As product managers, creating and maintaining product roadmaps are regular duties. Product roadmaps enable us to do our entire jobs easier. It only requires a little bit of mindfulness and discipline to create a powerful roadmap to share with your stakeholders. But this simple act of using a roadmap can enhance your product management performance and career trajectory.
This might sound a little unrealistic, but the key here is that the practice of roadmapping is an opportunity to improve in all aspects. Don’t believe us? Well, here are six opportunities to make it happen.
6 Ways Roadmaps Help You Be Better at Your Job (and Your Career)
1. Roadmaps help you be more strategic.
For decades, roadmaps were just high-level project plans showing deliverables and deadlines. This is gradually shifting as product leaders and their stakeholders realize roadmaps serve more essential and less redundant purposes.
Regardless of where product roadmapping at your organization sits, there are more opportunities to use roadmaps as tools to communicate strategic objectives. This will increase the roadmap’s value to the business and reposition your own role as more strategic than tactical.
There are a few ways to do this, and they all relate to how the structure of a roadmap. Shift the emphasis away from dates, and the roadmap and related conversations will elevate to strategic topics.
Structuring your roadmap using themes is one guaranteed way to do this. Swapping out specific features for themes converts the discussion to what you’re trying to do versus how you’re going to do it. Collaborating around what those themes should be and the order they slot into the roadmap is a healthy exercise in strategic alignment that you can lead.
Another option is striking dates from the roadmap. This strategy enables you to focus on the provenance of project plans. But you can include time markers (such as quarters) and a few key milestones to give it some context.
Detailing intended outcomes, hitting goals, or OKRs on the roadmap items is an extra method to connect the product’s plans to the overall strategy. By concentrating on what the business hopes to accomplish versus how you’ll do it, you can get everyone thinking about the big picture.
2. Roadmaps help you organize complicated ideas and plans.
Product managers lead complicated lives. We wear many hats and constantly receive and analyze data and feedback from various sources. Keeping all that straight without a well-designed system can be pretty overwhelming if the information you need isn’t always easily found at the moment.
But using your roadmapping as a catalyst can help you become more organized in general.
“I like to be very organized, and I need to know what’s going on.” Courtney Freitag, a senior product manager in AMN Healthcare’s IT Digital Solutions department, said. “I need an actual tool to go back and see these are the things we’re working on.”
Using a dedicated roadmapping tool “helped us realize how messy we were,” Freitag said. “It made me feel so much more organized, prepared, and ready.”
Getting roadmap items into a tool forces you to use consistent formats. Plus, you can use tags to categorize things for easy reference. By putting everything in a central repository, there’s no more hunting for essential information.
3. Roadmaps help you be a better communicator.
You didn’t get to be a product manager if you lacked soft skills, but there’s always room for improvement. Roadmaps are a chance to tailor your messaging for particular audiences.
Not everyone wants the same thing out of a roadmap. So both the roadmap itself and how you present it shouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all affair. Instead, strive to make the roadmap and your presentation as relevant to the audience as possible.
Keep in mind what each stakeholder or team cares about, then limit the information you present to just that. Accomplish this in the roadmap using tagging and custom views, but remember the context and rationale you will emphasize in your presentation.
Executives will want to stay pretty high level. For example, the focus should be on how the roadmap helps the business achieve its goals and improve KPIs. Meanwhile, Engineering needs to know those details to dive deep into the desired functionality. Link this level of detail to a roadmap to other parts of the product stack for extra information they’ll need.
Being able to optimize things for the particular crowd you’re working with is a crucial skill that will serve you well throughout your career.
4. Roadmaps make you a better storyteller.
Product managers must be storytellers. Product teams build alignment and convey the rationale of the development docket. That’s easy when you’re talking about a specific user story, but it can get trickier when laying out a larger strategic plan for your product. Building out your roadmap is an opportunity to craft a compelling story with a logical narrative and clear motivations for each character.
You begin by stating the problems you’re trying to solve, contextualizing them with specific customer stories and anecdotes accompanied by a few stats to quantify the market opportunity. Then you can explain the desired outcomes these solutions might have for both your customers and the business.
With the stage set and the goals declared, it’s time to explain how you plan to get there. While there might be clear alignment around the previous part of the presentation, laying out which initiatives will get you there. Presenting the rationale behind why the team selected and slotted items in that particular order is where you earn your stripes.
“It gets everything in my brain out into a very digestible picture,” Freitag said. “Being able to articulate my vision and save my sanity makes me feel so much more organized, prepared, and ready.”
Link everything on the roadmap to adding customer value, solving pain points, and moving the business forward. Explaining the logical progression of how you’re making customers’ lives better along the way and how one theme builds upon the next is how you sell it.
You remove an obstacle, which opens up an opportunity, which allows the product to provide additional value, which creates another opportunity. Positioning the product’s plans in this way and laying it all out in the roadmap gets everyone on board and excited for the journey.
5. Roadmaps enable you to hone your customer empathy skills.
While the business’s strategic goals are a significant factor in determining what makes it onto your roadmaps, primary drivers should provide value and solve customer pain points. But to figure out which potential items would be most beneficial to customers, you need to understand them.
Think of your roadmap as a way to address all that ails your customers. Additionally, it serves to communicate ways to delight them and improve the product. To do this, you need to fully diagnose the situation and prioritize which items will have the biggest bang for the buck.
Are you doing what is most important?
Imagine you’re in a sci-fi movie, and your starship takes enemy fire. The ship’s onboard AI runs a comprehensive scan, highlighting all the damages and impacted systems. You now have a complete picture of everything that’s not optimal, but you need to add some analytical thinking to determine which wounds to attend first.
You could start from the top of the list the computer gave you or applied your logical approach. Remember to ask the captain what functions are needed most given the current situation. You may learn that something you’d imagine was problematic is only a minor inconvenience or uncover a more significant problem.
Without asking the captain what they’re trying to do and what’s standing in their way, your prioritization and triaging may not fix what matters. If your plan leaves the quantum laser array offline or diverts energy from the life support systems, no one will care that you fixed the science lab lighting because you’ll be gasping for air while aliens blast you to smithereens.
Remember, you may think you know what’s most important, but your customers are the only one who knows. If they looked at your roadmap, would they see their most pressing issues addressed? Is there clear value on the horizon? Would they be frustrated you’re favoring edge cases that don’t apply or building out capabilities?
6. Roadmaps help you build up your credibility.
Product managers obsess over their customers and their products. But chances are the other stakeholders in the organization haven’t spent nearly as much time as you have thought about those topics. They’re just “dropping in” and moving on.
“A roadmap is a symbol of good leadership & communication”
But your roadmap is an opportunity to showcase your subject matter expertise and depth of knowledge and that you’re not just relying on instinct and personal preferences to make these decisions. This can be particularly important when you’re new to the role or the organization hasn’t yet warmed up to all that product management has to offer.
And with everything conveniently included in the roadmap and its underlying data set, you’ll no longer have to struggle to provide clarity to stakeholders. “Our entire team is way more prepared to answer questions than they’ve ever been before,” Freitag said.
Just as importantly, a roadmap built on a foundation of customer research, alignment with the business strategy, and technical due diligence gives you the confidence to have conviction in your plan. Gut feelings can take a backseat to solid business cases and bulletproof rationales.