April 19

How Product Roadmaps are Evolving

Product Roadmaps are a key component of any successful product development and product management process. They provide clear direction for product teams, stakeholders, and customers to follow, ensuring that everyone is on the same page regarding product development goals and objectives. However, product roadmaps are evolving, and they are starting to move away from having hard dates and instead, are focused on future outcomes. In this post, we’ll explore how product roadmaps are changing and why this evolution is so important for product managers at tech companies.

First, let’s define what a product roadmap is. A product roadmap is a high-level visual representation of a product’s direction which is meant to be in line with the company’s overall corporate strategy. Product Roadmaps provide a high-level view of the product development process, including the expected deliverables and milestones – making it an essential tool for product managers to plan, communicate, and execute their product development strategy.
Product roadmaps have traditionally been time-based, with specific deadlines and milestones for each phase of product development. While these deadlines can be helpful in keeping teams accountable and on track, they can also be limiting. Deadlines can lead to an overly rigid approach to product development, where teams focus on hitting deadlines rather than achieving the desired outcomes.

Today, product roadmaps within many organizations are evolving to focus more on future outcomes than specific dates. Instead of setting hard deadlines, product managers are defining key metrics and outcomes that they want to achieve. This approach allows teams to be more flexible and responsive to changing market conditions and customer needs. It also encourages a more customer-centric approach to product development, where teams focus on delivering the best possible product to meet customer needs. Janna Bastow of Prodpad has been an early pioneer of the “Now, Next, Later” product roadmap – which focuses more on outcomes and less on hard dates for features.

One key trend in product roadmap evolution is the use of OKRs, or Objectives and Key Results. OKRs are a popular goal-setting framework that has gained widespread adoption in the tech industry. OKRs provide a more outcome-focused approach to product development by defining specific objectives and measurable key results that the team wants to achieve.
Using OKRs, product managers can define high-level objectives for their product, such as improving customer satisfaction, increasing revenue, or reducing churn. They can then break down these objectives into measurable key results, such as increasing website traffic by 50%, improving customer retention by 20%, or launching a new feature that generates $100,000 in revenue per month.

One reason that OKR’s are becoming seemingly a more popular component of product roadmaps is that they have the potential to encourage a more data-driven approach to product development, where teams focus on achieving specific outcomes rather than just hitting deadlines. OKR’s also enables product managers to communicate their product vision more effectively to stakeholders, by providing clear, measurable goals that everyone can understand and get behind.

As products have become more iterative, with features and functionality added and improved upon over time based on user feedback and market trends, product managers are also becoming more open to the idea of their roadmaps becoming more iterative as well. Agile development methodologies have gained popularity due to their emphasis on flexibility and responsiveness, allowing teams to quickly adapt to changing market conditions and customer needs. In today’s fast-paced world of technology, where customer needs and market trends can shift rapidly, this approach is crucial for success. So while a product roadmap used to be seen as a “promise” and was seemingly set in stone, today’s top Product Managers are encouraged to constantly revisit, and if necessary, revise their Product Roadmaps on an ongoing basis to meet the changing landscape of their customers’ lives.

Ultimately, this evolution of Product Roadmaps is a great thing for Product Managers. By becoming less rigid and focused more on outcomes, a product team can stay more flexible and responsive to changing market conditions and customer needs. Taking a more outcome-focused approach to a product roadmap allows product teams to deliver the best possible product to meet customer needs rather than hitting specific feature-focused milestones at pre-defined (and likely arbitrary) times.

Of course, a key question is can these product teams convince the C-Suite and their Board to accept this approach to building products? That’s a question to answer in a future post!

Mike Belsito

About the author

Mike Belsito is a startup product and business developer who loves creating something from nothing. Mike is the Co-Founder of Product Collective which organizes INDUSTRY, one of the largest product management summits anywhere in the world. For his leadership at Product Collective, Mike was named one of the Top 40 influencers in the field of Product Management. Mike also serves as a Faculty member of Case Western Reserve University in the department of Design and Innovation, and is Co-Host of one of the top startup podcasts online, Rocketship.FM. Prior to Product Collective, Mike spent the past 12 years in startup companies as an early employee, Co-Founder, and Executive. Mike's businesses and products have been featured in national media outlets such as the New York Times, The Atlantic, CNN, NPR, and elsewhere. Mike is also the Author of Startup Seed Funding for the Rest of us, one of the top startup books on Amazon.


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