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Product roadmaps: what they are and how to create one that works

When you’re traveling to a new destination, maps help you navigate from A to B. They won’t show you every twist and turn in the road, but they will let you know if you’re going in the right direction and the landmarks you need to pass along the way.

Product roadmaps work in the same way: they give teams a big-picture overview of how a product will get from its current state to its future destination.

Best practices: marketers and product or website owners

Last updated

19 Aug 2022

In this guide, we help you understand what product roadmaps are, why they’re important, and the essential steps to take to build an effective one for your business.

Product experience insights to inform your product roadmap

Hotjar Heatmaps, Recordings, Feedback, and Surveys help you build better product roadmaps by putting users first.

What is a product roadmap?

A product roadmap is a top-level plan that lays out how a product will be updated over time.

There’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ roadmap—they can be calendars, Kanban lists, or multi-page documents, but their purpose is always the same: to keep teams, stakeholders, and customers aware of where a product is headed

#Four Kanban-style product roadmaps from Hotjar, Prisma, MUI, and Craft CMS
Four Kanban-style product roadmaps from Hotjar, Prisma, MUI, and Craft CMS

At its most basic, a product roadmap often includes four main parts: 

  • Product vision or strategy statement: a summary of long-term goals and how the product will achieve them

  • Product updates or key themes: a prioritized list of upcoming features or areas for improvement

  • Timeframe: a guide to when updates are planned to roll out (e.g. Q4 or December 2022) or Kanban-style (To Do, Doing, Done)

  • Disclaimer: a statement that lets readers (in particular, customers) know that planned updates are subject to change

Why are product roadmaps important?

Product roadmaps can benefit software companies, especially those focusing on product-led growth, by:

  • Aligning the company around shared product goals

  • Helping product owners manage and prioritize the product backlog

  • Getting customers excited about a product’s direction

Product managers and owners often use roadmaps to plan and manage the roll-out of new product features. But not all product management teams choose to use roadmaps internally—for example, at Hotjar we focus on OKRs and follow an agile process to experiment and iterate on improvements, instead of committing to specific features and release dates. We do, however, use a public feature roadmap to make our past product updates and future direction clear to customers (more on that in the examples section at the end). 

4 essential steps when building an effective product roadmap

If you’re ready to create a roadmap, here are four best practices to help you build it on a solid foundation:

1. Define your product vision and strategy

Every roadmap needs a destination: start by defining your product vision (where you want the product to be) to give your roadmap a clear product goal.

For example, Hotjar’s overall product vision is “to give our customers the insights they need to create experiences their users love.” That’s our desired outcome, which in turn shapes all the opportunities and actions we take to get there.  

On our public roadmap, we go a step further and outline the product vision and strategy (how the product will reach the vision) for each of our tools. For example, the vision for Recordings is to make finding, watching, and taking action easier, while the strategy is to create segmentation tools, add multi-tab support, and signpost relevant recordings. 

#Product vision and strategy for Hotjar Recordings on our public roadmap
Product vision and strategy for Hotjar Recordings on our public roadmap

You can integrate product vision or strategy into your roadmap in many ways. For example, Jetpack Compose, an Android library for developers, defines the company’s ‘major themes’ at the start of their roadmap.

#Jetpack Compose Roadmap leads with the company’s major themes
Jetpack Compose Roadmap leads with the company’s major themes

Similarly, Moodle, an open-source learning platform, has a ‘big picture’ statement in their roadmap, covering the company’s four main goals. 

#Moodle’s product roadmap starts with the company’s four main goals
Moodle’s product roadmap starts with the company’s four main goals

2. Get input from your customers

Identifying customer needs is the most important part of the roadmapping process, because serving customers is ultimately how your product grows. 

User insights help you:

  • Build accurate user personas so you know who you’re targeting

  • List users’ jobs-to-be-done (JTBD) (i.e. the tasks your product was ‘hired’ to do) so you can plan updates that satisfy user needs

  • Understand where customers are getting stuck so you can prioritize fixes that have the biggest impact 

  • Measure the success of new feature rollouts and spot bugs early

Our users’ experience with the app drives not only improvements but also lays the foundation for our product roadmap.

