Product Roadmaps: Your Guide To Why and How To Use Them

by Teagan Harbridge, Head of Product

26 Dec 2020

We often get questions about why product roadmaps are considered an agile tool. To some, it seems quite “un-agile” to set concrete dates for a long list of tasks you will likely never get done.

That assumption couldn’t be more wrong. It presumes that a product roadmap is an old, overdone practice more akin to Waterfall predecessors like the *cough*Gantt Chart *cough*. This is not the case. Gantt Charts are for task dependency, and they assume that work will be completed in a linear fashion.

On the other hand, a true product roadmap is completely subject to change. It’s a living document meant to serve as a guide. The roadmap shows what a team needs to accomplish to create specific features or otherwise complete tasks that will provide the most value to customers in a certain timeframe.

This flexibility allows product development teams to make the most informed choices. To help teams do this, we built the simplest and most flexible roadmapping tool for Jira (more on this later). Here, you’ll learn about the benefits of using product roadmaps, the guiding principles of the roadmapping process, and how to use roadmapping tools effectively.

What is an agile product roadmap?

Agile is a broad term for a non-linear way of working that prioritizes flexibility and collaboration. This working style helps teams iterate as they go rather than stick to a rigid plan that doesn’t adapt to new information.

Think of agile as the complete opposite of an assembly line process for making a product. An assembly line has a strict plan where one step happens after the next. Each piece falls into place one after another without extra input or iteration.

How Its Made GIF By HuffPost

🖍 Great for an assembly line of Crayola products, not so great for software development. 📱

Rather than use the assembly line approach, agile teams work collaboratively and iteratively on new products in order to detect roadblocks early, before they can cause a delay. And, Product teams use agile tools to provide clients and stakeholders value on a consistent basis.

Basically, agile product roadmaps are key to producing a great product.

They provide a smooth and collaborative planning process for development teams while maintaining the strategic objectives and product vision stakeholders expect. On top of all that, the flexibility provided by agile product roadmapping delights customers by consistently meeting their evolving needs, whims, and desires.

The benefits of roadmapping for product management

There are many benefits of roadmapping for everyone involved. Roadmapping assists product managers, helps the development team collaborate, gives stakeholders a clear view of the process, and ensures customers are continually pleased with product features and functionality.

Effective roadmap tools can provide the following benefits:

  • Enable teams to align their vision around product features
  • Provide a clear visual of the most critical prioritizations
  • Ensure short-term product goals are met as soon as possible while monitoring and adjusting long-term goals
  • Align all team members on what’s most important at any given time
  • Keep track of specific product launch and release dates
  • Maintain the product vision and business goals
  • Ensure all stakeholders can view and give feedback on the current product plan
  • Ship a product and solve issues relatively quickly
  • Bring constant value to stakeholders and customers

For most teams, it’s truly the beating heart of product development.

4 guiding principles to get the most out of your product roadmaps

We’re obsessed with roadmapping and the many agile strategies that help teams work more effectively. So, we pulled together a list of the most important guiding principles that will ensure your agile team gets the most out of your product roadmap.

1. Focus on themes of work, not features

In the simplest form, themes represent high-level groups of work (like epics). In an agile product roadmap, themes should be customer-focused, unlike traditional waterfall roadmaps where themes tend to focus on business objectives.

Examples of themes include:

  • Customer onboarding experience
  • Reducing tech debt
  • Customer satisfaction and engagement

By grouping work into themes, teams are able to tell a story about where they are headed as well as the goals, objectives, and outcomes that will get them there. User stories provide high-level visualization so that teams can answer critical questions:

  • What are we doing?
  • Why are we doing it?
  • How does it link back to our Objectives and Key Results (OKRs)?

2. Think of the roadmap as a living document

Product managers need to educate their stakeholders on the true purpose of the product roadmap to manage expectations and ensure everyone is on the same page.

A product roadmap is not a promise. It’s a living document that’s meant to serve as a flexible guide.

You need to teach all stakeholders that the roadmap represents chunks of work, such as new features, functionality, and metrics customers value most at a specific period of time. It’s inevitable and expected that customer needs and preferences will change. The roadmap should be adjusted and amended to reflect these changes as time goes by.

The agile product development process should change to maximize the value customers experience. This is what it’s all about!

3. Actively collaborate with stakeholders

Involve everyone in the process, including internal stakeholders, external stakeholders, and the full development team when planning, reviewing, or adjusting the roadmap.

The product manager doesn’t need to be the only one representing the customer’s voice. By gaining the perspective of developers, the sales team, customer support, and engineers, you get a holistic view of the customer experience. This will give you a clear view of what your customers value to determine what should be done when.

4. Ensure the roadmap is accessible to all stakeholders

The product roadmap should be the team’s single source of truth, representing the plan of execution against the company's Objectives and Key Results (OKRs).

Understanding what’s going on and why each person is doing what they’re doing is crucial to establishing transparency and confidence in your team.

The roadmap represents the team’s overall vision for a period of time. Ensuring the roadmap is accessible to all stakeholders achieves organizational alignment.

Product strategy with Easy Agile roadmaps for Jira

We teased above that we’d tell you more about Easy Agile Roadmaps. We designed the simplest and most flexible roadmapping tool for Jira. Our roadmap software helps teams align around a product vision to sequence the most critical features for customer delivery.

Easy Agile Roadmaps are designed for everyone involved in the product development process from the product manager to the dev team to key stakeholders and customers. It works seamlessly with both Scrum and Kanban Jira Software boards. And, of course, it’s completely agile. Like, Simone Biles flexible.

Say goodbye to clunky Excel sheets, one-off Powerpoint presentations, and static Gantt Charts. Easy Agile Roadmaps can create a visual roadmap timeline that’s flexible, iterative, and easy to use. Split scheduled work, add date markers, use Quick Filters, track your progress, and export the roadmap as needed. The tool uses a simple drag-and-drop functionality for a clean user experience, no matter the needs of your team.

We’re so sure you’ll love it, you can try it free for 30 days. If you have any questions, our team is ready and waiting to hear from you, or watch an on-demand demo of our roadmapping app in action.

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