Having an overview on the different lifecycles of a product is the most important thing in view of all the information and various routes that lead to Rome. Roadmaps are an important instrument of communication and control here. It is an essential document that lays out the sequence of all the stages involved in building a product. It is intended to help the team members know where they are going and how things will fit together.

The Purpose of a Product Roadmap

As a product manager or Business Analyst, you often find yourself in the situation of developing a rough picture of the future of your product and communicating this both within your own company and externally (to different players in the market).

A popular approach in product management is to show the way into the future by developing roadmaps. Roadmaps are simple and excellent communication tools, which also allow to connect the product strategy with other strategies and plans and show them in context. Roadmaps are particularly useful when the product or product group is subject to long-term development and the product change has consequences both for the own company and for external target groups (e.g. clients).

Of course, you don’t go into detail when setting up a roadmap, but simply present the main points with which you as a product manager want to generate medium and long-term success. A roadmap is like a road map that shows the different paths (e.g. stages in the further development of the product, phases in technology trends, etc.).

A roadmap should ideally fit on one page. To be successful in roadmapping, you must ensure that the roadmap also contains the corresponding group intelligence. Bringing together the know-how and experience of all stakeholders (e.g. R&D, marketing, production, sales, etc.) is a key success factor in creating the roadmap. Make the stakeholders participants in the roadmapping process!

When setting up a roadmap, you should make sure that the roadmap does not replace all project plans at once. A roadmap is not an alternative to individual project plans, but a visual overall coordination and communication aid at a much higher level. A roadmap is — so to speak — superior to the project plan. The roadmap is no substitute for the project plan!

A Short Explanation of the Distinction Between Roadmap and Project Planning

Project plan overviews are usually defined in the process manuals of the companies. The level of detail here is higher than in the roadmap. The individual stages are shown and described in detail in the project plan overview. The project plan overview forms the basis for developing individual plans for the individual product.

The project plans go even further into detail. Detailed flowcharts and project management tools are used for project planning. Thus, when developing a roadmap, keep to the highest possible level of abstraction and detail!

The most common contents of a roadmap are:

  • Stages, phases or steps in the process or procedure
  • Critical milestones in the process (e.g. product launch date)
  • Short description of the individual elements
  • Time sequence, time frame and points in time (usually shown on a time axis)

You can also include the following elements in your roadmap:

  • Dependencies between individual elements (for example, when introducing new products at the same time).
  • Alternative scenarios (for example, in the process or procedure).
  • Additional detailed descriptions or comments (e.g. specification of additional benefits for product relaunches).

Types of Roadmaps

There are different types of roadmaps. The best-known and most widely used are the product roadmap and the technology roadmap. Each type of roadmap has its own communication objective and is usually aimed at different target groups.

The most important roadmap types are:

  • Product roadmap
  • Technology roadmap
  • Market/strategy roadmap
  • Development roadmap
  • Vision/mission roadmap

Product Roadmaps

Product roadmaps are mainly used to show when product releases are available and which new features or additional product benefits will be added. If you use the product roadmap to manage development priorities within your own company, for example, or to use it as a communication basis for management and the departments to obtain the necessary resources, this is referred to as an internal roadmap. External roadmaps are used for communication with customers and other external target groups. You should always create external roadmaps based on the internal roadmap but leave out information and data that is not of interest to external target groups or not meant for the public. In most cases, you will also be more generous with regard to time and date specifications. The external product roadmap (sometimes also called PR roadmap because of its publicity effect) is therefore part of the sales manual or other sales documents.

Technology Roadmap

This type of roadmap shows which technological trends and developments exist in the sector or industry and in which periods of time these topics are likely to manifest themselves and thus gain relevance for the product market. As a product manager, you can then simply compare your products and product releases to show how you take into account the “time-to-market” issue. You can also make technology leaps or possible technology substitutions more clearly visible with the technology roadmap.

Market/strategy Roadmap

You use a market/strategy roadmap to show which markets you want to enter with your product and when. With this roadmap, you can clearly present the medium and long-term market strategy in the product market and thus also ideally support sales management. Common contents of this type of roadmap are:

  • Countries, regions (or other geographical breakdowns)
  • Market segments, industries, sectors
  • Customer types (e.g. A, B or C customers)
  • Adopter groups
  • Applications, areas of use
  • Communication focus (e.g. image, product and awareness advertising)
  • Distribution channels

The market/strategy roadmap is also used by product managers to visualize and communicate communication measures during the introduction phase of a new product to the market.

