#Guides | 20 min read | Updated: 11/24/2021

Creating Product Roadmaps: 2021 Best Practices and Pro Tips

Updated: 11/24/2021
, Senior Project Manager
#Guides
20 min read

In 2021 the main reason for the failure of startups, over 38% of businesses, was running out of funds. Nowadays companies know how to build a product roadmap that can create a smooth management process and excel at future fundraising endeavors.   

Startups need a product roadmap strategy that shows how their product will be developed. However, before we get into that, we will explain in more detail why startups need the product roadmaps and how to start them correctly.

What Is a Product Roadmap?

A product roadmap is a shared visual guide that leads the product work level plan with a description of

  • product vision
  • strategy
  • possible plan risks
  • priorities and progress

It’s a helpful step-by-step guide for startup product management and stakeholders.

An ideal product roadmap plan should include: 

  • product strategy
  • goals and metrics
  • features and product hypotheses
  • technology stack 
  • level deadline and milestones
  • results after each phase

A product roadmap guide often looks like a mind map for stakeholders. But it’s used for strategic planning and carrying out the startup’s business mission.

Who Needs a Product Roadmap?

Creating a product roadmap plan is beneficial for startup businesses and all involved in its level work. Roadmaps should contain vital information for everyone involved in the management process such as:

Software Developers

A product roadmap helps align business goals with technology solutions. Developers get a guided roadmap plan with level deadlines and milestones as well as a way to think about dependent tasks and understand possible risks.

Top Management

Top managers and stakeholders need to understand whether the product roadmap is compatible with the company’s goals. Also, top managers can present a product roadmap to investors to get funding. 

Project Managers

Project managers can simplify communication between the developers and the clients. They also schedule:

  • experts’ tasks based on time and milestones
  • check level statuses as they work throughout the entire customer project

Why is Roadmapping so Important?

Product roadmaps are extremely important for startups.

Without a clear and comprehensive product roadmap, the startup’s teams may interpret the product roadmap and vision differently. 

Different product visions may lead to your teams not being able to work cohesively on the implementation of the product roadmaps. It will take the project in different roadmap directions. Thus, this miscommunication can cause a product to crash. It also slows down its roadmap progress towards the desired roadmap goal for stakeholders.

Product roadmap software combined with analytics tools is the first resource product companies spend their budget on in 2021. Based on product management reports, this source takes up more than 30% of all product management budgets. 

Over the last five years, there was a noticeable increase in different types of product roadmap tools. This activity is likely going to continue at least until the end of 2028.

How to make a product roadmap: Roadmap software and tool guide usage

Source: Secondary Roadmap Research, Primary Interviews, Friar Markets Analysis

Despite the active growth dynamics of the product roadmap tool, about 20% of project managers still suffer from a lack of digital roadmap resources.

How to Create a Unique Format for Your Product Roadmap

Since a roadmap wireframe is a template, a startup business can develop its own unique roadmap. It will include:

  • creating a product strategy
  • product features with their descriptions
  • level deadlines to a release
  • product roadmap solution unique to the company

However, to develop a one-of-a-kind product roadmap, let’s determine the main types of roadmap templates available on the market. As a rule, all roadmap templates have a free trial period to use.

Brian Lawley, the CEO and Founder of 280 Group, and author of five best-selling product management books, gives the 4 most common classifications of product roadmaps:

Portfolio Roadmap

How to make a product roadmap: Roadmunk is one of guide templates

Roadmap templates: Roadmunk

A portfolio management roadmap guide visualizes when products are planned to be released, and scaled.

This product roadmap usually unites several company products together in one comprehensive branched table. Such type of product roadmap guide templates set out roadmaps that the building teams and the product managers have chosen vision for the company’s future direction. 

Strategy Roadmap

How to use a strategy roadmap: Aha! is one of guide templates

Strategic roadmap templates: Aha!

A strategy management roadmap guide describes the steps that the team needs to take to achieve the startup’s business goals and objectives.

As a rule, a strategic product roadmap includes:

  • company’s strategic vision
  • roadmap values and goals
  • product roadmap ideas in templates
  • potential roadmap obstacles, and ways to solve them

Without a strategic product roadmap guide, it would be difficult for the internal teams to:

  • make key decisions
  • take on risks without understanding how the situation might develop due to inaction or downtime

Release Roadmap

How to create release roadmap: Aha! is one of guide templates

Release roadmap templates: Aha!

A release product roadmap guide, sometimes called a release management plan, visualizes the main work level stages before the product’s release.

