When it comes to building products, planning is something that is not given as much importance as it should be.
Simple charts and to-do lists do not really cut the deal.
For ideas to truly transform into something innovative, you would have to deliberately set the pace, by paying attention to every detail.
That’s what a product roadmap is for.
But planning is an inherent part of perfect execution, and you’d need to think ahead even after all the development is done.
You’d need to have a release plan to smoothen the product’s launch.
Product roadmaps, release plans—how do you properly frame one, and what are the differences?
In this blog, you will find out.
What is a Product roadmap?
A product roadmap is a strategic document that allows you to set the direction of the development. It lets the stakeholders know what you are building and the reason behind building it. Simply put, it is a high-level.
A product roadmap ideally should:
- Tell the vision and direction of the feature
- Let the internal stakeholders know the status
- Help understand how the feature might evolve in the future
- Facilitate communication on planning
- Ensure every person working on it has a common goalsummary of your vision towards the product.
Who needs roadmaps?
Roadmaps serve different varieties of audiences depending on their type.
Here are a few types:
Internal roadmap for the development team: These roadmaps help the development team understand the timelines, target release dates and important milestones that are promised to the customer. If you are using an agile method, it is best to organize them by sprints. This will help you easily plot the issues for different pieces of work that your team takes up.
Internal roadmap for executives: These roadmaps depict the company’s high level goals and metrics. They are usually organized by quarter or month. Looking at these roadmaps one can understand the progress of the goals.
Internal roadmap for sales: Sales roadmaps are ideally created for new features or improvements for an existing feature. They primarily focus on satisfying customer requests which will boost sales.
External roadmap: These roadmaps are available for the public. This is to inform the customers of what is coming next.
Creating a product roadmap
Irrespective of the type of roadmap that you want to create the steps are the same.
Set a Goal: The goal represents what you want to do and how you want to do it.
Assign tasks to teams: When it comes to developing a feature, a lot of teams will be involved. For example, the design team will have to give you the UI, the content team needs to decide the copy, the development team needs to develop the feature. Create a list of tasks for each team and assign it to them.
Monitor and Update: Monitoring the tasks constantly helps you identify show-stoppers much earlier. Have a weekly meeting with all the stakeholders who are involved.
Adjust plans and priorities as needed: Although you have a plan in place, there are many instances where you might have to override them. Adjust your timelines such that the items in your priority bucket list go out first.
Start with a template: Templates are perfect for displaying releases in a single view. They provide a strategic overview of your vision and plan. This helps teams across the organization align their bandwidth accordingly. It also helps other teams know what they are working on.
Product Launch Roadmap:
A product launch roadmap helps you plan and document your market strategy and visualize how they should progress over time. It spans across multiple departments in your organization such as marketing, engineering, development, sales, and support. It acts as a visual communication tool among different teams to organize their tasks before the product hits the market.
What is a release plan?
Release plans helps us get answers for certain crucial questions such as “How much will it cost the company to develop this feature”, “When will it be done” and “What are the features that will be available by this sprint?”. It tightly couples scope, budget and schedule.
If you are following an Agile method, your releases will either be planned sprint-wise or multiple sprints will be grouped together for a single release. A release plan is necessary to identify when two sets of related features or products will be available for the user.
A release plan clearly states the expectations of the feature and when it will be implemented. The deliverables can be driven by two things:
Why do you need a release plan?
Release plans help you plan your deliverables up-front. These are long term goals that drive the business. It creates an expectation and trust between the developers and stakeholders.
A release plan acts as a :
- A source of communication
- Planning tool
- Validates the value vs the cost
- Sets context of what will be delivered
The above image shows a release plan that is divided into 4 sprints with two weeks each. The milestones display the expected release date and the bars are colour coded to display the priority and display the initiatives at a sprint level.
Difference between product roadmap and Release plan
Now that we have read about the product road map and release plan, they sort of look like they deliver the same information. Don’t they?
But, they are very much different from each other. Listed below are the key differences.
- Informs why a feature needs to be built.
- Covers the entire cycle of the release, therefore might span for years.
- It is shared with all the stakeholders and sometimes with the customers.
- It gives a high-level visual summary.
- Informs what is built.
- A release plan is a long term goal but the document might span over only for a few months.
- It is an internal document often shared between developers and product managers.
- Transitions the strategy to an actionable plan.
A product roadmap, when built properly, communicates the product vision and serves as a visual tool that will help convince the stakeholders and secure their buy-in. It serves as a useful resource throughout the release. It contains strategic details such as product themes, goals, and epics.
On the other hand, a release plan communicates the features or enhancements that are next in line. It breaks down an entire project plan into smaller projects which your team can act upon.