Product Roadmap Planning: Not an Abstract Idea
If you’re early in your journey as an app founder, you might’ve heard of the importance of developing a product roadmap.
It’s a crucial part of seeing a project through to the end.
The alternative is… DEATH!
However, being new, you’re not entirely sure how to put one together.
This post was made for you.
Time for clarity on what a product roadmap is, essential components, and how to create a product roadmap of your own.
Definition of a Product Roadmap
Executed properly, a product roadmap is a document that communicates how a product meets business goals and the vision of the product and work needed to get there. Any changes in business goals should be reflected in your roadmap, along with the product vision and necessary work.
That’s what you might hear an intern say on their first day.
We don’t disagree, it just sounds a bit too fancy for our liking.
Developing a product roadmap means understanding, defining, and putting together different elements that contribute to one whole.
5 Key Elements of Product Roadmap Planning
Once you understand what constitutes a product roadmap, it’s a matter of customizing those elements to your project.
Goals are specific metrics that make your vision (final app) possible, which means they must be:
- easy to understand
- measurable, and
For that reason, goals often include a specific range or number – for example, a certain position on Apple’s App Store, monthly revenue, number of new SKUs, or number of new daily users.
All of the above should be achievable within a reasonable timeframe.
Look at our sample roadmap for a client and see how the underlined parts below are clear targets.
It’s something where we can objectively say we’ve either succeeded, still on the way to success, or failed – bitter as that would be.
In your product roadmap, user personas are fictional representations of your target audience.
Each persona should be personalized with:
- a name,
- a picture,
- a job title
Then you want to further develop them with an overview of relevant details such as:
- age range,
- life goals,
- tech-savviness, and
- anything else that could affect their buying habits
With a persona fleshed out, you can tailor your product to meet not just the needs of your users, but their wants.
Does all that really matter?
Imagine this: Two identical homework apps, but one is gray; the other is a dazzling pink.
Here’s the customer:
If she chooses the black one, we’ll deep fry and eat our keyboards.
Features in your product roadmap are specific functions that deliver value to users. They provide more detailed information about new functionality and include:
- UI design, and
- Performance upgrades
Simply put, all your features = your app.
Features are not all equal.
Some are essential from the first day, others nice to have.
How do you prioritize between essential features?
You lean on your user persona!
Look at your product through the eyes of users – identify their most urgent problems and the feature which addresses that. That’s the feature you prioritize.
As far as organization, Upstack Studio has always categorized features like this:
You’re looking at all the features this app will have.
Essential features go under MVP (read our guide to minimum viable product); less crucial ones go under future development, and of course, we can always add more as needed.
Put in the context of the user experience, those features can also be visualized as a user flow like this:
The two should be aligned – features essential to the user flow and experience take priority.
Now for the last two elements, which we’ll address together.
Time and Budget
You have a limited amount of time and money and you need to see a whole-ass software development project through to the end.
In our product roadmap with our client, you’ll see:
- a comprehensive breakdown of where their money is going
- when they can expect certain milestones to be reached
- included maintenance for third-party subscriptions like hosting and storage
Product roadmaps always include dates for releases and updates.
Depending on the level of detail, you might want to drill down into days to weeks to months – some paranoid androids even plan out years in advance.
At Upstack Studio, we’ve always preferred six months at most.
Frankly, too many things happen for plans beyond that to be much more than wishful thinking.
Now, when it comes to cost estimates, the specific numbers are unique to each project – but it will always come down to your developer’s hourly rate multiplied by the total number of hours.
Check out our 2023 app development cost breakdown to estimate how much it would cost to build your app.
Either way, get used to seeing lots of zeros.
Here’s a recap of the elements of a product roadmap:
- User persona
- User story/features
- Time, and
Three Types of Product Roadmap Approaches
When combined in a visual, easily understood manner, you get a product roadmap.
How do you combine them in a visually, easily understood manner – that is the question.
Like we said, there’s no one template – in fact, there are many formats you can use.
We’ll just show you three of them, starting with what we personally use at Upstack Studio.
This is the one we use at Upstack Studio, and which has served us well over the years.
It displays all features that will be completed in the coming months in a sequential order for the whole team to see.
We can expand on each feature and add details about the benefits it brings to users or clients can leave questions which we can answer right there.
And of course, if priorities change, we rearrange the sequence.
As we follow the Agile approach of continuous iteration, this method of developing a product roadmap is great for timely project reviews and changes (which we guarantee will happen with your project).
Of course, what works for us might not work for you, so here are two more product roadmap approaches to consider, which we’ve based on a guide from Aha.io.
Here, you see lines representing the projected release time for new features or updates.
Where there are overlaps, you see how multiple features are worked on simultaneously.
You also see features leading into another – telling teams that one needs to happen before the other can.
This way of developing a product roadmap is useful if you have different cross-functional teams that need to pass the baton.
Team A needs to know that Team B can’t start work until Team A is done – meaning Team A is less likely to goof off.
This method of developing a product roadmap is perfect if you’re reporting to a board of directors who don’t have the luxury of finding out details about the app (nothing wrong with that),
On the left, we see high-level business or product strategies, and on the right, we see progress bars with specific, actionable goals.
Good if there are high-level decision-makers that just want to know that the main strategic points are being met and will continue to be met.
Bill Gates, if you’re reading, this one’s for you.
Conclusion: Developing a Product Roadmap is Easy in Theory
If only it was just as easy in practice!
Still, it’s a worthy way to spend time.
With no roadmap, output just won’t be as good, as fast, as cohesive, or as cost-effective.
We’re not saying you won’t work hard without a roadmap – but that work means less.
A roadmap tells you the difference between work that drives the project forward.
You wouldn’t build your house without a blueprint.
You wouldn’t enroll in a course without a syllabus.
So why would you go into app development without first developing a product roadmap?
We recommend you head to our comprehensive product roadmap walkthrough for a step-by-step guide for you to create a product roadmap of your own.
If you’d like to take it even further, we’d love to sit down with you and evaluate what you’ve got. It will take up a fair bit of time, though, so clear your schedule for the day. We’ll do our part, you do yours 🙂
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