This product roadmap is important for communication with startup participants about their areas of responsibility and expected results.

A release product roadmap plan is a great roadmap tool that allows developers, marketers, customer support, and other internal experts to successfully work together to release a startup product on time.

Features Roadmap

How to make a product feature roadmap: Jira is one of guide templates

Features roadmap templates: Jira

A roadmap guide of features is a guide with a timeline that shows all the product roadmap features along with their implementation timing.

This type of templates helps clarify for the startup members, investors, and customers what to expect from future updates and what features will be added. 

Product features roadmaps are often tailored to meet customer needs, as they are one of the main priorities when creating a startup.

Before You Start: How to Plan What Goes Into the Roadmap

Before creating a startup, it is vital to determine how to build a product roadmap that will set up the best plan for companies. When starting to implement a product roadmap, Sloboda Studio advises paying attention to the goal of the startup, the life-affirming heart of the future product.

Defining Your Product Vision

First of all, business owners need to have a clear vision of product management. This helps to show the potential customers as well as the teams, why, and for what purpose the product is being created. For a startup, the product will be vital in helping customers solve some significant problems.

startups roadmap progress

As practice shows, about 36% of startup failures are due to the changing goals of the product, as well as the absence of one core goal for creating the product roadmaps and their vision. Therefore, before investing money in an idea level, be sure that you confirm its roadmap vision validity beforehand.

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top reasons why startups and their roadmaps fail

Source: Failory, CBinInsights, Startup devKit

Identifying Your Target Audience

For each business, it is vital to determine who the target customer is and what they need. Ideally, companies need this type of crucial data about their future users: 

  • customer’s age
  • industry
  • hobbies and free time activities
  • pain points
  • what’s important for them, etc.

Having learned everything about their potential customer, businesses need to create a portrait of a future customer. Focusing on the customer portrait, the next stage will be defining the product roadmap goals and deadlines for their implementation.

Generating a Goal for a Specific Time Period

If companies want to succeed, generating goals for a specific time period is a necessary part of the vision process so that the tech team can meet roadmap deadlines and reach milestones smoothly. If the business doesn’t have deadlines, this might result in an overstated process and the roadmap plan will be violated.

Creating a targeted plan for a specific period is crucial when creating a product roadmap vision. If companies follow a roadmap vision, chances are higher that they will be able to overtake competitors and get into the market first.

Determining Problems to be Solved

When creating a new product, it is important to calculate in advance any possible risks and ways to solve them. 

Determining as many potential management tricks as possible early on will help to set up a smooth work prepared for future challenges and will help to avoid vision stalling.

Aligning Goals with Your Internal Team and Stakeholders

Once companies have decided on the product goals, it is necessary to coordinate them with the internal staff, stakeholders, and investors. Since investors are directly interested in creating a quality features product, the goal of the product roadmap strategy should also coincide with the expectations of the stakeholders.

It is particularly crucial that the startup product meets the expectations of all the roadmap parties involved and does not produce any conflict due to an incompatible vision of the product.

Prioritizing the Steps of Your Product Strategy

Prioritization is an essential point to consider before creating a product roadmap. Сompanies claimed that a lack of prioritization was the biggest struggle faced by organizations of various sizes.

how to make a product roadmap: Prioritization for startup businesses and their roadmaps

Source: Product Roadmap Plan Survey 2021

Prioritization of the production strategy starts by defining the main elements that will be reflected on the product roadmap:

  • functionality and level deadlines in templates
  • roles of each expert included in the process
  • critical situations in the process and ways out of them

Once you have listed the main elements in templates, you need to move on to multi-level vertices and specific product roadmap functions. However, there is no need to overload a product roadmap vision with a detailed presentation of every single task.

If startups have any problems with evaluating or prioritizing product roadmap tasks, the best solution is to utilize a weighted startup formula that will help calculate the appropriate priority assigned to each product roadmap task. 

But first, companies need to understand what goes into the task priority formula. The priority assigned to the task depends on its size and the cost of the delay.

Task Priority Formula for Roadmap

Source: ScaledAgileFramework, Issart

The size of the task refers to its technical complexity and the amount of time it takes to complete.

The cost of the delay should be based on:

  • Importance of the launch
  • Time to market
  • Possible risks and ways of overcoming them
How to use a product roadmap: Formula of Delay Cost

Source: CleverRoad, ScaledAgileFramework

Companies can also use automated tools, for example, Porter’s Five Forces or the SWOT analysis to determine which goals should be the team’s main focus.

