Chapter 21 Ten (Plus One) Road Maps to Help You Succeed Product Management


  • Looking at the most common road maps product managers use
  • Understanding how to use road maps with internal and external audiences

Product road maps can be a highly effective tool for a product manager . They help to
organize and plan out the future of products, show the team and others how the product
will achieve its vision, and serve as a way to communicate with internal and external
stakeholders. In this chapter , we present the 11 most commonly used road maps for
product managers.

When sharing product road maps both internally at your company and externally
with others, make sure to use the following best practices:

  • Share selectively and carefully .

After people see something on a road map, they’ll consider it to be a plan of record.

  • Never publish or share road maps in PowerPoint format.

Use Adobe PDF format and apply passwords so that others can’t change the road map details. If you share road maps in electronic formats across the company using wikis or other storage software, make sure they are marked confidential so that they won’t be shared outside the company .

  • Always mark your road maps with “Confidential — Do Not Distribute” so that others don’t accidentally send them to someone who shouldn’t see them.
  • Use code names for projects rather than the actual names. That way , if the road map ends up in the wrong hands, your plans will be less obvious.
  • Keep road maps to be used outside your group higher-level and more generic.

Remove many of the finer details from road maps shared with customers, channel
partners, press, analysts, and other groups in your company . For example, you may share a road map that shows the themes for your next three major releases but doesn’t include the actual details about what features those releases include.

  • When you’re creating your road maps — and any plans for your product — make it a highly-collaborative process with your team.Get team members’ feedback and buy-in early so that everyone is on the same page as opposed to creating and presenting a finalized road map that may surprise them.

In this chapter , there are a lot of references to technology . What if you don’t work
in a highly technical industry? No problem. Replace “technology” with “legal” or
“regulation.” The beauty of road maps is that they illustrate change over time for any
product manager .

There are lot of suggested formats in this chapter . If none of them work to tell your
product, technology , or market story , use these ideas as a starting point for
illustrating what you have to say . Have fun!

Theme-Based Product Road Maps

You create this road map by grouping your potential prioritized feature list into themes.
Figure 21-1 shows what an internal theme-based road map looks like. For example, a
theme could be performance, usability , or competitive parity . The beauty of a theme-based product road map is that it makes creating marketing messages and plans for
communicating clearly with customers easier . Without a theme, you may be delivering
customers a bunch of features and then leaving them to decide why they should buy .

FIGURE 21-1: One-year theme-based road map.

Theme-based road maps are useful because they help keep your product from experiencing feature creep, where stakeholders constantly want to add new features. Using themes allows you to decide whether to add a feature based on whether it’s related to the theme.
If it isn’t, you can defer it to a later release. Theme-based road maps can be for just the
next one or two releases over a period of a year or can have much longer time frames
including several years and many releases. These versions are a great way to paint a
longer-term picture of how your product will fulfill its vision over time. Figure 21-2 is a
sample of a theme-based road map over five years.

FIGURE 21-2: Five-year theme-based road map.

Timed Release Product Road Maps

Timed release road maps are based on the concept that new versions of the product will be released on a consistent schedule that doesn’t change. For example, a new product would be released every six months — no matter what. To create this road map, you list your features in priority order for the next release, estimating what can be done in the time frame. If a feature slips and doesn’t make it into this release, it simply goes into the next release. A consistent release cadence like this one works well if your team is doing Agile development and is either releasing after every sprint or combining every few sprints and releasing on a regular schedule. (Chapter 12 has more on sprints.) Have a look at Figures 21-3 and 21-4 to see the difference between a quarterly and yearly timed release road map.

FIGURE 21-3: Quarterly timed release road map.
FIGURE 21-4: Three-year timed release road map.

When deciding on the cadence of a timed release product, take into account the
rate at which your customers can integrate new products into how they work. For
many corporate accounts, the process for accepting new software is slow and
deliberate. They may not want to accept new or revised software any more than once
a year . In the consumer market space, the cadence is much faster . For example,
Facebook updates its app every two weeks. In some instances your software is
released to customers the moment that it’s written and tested. This is called
continuous deployment . Products using continuous deployment or those released
more frequently than once a quarter still benefit from a road map. Product managers
focus on creating themes that are developed over a quarter . You then have a road map
which shows all the features that will have been developed by the end of a particular
quarter . And your customers only get the full benefit of all the changes at the end of
the quarter .

Golden Feature Product Road Maps

Golden feature road maps use a simple concept: Choose one overriding important feature for each release; the product can’t be released until this golden feature is completed, and only very minor other features can be added. This approach can be a good strategy because it provides focus for product development and makes marketing messaging very clear .
Of course, the downside is that stakeholders may become impatient if their pet feature
isn’t on the next release (or on the road map at all). Figure 21-5 is a sample of a golden
feature road map.

