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What is a Product Roadmap? What is an Engineering Roadmap? July 21, 2011

Posted by HubTechInsider in Agile Software Development, Project Management.
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English: Five-Year Technology Roadmap

English: Five-Year Technology Roadmap (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What is a Product Roadmap? What is an Engineering Roadmap?

Product roadmaps can provide an organization, particularly a software development one, with the critical difference between success and failure when marketing and delivering software, services, or products to the marketplace.

While normally the purview of a product manager or director, another senior manager (project, program) or executive can also be charged with preparing and presenting a product or engineering roadmap, and when prepared properly, they can be extremely effective.

The benefits of roadmaps can include retention of key customers, business and channel partners, and engineering and product roadmaps can ably guide the strategic planning and engineering efforts of a company.

As amazing it may sound, I have frequently encountered, within the development organizations I have worked at within the Boston area, a lack of types of artifacts I am about to describe. The lack of product and engineering roadmaps that are accessible to viewers, easy for presenters to use in their slide decks and demos, and visually compelling enough and understandable enough so that audiences can grip the feature sets and timelines shown to them is a major cause of planning and project failure.

It is easy to visualize, once we have gone into a bit more detail regarding the different types of product and engineering roadmaps, how project and product planning attempts at companies without these types of deliverables (or the in-house skillset required to even prepare such artifacts) fail miserably. Computer programmers are not the best resources, in general, to call upon to produce these types of artifacts, nor are engineers who have been promoted to management positions. Typically the best preparers of roadmap documents will be from the business or management world, or have a diverse skillset that may be based in engineering, but you definitely need people who can generate business documents quickly and effectively.

Having folks that are knowledgable and skilled with graphic design programs like adobe photoshop, Illustrator, and microsoft visio can speed the roadmap creation process tremendously. When you have found the right internal resource or team to create these roadmap documents, you will know it, as the right people will already possess some amount of experience with roadmap and business strategy content creation.

It is not enough, please keep in mind, for a company to “short shift” the production of these roadmap documents, because it is only through the repeated creation of roadmap documents, and through their constant updating and presenting to audiences internal and external, will your organization be able to increase its ability to produce roadmap documents quickly.

A complete catalog of engineering and product roadmap documents should be created: eventually. If your company cannot mount such a concerted document creation efforts due to staffing concerns, just create what you can. Cherry pick the type of roadmap document you think would create the most value for your own organizational requirements from my detailed list below.

An example of a roadmap from Microsoft

It could very well be that your organization’s needs for a roadmap document are clouded by the sales department or company management demanding an engineering or product roadmap (sometimes in support of sales efforts) under-the-gun. Never fear: I have not only provided the information you need, I have lots of examples and pictures of product and engineering roadmaps as well as Microsoft visio and excel templates for simple and complex roadmap documents. You can use these microsoft excel product roadmap template and microsoft visio product roadmap templates to create your product or engineering roadmap quickly, avoiding trouble just when you’re getting started.

If you are a product management professional, and you are tasked with the responsibility for the ultimate success of a product line or engineering effort for your company, it is of paramount importance that you produce a roadmap document that can drive strategy, provide a clear idea of where you are headed with your efforts or product(s), and can be shared easily with internal and external stakeholders and business partners and analysts, even the press.

A product or engineering roadmap document may be appropriate when you are called upon to support a pre-sales or sales effort for your organization. Demos, presentations, press releases, investor and business meetings are all very good occasions for product or engineering roadmaps to assure clients, partners, and employees that there is a consistent and cogent plan of action and guide for resource planning and engineering efforts.

There is a wide variety of different names and definitions for all manner of roadmap documents. The important principle to adhere to is you should find and adapt the type of roadmap document you are comfortable with and that you find works for you.

What are the different types of product roadmaps? What are the different types of engineering roadmaps?

Speaking generally, there are five major types of roadmap documents: Product roadmaps, platform roadmaps, market roadmaps, strategic roadmaps, vision roadmaps, and technology or engineering roadmaps. You can, of course, mix and match these roadmap types to suit your organization’s needs.