When choosing a tool based on analytics, we advise focusing on:

  • your team’s capabilities
  • personal preferences
  • level of knowledge

Staying Flexible 

The main challenge of being successful in the market is staying flexible.

A company will flourish if the people involved in its work and promotion are flexible and adaptive to modern marketing and technology trends. For example, the market situation can change dramatically over a short time in one direction or another, your product must be always ready for this.

How to Build a Product Roadmap in 7 Steps

Startups sometimes refuse to create a roadmap for their product because it seems to them that it takes a lot of time. But Sloboda Studio knows how to build a product roadmap in just seven easy steps.

how to start a product roadmap: 7 roadmap crucial steps to follow for templates

Step 1. Defining Your Product Strategy

In 2021, most of the world’s startups prefer to use specialized product roadmapping programs to:

  • visualize building stages
  • track deadlines
  • draw up a company strategy (for stakeholders, too)

And such a function is possible with a modern great level product roadmap tool.

Due to the 2021 product management report, this type of product tool also helps businesses to have a clear vision, purpose, and company strategy.

How to start a product roadmap: roadmap market trends and templates in 2021

Source: ProductPlan

Your product roadmap shows the big picture of what your product will become and determines the direction of the company’s scaling activities in the future. So, if companies want to start how to build a product roadmap, it’s crucial to think about strategy first.

Startuppers can create their product strategy in three stages:

  • Exploring your target market
  • Choosing the right business model
  • Deciding on features and functionality

Conducting Market Research

Companies need to conduct marketing research that will determine the real market demand for a startup. In the course of customer research, your product roadmap needs to answer the following questions:

  1. What are the current market needs?
  2. What are the features necessary in the product?
  3. How will your product solve the problems of your customers?
  4. What characteristics can make your product competitive?

It would be beneficial to talk about the launch of the startup on customer social networks. This will help companies communicate with their potential customers. In this case, entrepreneurs will understand customer needs, and receive detailed customer feedback about the product that customers would like to see on the market.

Choosing a Business Model

Now it’s time to use your research results to create your business model. A Lean Canvas is an effective tool for determining principal aspects of the product’s operational flow that will assist companies in this task.

The business model canvas allows to collect and analyze all the key points in one table. This allows companies to visualize all the blocks, including

  • portpait of potencial customer
  • strategic and key investors
  • customers in general

The idea of a business model canvas is simple but very effective for stakeholders. Companies don’t need to use thick product plans and provide investors and stakeholders with tons of huge materials anymore. Today, the situation has changed. There is nothing superfluous in the business canvas model if companies provide everything right. It covers all major business segments and customer strategies.

Step 2. Gathering Product Requirements and Features

After a startup company has defined its product roadmap, it’s time to decide which features should be implemented by the product that used customers.

When choosing features for a product, remembering target audience surveys and in-depth interviews with potential customers is vital. Although companies don’t need to create all the product features that potential customers are asking for. 

Customer interviews through customer social networks are an invaluable source of information about what features the customers expect from a digital product. Again, communication with customers plays a key role here.

Choosing the right features also includes a detailed analysis of the products’ direct and indirect competitors. A startup’s task, of course, is not to create a product with the same features, but to learn from the experience of the competitors. It’s crucial to find out what customers like and dislike about their competitors’ products, and use this knowledge to their advantage.

Our client, the Belgian company Moovle, came to Sloboda Studio with only an idea and design in the initial stage. The task was to bring the idea to life and turn it into an MVP product. 

We had to implement all the necessary functions in the shortest possible time so that our client could present the solution to investors. Our team was able to:

  • develop basic key functions
  • integrate external APIs for list synchronization
  • implement the entire list management mechanism

The platform has become an Airbnb-like accommodation, but with its unique functionality.

An experienced outsourcing company will be able to offer customers many great features for the product, but they definitely won’t need to develop them all at once. Prioritization helps determine which product features should be created first. It helps to create a customer-oriented effect.

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Step 3. Setting Deadlines

Startup companies need to set feature deadlines and key stages of their project construction. This will help you not to fall behind time schedule and the project manager to coordinate the work of the building team correctly.

Step 4. Estimating Project Scope and Budget Expectations

The list of priority functions allows you to proceed to the next step. Specifying a time period in the product roadmap requires you to identify and evaluate the scope of product tasks that must be completed to implement the selected product functions.

