🛣 An Actionable Guide to Product Roadmaps (with templates)

A step-by-step process I use to create a clear roadmap with my team.

After creating a vision, mission and strategy, it's time to think about how and when your team will execute this vision. Enter the product roadmap. This living document is a list of projects, experiments and research your team will undertake to achieve its goals over a certain time period.

Your product roadmap builds on the themes developed in your strategy but goes more granular. For example, if part of your strategy is to grow UberEats in Dallas by onboarding more restaurants, your roadmap may include tactics to make the UI more understandable, in-app resources for this cohort and incentives for newly onboarded restaurants.

Importantly, a roadmap is the outcome of a process called roadmapping. While the final roadmap matters, the process is much more important to get right.

I'm currently in the process of roadmapping with my team. I want to share the process we're taking to create this roadmap and some templates you can use to do the same.

Here are two templates that I’ll reference below:

Why roadmap?

  1. Creates buy-in: a major benefit of roadmapping is getting your extended team aligned and excited about the team’s charter. Done right, roadmapping creates a sense of ownership within the team and empowers individuals to make important decisions for their team.

  2. Makes strategy concrete: strategies can be fluffy and hard to understand. By backing strategy with well-defined projects, you’ll know how well you can execute on your strategy.

  3. Find the most impactful work: spending time identifying the highest impact project is time very well spent. Compare potential projects based on how they will move your goals.

How I create roadmaps

A roadmap is the result of “roadmapping.” This is a multi-week effort that focuses your team on a handful of themes, collects potential work projects and prioritizes these against explicit criteria. On my current team, we’re roadmapping over six-weeks at the end of Q2 and Q4. We take six weeks to find the most impactful work for the next six months.

Here is our timeline:

  • Week 1: Socialize Your Charter

  • Week 2: Understand Share-outs

  • Week 3: Ideation

  • Week 4: Longlist to Shortlist

  • Week 5: Prioritisation and Goals

  • Week 6: Consolidate and Review

Let's break these down.

Week 1: Socialize Your Charter

Start at the charter of your team. This is a document that you've created ahead of time that outlines the team's mission, the problems you are aiming to solve, why those problems matter and high-level themes for how you'd like to solve them.

Speak to every team member (ideally 1-1) and discuss the charter with them. Get their thoughts, add their input into the doc and make sure they are aligned.

From here, share the charter with your leadership team, partner teams that you work closely with and any other relevant stakeholder. This will help ensure all parties know what your team will focus on for the next six months.

Week 2: Understand Share-outs

PMs need to create a shared understanding of the your problem space, users and product experience. One great way to do this is by setting up share-outs within your organization.

Share-outs are presentations from members of your team where they present findings, knowledge or opportunities related to your product. Ask your team members (ideally a few weeks ahead of the presentation date) if they would like to share insights from their work. This is a great opportunity for them to highlight their work, practice presentation skills and develop a sense of ownership of their area.

Here are some examples of good shareouts (for a hypothetical e-commerce product):

  1. The End-to-End checkout flow - led by team designer

  2. Understanding our growth funnel - led by team data scientist

  3. How developers build on our platform - led by an engineering tech lead

Week 3: Ideation

Ideation is a way of generating ideas. The goal is to think of as many ideas as possible — not to find great projects right away. Two ways to do this are 1) brainstorms, 2) asynchronous idea-collection.

Brainstorms are sessions where one person (often the PM) thinks of prompts that encourage people to think of solutions. These are often phrased as, "How might we do X?". Carve out time in your schedule for these sessions.

In our current remote world, asynchronous idea-collection also works well. Set up a Slack channel, a Google Doc or anything else that can collect ideas. Encourage people to share their ideas with a brief description in this group. It’s the PM’s role to encourage people to share and lead by example.

This should help you generate a long list of potential projects. Start to organize them by themes.

Week 4: Longlist to Shortlist

What do you do with a long list of shallow ideas? Try a process called shortlisting. Here's how it works:

  1. Get everyone into a room (or video call) and open a spreadsheet with all of the ideas for a given theme and the person who submitted that idea.

  2. Go through the list. Give idea submitters 1-2 minutes to explain the project, why you should work on it, and its perceived effort (T-shirt sizes work well here, i.e. S, M, L, XL).

  3. Do this for all the ideas. Be sure to keep time to keep the session flowing.

  4. Once ideas have all been shared, describe the criteria that define a good project — in my mind, that is high impact and alignment with our strategy. Give people a set number of votes (we use 10) to vote on the ideas that they think are most worthwhile by the criteria that have been defined. Give them 3-5 minutes to vote silently.

  5. Choose the top X projects (depending on the team size and the number of ideas). These ideas appear to be the most promising and warrant a deeper dive.

  6. Nominate an investigator (often the people who submitted the winning ideas) to spend a few hours investigating the feasibility, challenges and opportunity size of the project.

This process helps you take a long list of ideas into a shorter one where team members are empowered to drive an exploration of their proposed idea.

Week 5: Prioritization and Goals

After investigations, you’ll have more details on your shortlist of ideas and prioritization becomes much easier. Approach prioritisation in a few ways:

  1. Support the investigator with opportunity sizing, understanding dependencies and understanding risks. Encourage teammates to ask for help and help each other at this phase (ex. the team data scientist may be most helpful with opportunity sizing).

  2. Create and share an explicit prioritization framework with your team. This will reinforce the criteria of a “good project” and show objectivity in the final list of projects.

  3. Fit all the projects into that prioritization framework. Objectively take the top ones and add those into your roadmap.

From here, you should have a table that looks a little like this:

Week 6: Consolidate and Review

Projects are not the only thing in a roadmap. They also require a narrative that tie the mission, strategy and roadmap items together. The PM leads this and should aim to answer questions like:

  1. How does this roadmap align with the companies larger projects?

  2. Why are you choosing these themes over others?

  3. What are the risks and dependencies of this roadmap?

  4. Is your goal ambitious enough?

The PM should drive clarity here by reviewing the roadmap with all relevant stakeholders. This may involve a leadership review, but I also encourage you to do 1-1s with key stakeholders.

Here are the templates again that can help drive this leg of roadmapping:

Conclusion

By the end of roadmapping, you should have

  1. A roadmap that prioritizes the highest impact projects

  2. A team that is aligned, bought-in and feels ownership over the strategy

  3. Alignment with leadership, partner teams and relevant stakeholders

  4. Goals that can define if you've been successful.

Give this a shot next time you need to build a roadmap. I hope this helps!

Summary

Build a roadmap to align a broad team on the tactical path forward. Creating a roadmap involves the process of roadmapping. For my current team, this is a 6-week process to collect ideas, prioritize and align a team. Try the six-week scheduled I shared, and be sure to use the templates above.

  • Roadmaps create accountability, goals and buy-in (upwards and downwards).

  • Create ownership within your team by socializing the strategy and asking for shareouts from individuals

  • Guide prioritization with shortlists and explicit decision making criteria

  • Consolidate the plan into an understandable narrative


🖼 Internet Things I’m Enjoying

💰 Building Products at Stripe by Ken Norton: A fascinating look into how Stripe build products differently than other companies.

🍿 A Brief History of Netflix Personalization by Gibson Biddle: An under-the-hood look into the product decisions and tradeoffs Netflix made around personalization.

🔥Build a matching dating app like Tinder in Glide by Seth Kramer: A sweet tutorial I checked out this weekend on building a No-Code Tinder clone.


Thanks for reading! If you like what you read, subscribe for weekly ideas on product management, careers and personal growth:

See you next week,

Will

P.S. if you’re enjoying Product Life, share it with some friends or drop a like by clicking the buttons below ⤵️