How do you create a product roadmap? How do you create an engineering roadmap?

There are eight steps I always follow when I am asked to create each of these types of roadmap documents – you can mix this list of steps with your own ideas and experiences in creating roadmap documents:

1. Decide upon which type of roadmap document you will use based on your individual requirement for a roadmap document.

2. Think about how much time and effort, as well as level of detail, you think will be required for you to invest, or that you care to invest, in the creation of your chosen roadmap document type.

3. Brainstorm about significant forces or trends that you might want to represent on your roadmap document. These could include technical breakthroughs, market forces, and moves the competition has made recently.

4. Elicitate the precise roadmap document requirements from the primary internal stakeholders in the project, and document and prioritize those requirements, being careful to estalish and maintain traceability.

5. Product Roadmap documents are intrinsically linked with time, so think about the timeline you want to use and represent in your document.

6. Think about the impression your strategy will make and how you want to present that strategy in your roadmap document. This is one of the central purposes of the document you are preparing, to show that you have a strategy and are planning to implement it well and to schedule.

7. Sometimes I create an internal roadmap document and distribute it to the primary internal stakeholders within my organization for review and commentary. After gathering the project team’s comments regarding the internal roadmap, there is a good basis on which to draft the external roadmap document.

8. This colloborative approach is critical to obtaining buy-in from senior management as well as the roadmap document project team. This method also prevents surprises and last-minute revisions. Discussions surrounding the creation of roadmap documents can help solidify the company’s direction and clarify the intents of management to employees very effectively.

Prioritizing product and engineering roadmap features

There are probably potentially many features you could choose to highlight as a part of your product or engineering roadmap document. But in the interests of brevity and clarity, you will need to prioritize the features that are included in each of your upcoming product or service introductions or software releases and shown on your roadmap.

I have always found that a prioritization matrix document is the best bet for effective and colloborative feature selection for inclusion in a roadmap document. Microsoft Excel or another computer spreadsheet program works very well for preparing this type of document. The matrix should hold information regarding such components as startegic importance, tactical importance to the current release cycle, customer desireability level, retain revenue threat from customer dissatisfaction, revenue impact, source and date of the feature, planned release, etc.

Themes can be used to categorize major feature trends that you begin to see emerge from your prioritization matrix. Categorize like features into themes and then select one or a few major themes to represent graphically on your roadmap documents.

Timed release cycles use the timescale along the edge of your roadmap document to show when features will become available. This type of roadmap document is driven by time and not by features. Once the release interval is decided upon, then the feature list is divided up amongst the releases those features are planned to become available with.

The golden feature technique is one where each release is governed mainly by one important or central feature. Once you have selcted the golden feature for each release of a product or service that you are attempting to show on your roadmap document, then you will be able to focus the audience’s attention on that one feature, and highlight it in all your continued planning efforts for that release.

Using multiple roadmap documents

Combining a few or several different types of roadmap documents can greatly enhance your presentation, showing that you know where your company is headed and why it is that you have choosen to pursue a certain strategy. A vision roadmap could be used to open your presentation, showing trends in society at large that are afecting your marketplace. A technology roadmap could then be shown to your audience that reflects how your company and it’s products are capitalizing on technology trends within the marketplace. Then it is time for you to show off your internal and external product roadmaps, and perhaps your engineering roadmap that shows your planned releases and when certain feature sets will become available.

Showing multiple product lines on roadmap documents

You may need to show a few or several of your product lines on a roadmap, in order to visually represent how each of your product lines will evolve in accordance with a technology or marketplace trend. This is very easy to accomplish; simply create a roadmap document for one of your product lines or services,and then use that one product line as a template for showing the others on your single roadmap document.

I have found that it is helpful in many cases to create a prioritization matrix such as the one I mentioned elsewhere in this article regarding features to show on your roadmap documents. You can also create a product line prioritization matrix that can be used for discussion and colloboration with your internal stakeholders.

