What is a product roadmap?

A product roadmap is a visible plan for the future.

There’s no one type of plan. There are different sorts that will be of interest and use to different people.

If you’re using the agile product delivery framework, Scrum, the sprint backlog is a plan for the immediate sprint. Most teams will have a product backlog, which is a prioritised wish-list of ideas that need to be taken on a journey from concept to reality.

Quite often, work items at the bottom of this list, even as much as the entire bottom half of the list, may never even get further than the idea or request stage – almost like a bucket of things that have simply been captured. As a result of this, the product backlog can give the impression it has just become a dumping ground.

The business should want a clear idea of what will be delivered in the future and the living product backlog might not be the most useful way to show them. A product roadmap can often help bring some context, by chunking things up in to more logical pieces. Often presented as a quarterly plan, there is then an outline of what may be done by the team in the coming year, based on the backlog but presented at a more consumable level.

Thinking of which main features are likely to be done in the next four quarters means that the information can be relayed in a simple feature-centric way.

For example: Q1 may deliver social media functionality and two stage-authentication. Q2 may bring a new payment-processing system, Q3 may bring a mobile payment optimisation, etc. This way the business can be assured there is a plan, and the team don’t have to go right the way through the entire backlog in order to justify what it is they are planning to do week by week.

Product roadmap top tips

It’s worth remembering a few things. Firstly, the roadmap is rolling. Every quarter will herald the need to review it and add a new quarter to the end of it. Secondly, no-one knows the future, so clearly communicating that the furthest quarter away is the most uncertain is essential. Also, it’s a tool for transparency, so make it visible.

The roadmap is a close cousin of the backlog, so make sure they reflect each other. If the roadmap is different from the backlog, you’ll be communicating the wrong information and setting incorrect expectations – and eventually someone will call that in to question.

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