The Product Roadmap as a Driver for Innovation and Engagement

The Product Roadmap as a Driver for Innovation and Engagement

roadmap close up

A product roadmap links organization strategy to tactical actions. It drives us where we are going, asks us why we are going there and reminds us of what questions we are trying to answer, all within a specified timeframe. According to Mike Cohn, "a product is something (physical or not) created through a process that provides benefits to a market.” In this post, I’ll give you a quick and pragmatic view of how to build a product roadmap and what to avoid in the process.

Translate Business Goals Into Concrete Actions

You can use the Business Model Canvas, which captures your organization’s market and business model assumptions in order to state and validate your ideas. With this tool in hand, you will have three of the most important answers that drives the creation of the product roadmap:

  • Who are the personas, markets and market segments that you are aiming to target?
  • What is the proposed value and solution in terms of capabilities to deliver?
  • What are the business value and key metrics we are going to address?
  • When should we expect to deliver to our customers? How often?

Focus on Features and Business Value, Not Timelines

A product roadmap is not a project chart/Gantt chart, thus there is no need to depict it as many deliverables and tasks representing a detailed schedule and exact dates. It’s well known that it affects the creative imagination and it can easily lead to a “do what I told you to do in following the plan” mindset. As product owners, know that planning something in advance is not feasible, because our work depends on constant feedback, learning and adaptation. In other words, KISS (keep it simple, stupid!).

release timeline

Get All Involved and Buy-In

A product roadmap cannot be built by just one person, including the product owner. The inputs should come from engineering, marketing, operations, security, risk, sales and so on. All are invited to contribute and generate ideas. Without buy-in, it would be extremely challenging to execute and deliver, especially in medium to large companies.

A roadmap is broken down from strategic opportunities to distill a problem or purpose to a tactical level, where it can be finally materialized. It acts as a glue between strategy and tactics, and it also clearly communicates what is being delivered and is updated very often. Essentially, it is a live product communication that maps to all stakeholders.

roadmap contributors

A Release Plan is Tactical, While a Roadmap is Strategical

A product roadmap is not a release plan: The former is linked to the strategy (longer term), while the latter is linked to the tactics (shorter term). A release plan can contain several releases, with each one divided into a few sprints, covering the next 3 to 6 months. A product roadmap, on the other hand, generally covers one year. A release plan consists of user stories and product backlog items, while the roadmap incorporates high-level features, goals and product capabilities. 

release plan

Imagine With a Different Perspective

What’s the real definition of innovation? A new idea, method or equipment--something fresh. But, is that all? Is it just about creativity and invention? The answer, in short, is no. In fact, it can also introduce something new to an existing product or method. Innovation creates value for people.

For instance, the first computer was an invention, the first laptop either an invention or an innovation and the first touchscreen computer an innovation. In technological terms, the real value of applying innovation is to solve a problem to serve a group of people. If you want to attract a large amount of people to use your product, you will need an open mindset consisting of multiple different cultures.

So, what does this mean? A good product roadmap is one that gathers the best and most innovative ideas that fit to the company strategy. For inspiration, check out the photo below, where Slack invites people to collaborate with the product development platform.

slack collaboration

Never Set in Stone

A product roadmap in agile is often revisited and updated, not only because it relies on user inputs and experimentation, but also because it can change as the market evolves. To start, you can open the product roadmap in three simple columns to gather insights from a group of people of different areas of expertise.

areas of expertise

Pragmatic Roadmap Adds Benefits

Product roadmaps come with plenty of advantages. They:

  • Engage people to collaborate and think creatively and differently.
  • Connect to stakeholders and influence them to make the product successful.
  • Align the expectations of shareholders, sponsors and high-level executives.
  • Cultivate a melting pot of cultures, races, genres and people for a combined and common value of experience.
  • Communicate and set a purpose for the upcoming months.
  • Help to plan the team size required for the product, as well as assist the coordination with the other teams that might be a dependency.
  • Support budget planning and forecasting along with ROI, if possible.
  • Drive prioritization efforts.

template product roadmap

Do you agree with my assessment of the value of product roadmaps, or have any tips for ensuring their success? Let me know in the comments section below.


Paulo Rebelo helps companies to improve using agile and lean principles and methods like Scrum, XP and Kanban. He currently works at Blackhawk Network in the U.S.

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