A product roadmap showcasing multiple product lines

Try and decide upon which projects, products, or services your company is undertaking that are the most important to your company, which ones should be funded and resourced, and which ones should be cut. Revenue potential, market positioning, strategic importance to the company, and interdependencies can and should be plotted out on this matrix. Once you have decided which products you want to represent on your roadmap document, it is a simple matter to modify your format to include multiple product lines on a single roadmap.

Five tips for creating product roadmaps

Here are a few more best practices that I have discovered throughout my career of preparing product roadmap documents.

It is essential that you realize from the outset that when working with a technical (programmer) audience in certain working environments, there may be a fair bit of resistance or friction originating within internal departments or product groups at your own company that you will need to overcome.

Many internal stakeholders may take umbrage at the point in the release cycle that certain features are slated for release on your roadmap document, they may assert strongly or even rudely that your presentation is false or feature sets you are publicly committing to will not be available.

It is important for you to always be ready to provide reasoning why the roadmaps are necessary, and why managing without such documents, at certain levels of business, becomes untenable.

1. Make sure that you colloborate early with your team. Your chances of being able to secure ultimate buy-in from the different internal constiuency groups within your company goes up markedly if they have been included from the roadmap document project’s outset.

2. Always use code names on your roadmap documents until they have been approved by the senior management team for release to the public at large. You cannot be sure that your roadmap documents will not be leaked out, even by senior managers. You can revise the code names to final product and project names when they are approved.

3. Minor releases and localized, international releases are sometimes not shown on product or engineering roadmaps, and they should be included, as they frequently enter into the follow-on conversations.

4. Create roadmap documents for an internal audience that are very specific in information and dates; roadmap documents intended for an external audience should be worded in more vague language and terminology.

5. Present your roadmap documents as uneditable adobe .pdf documents — this will prevent other parties internal to your company from taking the roadmap documents and altering them – these alterations can emerge unpleasantly later during the project(s) as a committment made to a client or customer by a senior manager or executive, so take care to avoid this scenario.

Examples of internal and external roadmap documents

Product roadmaps

Microsoft SQL server product roadmap

If you need to show your audience when your product’s new features will be available, what the theme or main and secondary features of the product release or next few releases will be, then an effective product roadmap should be your tool of choice.

Internal product roadmaps can be used to communicate budget, resource planning, project priority, and release planning to employees and department heads. They are extremely effective for driving efforts to obtain funding from senior management or corporate action committees.

An example of a product roadmap

External product roadmaps can be used to support funding efforts from investors or investment groups, business partner meetings. External product roadmap documents and slides can be used to reinforce public press releases and press conferences, analyst meetings and conference calls or webcasts, clients and channel partner webinars. It is oftentimes apparent that external roadmaps have been recast in a more vague tone as a result of internal roadmap feedback, which is generally a good thing.

Platform roadmaps

A platform roadmap

A platform roadmap is used to showcase what will be n the works for the platform or PaaS (Platform as a Service) that a particular company has under development. They are used to communicate that company’s overall platform strategy and the availability of APIs (Application Programming Interfaces, basically plug-ins to amd from the company’s platform software) and development tools for the company’s platform or PaaS.

If a company has developed and is supporting a platform in the marketplace currently, you can be sure that they have a platform strategy that relies on partners and clients working closely with them. The need to communicate the platform’s strategy in a clear and focused manner is very important. Examples of platforms include Salesforce.com (Force.com), Windoes (Windows Azure Cloud), Amazon S3 and Ec2, Google, Apple Mac OS X, Apple iOS, Hp WebOS, and many others.

Vision roadmaps

A vision roadmap example

There are times when at the onset of a demo or presentation, it is necessary to highlight for your audience how your product or products fit into a movement or trend within society in general or your company’s inductry in particular. This is a fantastic way in which you can build excitement and marketplace momentum for your company’s products or services by visually demonstrating how you fit into the big picture.

Marketing roadmaps

Microsoft Windows OS roadmap

A marketing roadmap communicates to your internal and external stakeholders what market segements your products and services are targeting, and how you plan to enter any of those markets in which you are not currently competing. As such, these types of roadmaps include information on the demographics and opportunity size of each marketplace, and information regarding how you plan to develop products and services to address each market. The timescale involved on marketing roadmaps can span years.

