6 Things Product Managers Should Do Before Building a Roadmap

The product roadmap is one of the most essential documents your company creates. It shows what your product aims to achieve, how it will fulfill important goals, and how your product will impact the larger organization.

The product roadmap is essentially your ultimate guide to how your company will deliver new products and features. But if you have never built one before, how do you actually create your first product roadmap?

This process will be challenging. But it does not have to be painful. And if it was easy, everyone would be a product manager. You can set your company and your product up for success by following some of these proven steps first:

Understand your company’s strategy There is a crucial — often ignored — first step before you start scoping new products and features for your team to build. You need to start by figuring out why you must come up with new products and features in the first place. What purpose will they serve? How will your business benefit from them? You can’t answer these questions without true understanding of what your company aims to achieve. To do so, make sure that you understand the latest company strategy. And if you do not (or it is not clear) arrange a meeting with your boss (or anybody else on the management team who can articulate this for you) and make sure it is clear and you know where the business is headed.

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The answer shouldn’t be product-specific. Instead, you need to understand this answer on a higher, more strategic level. For instance, perhaps one of the company’s three goals is to have a certain number of users and revenue. Another goal might be for your company to graduate from small and mid-sized customers to enterprise-level customers.

If you’re a CEO in a very small company who is responsible for building out your product roadmap, then remember that strategy starts with you. If you’re unable to fully articulate your company’s strategy, it won’t matter how detailed or grand your product roadmap is. It won’t have any clear direction built within it.

Align your company strategy with your product strategy So, now you have a clear sense of the company strategy. This still isn’t time to start dreaming up new products. First, you must do more heavy lifting to set the proper foundation. And this is where your product strategy comes in. Some product managers find it most helpful to define their product strategies in one specific statement. I find it more constructive to come up with several prioritized “themes.” These overarching themes will serve as guardrails for you to focus your team’s development efforts. When someone proposes a new idea or questions how to prioritize features, these themes can guide you all to the right answers.

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In the past, I helped create a product roadmap for a company that produced fitness trackers. One example of one of our product themes was, “Inspire the 80% of inactive people.”

This theme was influenced by research which showed that 80% of our target market was mostly inactive and sedentary. Many fitness trackers — aka our product competitors — focused on features for the 20% of motivated, healthy, active people. We were more interested in serving this sedentary segment.

So, we strategically opted not to pack our devices with as many features as possible that we knew these users would not be interested in. Instead, we kept costs down and focused only on features that would not be so intimidating, yet would inspire users into action. This product theme helped us fulfill our product and company strategies in tandem.

Receive buy-in from your colleagues, stakeholders, and customers Once you’ve come up with your most critical product themes, it’s important to get feedback from stakeholders for your product. This includes your management team, employees, and even your customers. If your company is large, you can consider compiling a group that represents a cross-section of your overall business.

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