.

2. Epics

Epics are large chunks of work or big features containing multiple user stories. Each epic should account for an important user need, but it can take different forms. A messaging component, for instance, is important for user communication, but it could be a live chat feature, a comments section, or a private group chat.

Revisit your roadmap often, iterating on it as needed. As you gather feedback and encounter new requirements, you may need to re-evaluate or alter epics during development.

sticky notes

3. The three “buckets”

Sort epics in your roadmap according to three factors: feasibility (technical limitations), desirability (user needs), and viability (business needs). Epics should also be grouped into three time frames, such as now, next, and later.

Prioritization should be a group decision, so write epics on sticky notes so they can be easily rearranged. Once you’ve settled on a prioritization scheme, color-code the epics for easy reference.

4. Themes

Be sure to identify the strategic objectives or themes that each phase of the project meets. All of the epics should tie closely to a particular theme, which will help you prioritize them effectively.

For greater flexibility, keep the roadmap at an epic level rather than at the more granular level of user stories. After completing a high-level roadmap, teams can create more detailed, agile maps for each product sprint.

Yeti’s ability to prioritize what’s truly valuable helps clients reach their destination — the minimum viable product — with speed and accuracy. Put an end to “Are we there yet?” and reach out to Yeti to put product development in the fast lane.

You can download our free product roadmap template and instructional guide to get your product design & development efforts on the right track as you race towards building an MVP and beyond.

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