Example:

External Use of the Brand/Strategy Roadmap in the Consumer Goods Sector

When launching a new product in the consumer goods sector, retailers were convinced primarily by the planned communication measures in the launch phase and by the expected pull effect. For this purpose, the product manager created a market/strategy roadmap and convinced the sales department to present it together with the product as a focus during customer meetings. Initially, the sales department was somewhat skeptical about this approach. The product manager achieved the demonstration of effectiveness by accompanying the sales department to four selected customers and by conducting the roadmap presentation at the customer meeting. The strong focus on prices and conditions at retail, along with the presentation of the product benefits and the roadmap, were clearly and effectively put into perspective and a strong negotiating position was built up with the customer.

Development Roadmap

Product development roadmaps are used in both product management and development. They are used in development project management especially for projects that cover a somewhat longer time horizon and have a high degree of complexity and detail. The roadmap is used to divide the project into coarser milestones and thus ensure a complete overview.

Vision/Mission Roadmap

Vision/mission roadmaps show the big picture of general market and industry trends. The product manager picks up such trends and developments and shows how his product fits into this picture and what advantages result from it. Common trends and developments used in vision/mission roadmaps are

  • Economic trends
  • Social and cultural trends
  • Demographic trends
  • Social and cultural trends

Example: Use of a Vision/Mission Roadmap in the Consumer Goods Sector

A product manager was again able to inspire his business unit manager with enthusiasm for his product group “home sauna” by compiling specific market trends and presenting the probability of occurrence in a roadmap. Especially the trend towards cocooning played a dominant role here. The trend researchers describe cocooning as a tendency to withdraw more and more from public life into the private sphere of the home. Cocooning describes the return to one’s own four walls. Translated to the product home sauna, this means that sauna users no longer use the public sauna or the sauna club but prefer the home sauna in their own house. The established sales channels (e.g. DIY and plumbers) were also motivated by this approach to attract more attention to this product group again.

Target Groups for Roadmaps (Internal/External Roadmaps)

The roadmaps you use are part of your communication. Different target groups expect specific information. Management, for example, expects you to provide information on the future development of the product portfolio in order to be able to assess the development of the business, the need for resources and the necessary need for action from a perspective. Roadmaps are therefore not only an important communication tool but also a component of strategic planning. This also defines the time horizon of a roadmap of up to five years. If the management removes the product manager’s roadmap, there is usually also good backing for its implementation. The roadmaps also provide the specialist departments (e.g. marketing, R&D, technology management, sales, etc.) with important information on their own resource and implementation planning.

Target groups for roadmaps can also be external to the company. Examples of external target groups are:

  • Existing/new customers
  • Trade/trading partners
  • System manufacturers
  • Integrators
  • Consultants/industry experts
  • Processors
  • etc.

Roadmaps, for example, allow customers to assess the future and investment security of your product. They can thus show the prospects of the product and support the long-term commitment. From your roadmap, however, customers can also estimate what they cannot expect at a certain point in time.

Roadmaps give the clients confidence and security!

Legal Validity of Roadmaps

With the roadmap, the product manager communicates a declaration of intent for both internal and external target groups.

Roadmaps not only create transparency but also commitment!

The legally binding nature of the publication of roadmaps to external target groups must be viewed critically. Although publication is an important part of market and client communication, it also raises expectations of fulfilment.

As a product manager, you have two possibilities to defuse these expectations:

  • Through the accuracy of information in the roadmap
  • By marking the non-binding nature of a roadmap

You have leeway for the binding nature of a roadmap when specifying deadlines. In many cases, bi-annually or quarterly disclosures are quite sufficient. In the B2B area, however, you have far fewer options here than in the B2C area.

B2B clients are also far more demanding when it comes to the accuracy of information regarding the scope of functions, product benefits, areas of application, compatibility, etc. If individual clients expect more information with a higher level of detail, you can also request the signing of an NDA (non-disclosure agreement).

However, you can also clearly ensure the non-binding nature of roadmaps by making appropriate comments in the roadmap document.

There are of course product managers who do not publish roadmaps.

Frequently mentioned reasons for not publishing roadmaps are:

  • The competition should not be alarmed
  • The transfer of know-how should be avoided
  • A moment of surprise should be built up in the market
  • The sales department should not sell products too early (e.g. in case of customer inquiries)
  • Internal and external pressure should not be built up
  • Uncertainty regarding the binding nature of the roadmap contents

Hybrid Roadmaps

You can also combine different roadmap types to get a comprehensive overall picture. These are called hybrid roadmaps.

The trend in road mapping is clearly towards hybrid roadmaps. To create a hybrid roadmap, you simply combine different types of roadmaps. For example, you can combine a product roadmap with a market and technology roadmap. Possible dependencies and interrelationships between products, technologies and markets can be clearly displayed here. In addition, the individual target groups receive a complete overview of all relevant topics. This also supports the task of cross-functional coordination of product managers.