As a Product Manager, roadmaps can provide a useful way to communicate your product priorities and plans to your team and the wider business. Having the right product management roadmapping software to create this plan can make your life a lot easier when it comes to pulling everything together and presenting it to others. We take a look at some of the benefits, examples of great tools and how to make the right choice for you, your team and your company.
What is product roadmapping software?
If you work in product management it’s likely that you have tried out some of the product roadmapping software available on the market. Product roadmap tooling helps PMs to plan and communicate what their team is going to be focussed on in the coming quarters.
Product roadmapping software can be used to map out vision, outcomes, themes, goals, workflows and problems that will be solved over time – and help to visualize all of this in a way that makes sense for both cross-functional agile team members as well as key stakeholders in the business. Some examples of product roadmapping software are ProductPlan, Roadmunk, Asana, Aha!, Productboard and Wrike.
Who can benefit from roadmap tools?
When thinking about product roadmap tools, it’s important to think about who your audience is and how the tool will be used. Is it mainly for your cross-functional team or will stakeholders also be accessing it? What kind of roadmap is it? Who will maintain it? What will it show?
For Product Managers, roadmap tools can be really beneficial for organizing your product thoughts and plans and showing how your team will be adding value and impact over a period of quarters. Roadmap tools can also provide a place to detail key themes and customer needs you might be solving in the coming months as well as a way to identify dependencies with other teams.
For your cross-functional team, having the right roadmap tool can mean the ability to communicate product priorities more effectively and serve as a single source of truth to keep coming back to for clarification on what will be worked on next.
For your stakeholders, using the right product roadmapping tool means you can share key information about what your team is planning to work on quickly and easily and in a format that is easy to digest in order to align your goals.
For your customers, roadmapping tools can even be places where they submit ideas and feedback to help you to flesh out your jobs to be done and opportunities.
Why do product development teams need product roadmap software?
Often as a Product Manager, you will have many documents, notes, and lists that describe the work that you are doing and it can be hard for your cross-functional team to keep up with the overarching plan for your product. You might find yourself having to explain or present the same information multiple times, so having a single source of truth in the form of a digital roadmap can be really helpful as a document to refer back to when needed. Having roadmap tooling to create your product plan is a useful way to communicate current and future priorities to your team.
What does a roadmapping tool help you with?
Product roadmap software can be really helpful on a number of levels – not only for you as a Product Manager, but also for your team and the wider business. Here are some key benefits of choosing the right tool.
Organize your thoughts and plans
On an individual level as a PM, you are likely to have all sorts of documents containing potential OKRs, themes of work, feature ideas, tech debt and customer problems to solve. Having the right product roadmap tooling at your disposal can really help you to organize your thoughts and map out your plans for your product over the coming months and quarters.
Direction for your product team
Once you have your own thoughts organized using product roadmapping tooling, your cross-functional team is your next port of call when it comes to sharing your product plans. Having all the key information in one place can make it easy to communicate priorities and also enable your team to return to your roadmap at any time to get a reminder of what the next most important thing to work on is.
Communicate with your stakeholders
Stakeholders always want to know what your product plans are so that they can plan for their individual goals and activities and offer their feedback where appropriate. Having the right roadmapping tooling provides you with a single place to direct your stakeholders to these plans as well as a way to talk through your roadmap in key meetings. Your stakeholders can then feel part of the process and the profile of Product within your organisation can be elevated as you have a clear plan of action to hand!
Transparency with your organization
It might be that your roadmap is shared widely around your business, and if so, having a roadmapping tool that enables this can be very beneficial for achieving transparency around your product plans. Having a single source of truth that you can keep up-to-date is definitely a helpful aid for Product Managers.
6 essential features of a great roadmap software
When thinking about choosing software roadmapping tools, it’s important to consider the features and functionality you need in order for the tooling to be useful to you, your team and your stakeholders. Here are some key things to consider:
What kind of permission levels do you need for your roadmap? This is an important question to consider as many tools offer access on different levels and for different pricing brackets. Are you, as the Product Manager, the only person who needs editing access for example? Do multiple stakeholders need viewing access? In all likelihood, being able to give access to a number of people will be useful, so this is something to bear in mind when making your choice!
Having a clear and simple layout for your product roadmap with all the necessary information displayed is a key factor when considering roadmap software tooling. The layout might make sense to you as a Product Manager but it’s likely that other people at other levels, from your immediate team through to senior stakeholders, will be looking at it, so it needs to make as much sense as possible. Considerations here might be things like color-coding, timeline and grouping options.
Easy to use
Your roadmap is something that will be constantly evolving over time, so ensuring that it’s easy to manage and update is an essential feature to consider when choosing your product roadmapping software. Does it have drag and drop? How easy is it to add or remove new sections or to color-code? Does it auto-save your work? These are all good questions to ask yourself.
Different levels of viewing
It’s likely that you will want to show your roadmap to people on all different levels within your business – whether that’s a more detailed plan for your immediate product team, a high-level view for more senior stakeholders or something to show your potential investors if you’re in the startups business. Considering which levels of information you might need to show and when can help you to decide which product roadmapping software is right for you.