To assess the scope of work, it would be a good idea to involve a dedicated software team:

  • UI/UX designers
  • Quality assurance engineers
  • Business analysts
  • DevOps
  • Software and/or mobile developers 

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Companies can work closely with outsourcing agencies providing software services and all specialists involved in the process to:

  • decompose the key functions of the product into tasks
  • evaluate these key tasks in hours
  • determine the amount of future building and management work

Together you will be able to determine:

  • specialists required for the project
  • their skills and competencies

Companies need to create a project release roadmap based on the specialists they want to hire. Each issue should be assigned to a specific product goal and deadline.

Based on the previous stages of the evaluation process, it is now possible to calculate:

  • number of product resources
  • money and strategic equipment

Step 5. Identifying Task Dependencies Early On

At an early stage, it is essential to understand which tasks interact with each other. So delaying one task will cause:

  • changes in strategic time deadlines
  • disrupt the progress of the whole startup

Usually, such complex product tasks require special control. So, it is necessary to perform crisis planning in roadmaps.

 Step 6. Presenting Your Product Roadmap

The product roadmap is a vital step-by-step creation document. It should be provided to the following roadmap participants in the building process such as:

  • Building Team
  • Sales and Marketing 
  • CEO and Top Executives
  • Investors and Stakeholders
  • Customer (optional)

It is also a good idea to present:

  • product’s idea
  • its functionality
  • product key capabilities to customer

In Cambridge Brain Sciences, it has become a good tradition to present new functionality to its target audience, namely representatives of various clinics (i.e., to involve customers).

 Step 7. Tracking Progress

To track the roadmap progress of management, certain roadmap programs can help. Companies can easily:

  • monitor their roadmap strategic results
  • sales and marketing management plans
  • see the actual roadmap time progress
  • understand how the product marketing strategy works in reality

Sloboda Studio highlights the top four most popular product roadmap and management tools:

Aha!

Aha is the most popular product roadmap guide used to:

  • create strategic plan
  • capture customer ideas
  • prioritize roadmap key features

It’s useful for the product, marketing, and management teams.

ProductPlan

ProductPlan is a product roadmap tool guide that outlines:

  • general vision
  • marketing future
  • roadmap strategic direction
  • company’s key priorities
  • progress of a product over time

Creating a plan of action aligns companies around short and long-term goals for marketing. The most powerful feature of ProductPlan is building the product roadmap strategy.

Roadmunk

Roadmunk is a good product roadmap tool for creating and presenting boardroom-ready product roadmaps. Companies can share their:

  • plans
  • prioritize steps and marketing activities
  • use an idea management suite

Jira

Jira is a simple but effective product roadmap tool. It can predict the strategy for the long-term work of a product roadmap.

How We Build an Effective Product Development Roadmap

Roadmap creation is a part of the Discovery phase, which is the first stage of the product building cycle where outsourcing vendors can study the product idea, research market competitors, and choose the right tech stack for the product building.  

Sloboda Studio advises choosing the discovery phase for startup product management. The discovery phase helps companies to:

  • visualize the work of their building team
  • set product roadmap feature deadlines as well as crucial milestones

Also, it helps to understand what results will be produced by the end of the cycle.

If companies choose a discovery phase for their product roadmap, an outsourced company will get A level research with:

  • technology requirements roadmap specification combined in an SRS document (for stakeholders, too)
  • suitable roadmap technology stack needed
  • platform architecture
  • must-have product functionality
  • customer journey 
  • wireframes, etc

#1: Team

Sloboda Studio has been expanding global teams and setting up management teams from scratch for more than 11 years. We know how challenging it is can be to pull together excellent specialists for one project.

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However, only by using the services of experienced vendors, which you can find on Clutch or GoodFirms, will startups be able to create a team consisting of powerful experts who can develop a quality product. and a roadmap. If businesses want to save a lot of time searching for talent, it would be a good idea to hire a dedicated team.

#2: Timeline

Entrepreneurs must decide whether they want to create a fully-featured product immediately that will cost them more and take more time to develop or go the other way. 

An alternative way is to create an MVP,  an early version of the product with basic functionality. An MVP can be beneficial for startup companies to build a concept and its representation. This type of software helps to:

  • launch products faster onto the market faster
  • raise up fundraising
  • attract new stakeholders

However, before making a final decision, let’s take a look at the market situation. If there is a certain competitor in a hurry to be on the market, there is a chance you might come second in the race.

#3: What You Get

By choosing the discovery phase, companies will be able to see which product they will receive at the end. In this way, businesses protect themselves from getting a pig in a poke. They also can’t enter the market for an incompetent product roadmap. 