FIGURE 21-5: Quarterly and yearly combined golden feature product road map.

Market and Strategy Road Maps

Market and strategy road maps help you paint a picture of what markets you’ll be pursuing and how you’ll do so. They can help you align resources across the company and obtain funding for all the work that needs to be done. Figure 21-6 shows you a sample of a market and strategy road map. You’ll notice that certain rectangles are blank. If no activity takes place in year one, for example, on acquiring a company , then leave it blank.

FIGURE 21-6: Market and strategy road map with sample data.

Visionary Road Maps

Visionary road maps allow for painting a broad-brush view that shows industry trends and how they fit into the long-term vision for your product or products. This type of road map provides few details but links industry trends to your product’s evolution over time to create a picture of where you’re headed. Visionary road maps are great to create before developing a particular product road map because the visionary road map gives the context and reason for particular product choices. Look at Figure 21-7 for an example of a visionary road map. You can see how the future vision is linked to particular industry trends.

FIGURE 21-7: Visionary road map for electric and self -driving vehicles.

Competitive, Market, and Technology
Trends Road Map

This type of road map is helpful to create when developing and communicating your
overall strategy . It provides a holistic view of the forces surrounding your product over the next few years and how your product and strategy fit in so that you win in the marketplace.
Try using the example in Figure 21-8 to create your own high-level context. What you
discover may change what you decide to do next.

FIGURE 21-8: Competitive, market, and technology trends road map.

Technology Road Maps

Technology road maps are useful for capturing what’s happening in the overall world of
technology and linking it to what you’re developing internally . The top part gives you an
idea of what technology your internal team needs to develop for , add to, or build on top of .
Industry technologies are great because they set standards so that your products can
leverage the work that has been done outside. On a side note, large companies have
groups that influence industry standards boards to gain competitive advantages by putting in features that make product development easier for the company doing the lobbying.
Develop a technology road map along with your chief technologists to make sure that you capture all the technological inputs. Figure 21-9 gives an example of a technology road map.

FIGURE 21-9: T echnology road map.

Technology across Products Road Map

This type of road map gives you a quick view about how the company will share
technologies across a variety of products. It gives you a glimpse into what kind of cross-product technology leverage you can create and what each of the products is dependent
The technology across products road map in Figure 21-10 is a great way to coordinate the discussion of technology platforms across a large organization. The signed-off version clarifies to all departments, divisions, and business units what the schedule and
interdependencies are.

FIGURE 21-10: Example of technology across products road map.

Platform Road Maps

Platform road maps like the one in Figure 21-11 are critical when creating a software
platform that other developers will be using to build solutions. Examples of platforms
include Microsoft Windows, Apple MacOS and iOS, Google Android, and others.

FIGURE 21-11: Example of a platform road map.

The world of product management can intersect that of engineering more often
than not. In the platform road map and the technology across products road maps, the
term Codec is used as a way of compressing or reducing data in a smart way so that
performance is increased. Less data moves faster than more data. The terms B1, B2,
and FCS are used to refer to the versions of software as it’s being built. B1 and B2 are
beta versions 1 and 2. FCS stands for first customer ship or the first version of the
software that is good enough for customers to use.

Platform road maps communicate your plans to your customers, press, developers, and
other stakeholders so that they can plan accordingly . They need to know what to expect in terms of the platform releases as well as development tools so that they can plan their activities. See Figure 21-11 for an example. Don’t be surprised to find information from your platform road map on their road maps next time they brief you on their plans.

Matrix Product Road Maps

Matrix product road maps like the one in Figure 21-12 allow you to communicate
information about many products and the corresponding details. They show what will be
released when, the target market, and competitor and technology trends.

FIGURE 21-12: Matrix product road map.

If you’re briefing marketing, or even the entire company , the matrix product road map
allows everyone involved to understand the context of how a set of products comes to
market. Each department is more capable of doing its job when it understands the whole picture of how and when a product is coming to market.

Multiple Product Line Road Maps

When you need to convey what will be released across multiple product lines during a
given time period, this is the type of road map to use (see Figure 21-13 ). Use this road
map to communicate to management and other stakeholders what to expect with a range of products at a high level. In the example, the exact detailed features are not discussed.Managers and executives want to understand when product changes are planned so that they can prepare the rest of the organization for what will happen.

FIGURE 21-13: Multiple product line road map.

Some highlights of this road map are that it can show when too many products are
launching at the same time. A multiple product line road map can also illuminate
interdependencies. If you are counting on a product to be available as part of a multi-product solution and it’s delayed, the organization as a whole needs to make difficult
decisions. For example, delay all the products or give the delayed product more resources.
You can also add the expected revenue value to each of the products to understand the
relative importance of one product versus another .

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