Ability to create multiple roadmaps
There may be some scenarios where you need to create multiple roadmaps or other Product Managers need to create separate ones. Considering how many you might need per user of the tool is a useful thing to think about to ensure you make the right software selection.
Importing / exporting capabilities
Many Product Managers and teams find it useful to be able to import work items from other product development tools such as Jira (think: user stories) and GitHub, as well as having the ability to pull in feedback, notes or ideas from places like Slack and Intercom. Some companies may even find API integrations with Salesforce useful for managing customer inputs – definitely something to consider when making your product roadmap tooling choice.
4 benefits of using a product roadmapping tool
There are many benefits of using a product roadmapping tool to create your ideal product plan – here a few positives:
Speed of creation
Having a product roadmapping tool at your disposal can really speed up the efforts of creating product plans and visual roadmaps. Some even allow you to import from spreadsheets, lists or other development or project management tools and drag and drop items into place to build up your roadmap. Gone are the days of multiple tabs in spreadsheets!
Efficient to switch between views
As we talked about earlier, it’s likely that you will want to switch between views of your roadmap depending who you are talking to. Imagine you’re in a meeting with senior stakeholders – you’ll be able to press a button and turn off any noisy detail that might distract from the high level plan they are hoping to hear about. Likewise, when in meetings with your team you can dial up the details to discuss prioritizing the key items.
Ease of access
Most product roadmapping tools allow for multiple viewers and levels of access – this means your team, stakeholders and even your customers can access your roadmap (where appropriate!) if given the right permissions. Definitely handy if you want to encourage feedback and transparency!
Roadmaps are often collaborative so having the ability to collect feedback directly from your product plans can be very useful and time-saving. Rather than having everyone send you Slack and email messages separately, some product roadmap software collates the feedback for you so you can find it all in one place. If your roadmap is open to customers as well as stakeholders, some roadmapping tools allow you to take in ideas and feedback from them also, as external stakeholders of the tool. All very handy when you’re a busy Product Manager!
5 best free product roadmap software of 2021
There are plenty of free product roadmap tools out there for you to try before you buy, or continue to use on a limited basis if they work for you and your needs. Let’s take a look at the free roadmap software on the market here.
You might already be familiar with Trello as it’s a good way to organize lists or to-do tasks. Their free version allows you to create 10 boards with unlimited members and assign work with due dates. You can also try their Business Plan for free which also includes timeline and calendar views as well as additional roadmap templates.
You may have already used Miro to visualize other product work – and roadmapping is another thing that you can use it for! The tool has a set of product roadmap templates with swimlanes that can be customized and if you select the free version you can create up to 3 editable boards to share with others.
Ultimately ProductPlan is a paid for product roadmap tool but you can try it out for 2 weeks before committing to any payment plan. Benefits include unlimited roadmaps and viewers, customizable views and export capabilities.
You can try Aha! product management software for free for 30 days – key features include the ability to set your product strategy, organise your prioritization and capture feedback from stakeholders and customers.
Handy features of Productboard include the ability to sync your product management tools with your roadmap, collect and organize customer feedback and the ability to create highly customized visual roadmaps. You can try it for free for 15 days to see if it’s right for you and your team.
Another 3 great product roadmap tools
Most product planning software have free trials so you can road test them before fully committing – here are another 3 that weren’t included in the “free” list but are worth checking out nonetheless:
Simply named, Roadmap has a bunch of integrations with Trello, GitHub, Slack, Intercom and more as well as allowing 500+ users to comment and leave feedback on your product plans. Also handy is the ideas backlog and email notifications for followers when ideas or stories they are following are progressing. You can get started with a 14-day free trial to test it all out.
With the ability to create unlimited roadmaps, ProdPad also enables you to integrate your OKRs into your product plans as well as keep tight control on user access and views. There’s also a free trial available so you can give it a test drive.
Offering everything from custom views to dev tool integrations, Airfocus is worth looking at whether you’re an individual all the way through to a large organization with custom security needs. They also offer a free trial for 14 days to new customers.
How to choose the perfect roadmap tool for you
When thinking about the best roadmap software for you, your team and your company it’s worth mapping out the goals you want to achieve by using any roadmap tooling. You can also start by noting down answers to the following questions:
- Who will be accessing your roadmap? How many people and what levels of seniority?
- Will you be presenting your roadmap around the business? How much flexibility do you need on different views?
- Is the ability to import / export items on your roadmap important?
- Budget – how much do you have available to spend on roadmap software?
- What level of customisation is right for you, your team and the business?
- What do you want to achieve with your roadmap? Is it buy-in from stakeholders? An understanding of upcoming work from your team? Something else?
Once you have a clearer picture of what you want to achieve with your roadmap you can test out some of the product roadmapping tooling out there to see which one most closely meets your needs and business goals. As we talked about, many roadmap software companies offer no strings free trials for 14 days or more so you will have plenty of time to put them through their paces!
Final points about roadmapping tools
Hopefully you have found some useful tips here for thinking about the goals you want to achieve with your roadmap and tooling, as well as how to select the right product roadmap software for yours and your company’s needs. Roadmapping tooling is useful for everything from visualizing your product plans through to switching views to something that makes sense for your audience – remember that you can try before you buy, so be sure to test drive a few different solutions before making a decision!