But only with the help of experienced outsourced partners will it be easier to achieve the desired end goals with less time. They also release the dream startup product with a time-saving approach. By choosing the right outsourcing partner, a startup product will receive such benefits as: 

  • Saving money using strategic roadmaps
  • Speeding up the product launch choosing the right strategic roadmaps
  • Building sutisfaction for startup stakeholders

#4: Key Steps We Take to Build an Effective Product Development Roadmap

Modern entrepreneurs have an incredible number of cool ideas. They come up with something that can change the world. Businesses should at least start. 

Companies need to start by understanding how to build an effective product roadmap in four crucial roadmap steps. Each of them leads to the success of the product and roadmap. So it is necessary not to lose sight of anything.

Defining the Goals

Startups that don’t set clear goals will fail. Therefore, it is worth setting clear goals and objectives by answering the following questions:

  1. Why is a startup product needed in the market?
  2. What benefits does the product bring? 
  3. What pain points does the product solve?

Market Research

Marketing research will help you find out everything about the customers: 

  • Their age and preferences
  • Online time
  • Their expectations and the pain points that are crucial to solve

Customer information is very important because it helps:

  • improve the product
  • better understand the need for the product
  • regulate customer behavior

Customer Journey Map

Startup companies need to understand which path customers take before making their transactions. It is worth asking the following questions:

  1. Which channel do they use most often to communicate with the company?
  2. How do they know about the company?
  3. Is the company often advised?
  4. How long do customers wander around the site or app before collaborating?

Some companies apply tricks to trace the customer journey map more clearly. If entrepreneurs want to know how to build a product roadmap for their startups, it’s crucial to pay attention to their audience. They offer customers to take a test and get certain benefits or a discount. Sometimes for the function to share with friends or recommendations, customers are awarded bonuses.

UX Concept & Wireframes

A clear roadmap concept will help the product to be:

  • visually unique
  • functionally simple
  • customer-friendly
  • attractive to all customers

An experienced team of visual UX experts can create a product that stands out favorably. It would be great to search:

  • competitors’ websites
  • understand what bothers the most from the design side

This will help companies improve their product niche by creating the most user-friendly startup.

Product Functionality

A win-win strategy for startups that are strapped for funds at the initial stage is the creation of an MVP product with core functionality. 

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An MVP is a profitable building solution since companies receive several advantages:

  • Core functionality and the opportunity to launch the product on the market ahead of competitors
  • Get a quick response and customer feedback from users, and improve the product roadmaps later
  • Present startup strategy roadmaps to stakeholders and investors, and raise funds more easily with less time

Product Roadmaps: The Takeaway

The modern world provides huge opportunities for talented people and businesses. They can realize their ideas and turn them into wonderful projects that can improve customer lives. 

However, before embarking on the world of startup product development, it is crucial to outline its path from the very beginning to the end, without missing any intermediate stops.

If companies have a lack of experience in the management process, they can make lots of mistakes. Then, the process will go wrong and a potential customer will be out. The helpful way to avoid failure will be to choose the product discovery phase, which includes a product roadmap building. 

Then entrepreneurs have a great chance to build a reliable and high-quality product roadmap. It can attract millions of customers to the market. 

However, the very construction of the product roadmap has its own peculiarities. To do everything as correctly as possible and get more benefits from the roadmap, companies should know seven vital steps about how to build a product roadmap:

  1. Defining their product roadmaps, conducting marketing research, and choosing the right business model
  2. Gathering products’ requirements and core features for each type of customer
  3. Setting roadmap deadlines
  4. Estimating the product budget and scope of work
  5. Researching roadmap task dependencies and all possible product strategy risks
  6. Presenting the roadmap to developers and investors
  7. Tracking the progress using popular roadmap tools

Companies want to develop the digital world even more diverse with their own roadmaps. So, 2021 is the time to start. 

Frequently Asked Questions

A product roadmap looks like a step-by-step strategy guide shared source that leads product roadmap strategy, goals, and management roadmap progress.

A product management roadmap should include
1) product strategy
2) roadmap goals and metrics
3) features and product roadmap hypotheses
4) technology stack
5) roadmap deadline and milestones
6) results after each building phase

A good product management roadmap helps to create a smooth guide process where each member of the team has the same product vision. Also, a good product roadmap can assist in the strategy of raising investments.

The product backlogs use all ideas that companies want to implement in the future, but with less detail, uncertain scope, and fuzzy timelines. Roadmap uses this information to create the right product roadmap priorities in order to relevant user-facing features.

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