Marketing roadmap example

A marketing & strategy roadmap

Technology and Engineering Roadmaps

Technology and engineering roadmaps chart out major technology trends that exist in the marketplace, and show how your company’s products and services coordinate with those trends over time. Engineering roadmap documents are used to communicate feature sets that will be available in certain releases. The approximate release dates of each of the company’s upcoming product releases will be shown.

A technology roadmap

It is very common for a software development organization to create and maintain multiple engineering roadmaps, suitable for showing to various segmented audiences of internal and external stakeholders and directly responsible individuals. These engineering roadmaps are super tools for updating major clients and customers of your release cycle and aid greatly in the change management process.

A Microsoft Technology Roadmap

Engineering roadmaps also provide your internal development groups, qa, testers, programmers, business analysts, and product, program and project managers, as well as senior management, with a view into the development life of the company. A development organization that fails to produce such planning artifacts is essentially flying blind, and as they scale up (if they do scale up) as their business improves, they will find they lack the requisite skills needed to plan effectively and manage their clients’ expectations for quality products, software and services well.

Product roadmap template

Engineering roadmap template

I have included in this article many pictures and descriptions that you can use to create your own highly compelling product roadmap documents. They should serve as an excellent guide for not only the different types of roadmap documents that exist out here in the marketplace, but also how to place multiple product lines and services on a roadmap document.

Keep in mind, these are living documents, and should be continuously maintained and updated. Do not succumb to the programmer’s maxim “You can’t plan the future”. Remember: Plans are worthless, planning is priceless. The activity of creation, the discussion that surround the roadmap process, are all essentially components of effective long term product planning and corporate strategy.

Roadmaps can be used to share information with internal teams, external constituents or as a planning tool for the Product Management team, but whichever you choose, you have to figure out whether you are going to make the focus of the roadmap strategy or release calendar. If it is strategy, your timeline can be vague — quarters or years. If it’s release calendar, the near-term has to be pretty specific: exact date or month, but the future can be more nebulous.

I have include a few simple microsoft visio and microsoft excel roadmap document templates to get you started. By all means, you should feel free to use the illustrations and prose contained in this article, as well as any graphics or business drawing tools that you are comfortable with, to create your own formats and presentations. Some of my favorite programs for creating these types of artifacts with include adobe illustrator, photoshop, microsoft visio, microsoft excel, and coreldraw. I also have a big bag of Linux and Apple Mac OS X tools that I use to create roadmap documents in addition to the ones I have just mentioned. Product management software such as Accept, Accompa, FeaturePlan, FocalPoint and others can also assist you in creating roadmap documents. If you need help or advice, I am always available via email or social media like LinkedIn. If we’re not connected on LinkedIn, please send me an invitation to connect. And good luck with your roadmaps!


Want to know more?

You’re reading Boston’s Hub Tech Insider, a blog stuffed with years of articles about Boston technology startups and venture capital-backed companies, software development, Agile project management, managing software teams, designing web-based business applications, running successful software development projects, ecommerce and telecommunications.

About the author.

I’m Paul Seibert, Editor of Boston’s Hub Tech Insider, a Boston focused technology blog. You can connect with me on LinkedIn, follow me on Twitter, follow me on Quora, even friend me on Facebook if you’re cool. I own and am trying to sell a dual-zoned, residential & commercial Office Building in Natick, MA. I have a background in entrepreneurship, ecommerce, telecommunications and software development, I’m a PMO Director, I’m a serial entrepreneur and the co-founder of several ecommerce and web-based software startups, the latest of which is  Tshirtnow.net.

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1. Andrew Gibson - July 22, 2011

Very impressive post of road map and engineering road map. I read your post. The tips part is good. The whole thing you explain is very easy to capture. I will visit again to read more post like this. Thanks buddy 🙂

2. Product Roadmaps | Fabric Interactive Blog - April 2, 2012

[…] a good post on the different types of product roadmaps. (Credit: Paul […]

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