Shiv Sharma
Head of Content @ Taskworld

Make it a habit to review user behavior with tools like heatmaps to see which elements of a product are getting attention and which are getting ignored.

#A heatmap generated by Hotjar on Taskworld’s sign-up page
A heatmap generated by Hotjar on Taskworld’s sign-up page

And use session recordings to find areas of your product that might be causing frustration.

Pro tip: try filtering for rage clicks to see where users click repeatedly, and you’ll spot bugs that would otherwise go unnoticed.

#An example rage click on a Hotjar Recording
An example rage click on a Hotjar Recording

You can (and should) also collect direct feedback: hearing what’s delighting and annoying users in their own words will generate more ideas for product updates than anything a product team can dream up on their own. There are many ways to collect user feedback, for example:

  • Trigger an on-site survey after a successful sign-up to learn what persuaded a user to convert

  • Trigger an exit-intent survey when users bounce to allow people to explain what stopped them from continuing

  • Add a feedback widget to let people tell you what they love (and hate) about any page whenever they want

We think feedback is even better when you combine it with other insights—survey feedback from a user saying “I wish the interface was easier to use” makes a lot more sense when you view it alongside a session recording showing the user clicking a drop-down menu three times to get to the page they want.

Hotjar helps us validate assumptions and spot new opportunities to fuel our roadmap.

Darren Williams
Head of User Experience @ Moneysupermarket

3. Prioritize feature updates

Every product team has a backlog of feature requests, product opportunities, and bugs to fix. But before any of them can make it onto the roadmap, potential updates need to be prioritized.

Product prioritization will help you decide what features to work on next by weighing customer needs and business goals against team constraints (i.e. limited resources like budgets and available developer hours).

You’ll need to assign scores to potential product updates so you can quantify if they’re worth pursuing. There are many popular product prioritization tools and frameworks to help you out, such as:

  • WSJF (Weighted Shortest Job First)

  • ICE (Impact, Confidence, Ease)

  • RICE (Return, Impact, Confidence, Ease)

  • MoSCoW (Must-Have, Should-Have, Could-Have, Won’t-Have)

Pro tip: if you allow existing customers to upvote product suggestions (known as feature voting), make sure you look at additional factors like feasibility, or whether the update will help you reach growth goals, instead of automatically moving forward with the most popular requests.  

4. Choose a roadmap tool and format

You can build a product roadmap without any software—sticky notes work just fine!—but effective roadmaps need to be easy to update, review, and share, and some tools can be particularly useful for distributed teams. 

Anything goes, from purpose-built product roadmap tools like ProductPlan or Roadmunk to freemium apps like Notion or Trello. If you’re starting from scratch, there are many free product roadmap templates, such as:

More important than the tool you use, though, is the layout your roadmap will take. A lot of product roadmaps take one of two layouts: 

  • Kanban or list layout: organized into columns

  • Timeline layout: organized into a calendar

#The difference between Kanban and timeline roadmap layouts in ProductPlan
The difference between Kanban and timeline roadmap layouts in ProductPlan

Kanban and list layouts can be easier to understand at-a-glance, but timelines are useful internally if you assign specific deadlines to feature roll-outs (note: some tools allow you to toggle between both).

If you’re going with a list layout, columns can be organized by:

  • Timeframe (e.g. Q1, Q2, Q3, Q4, or Now, Next, Later)

  • Product (if you’re a multi-product company)

  • Sprints (if you’re building an agile roadmap)

If you’re not sure where to start, look at the examples below to see some of the different ways roadmaps can be laid out.

6 real product roadmap examples you can learn from

Roadmaps come in many shapes and sizes. Below, we’ve summarized six examples for you—click around and explore them to see which features you might want to add to your product roadmap. 

1. Hotjar

At Hotjar (hi, hello 👋, we make product experience insights tools, try us!) we don’t use a traditional product roadmap anymore. Instead, we use OKRs (objectives and key results) to provide a map of the problems and opportunities teams will work on, rather than the specific features they'll build. 

We do, however, still have a public feature roadmap, built using Trello, to make our past product updates and future direction clear to current and potential customers. Launched features are added only when shipped, with a link to the relevant product updates post for more details. 

#Our public product roadmap at Hotjar
Our public product roadmap at Hotjar

In the past, we used a standard feature roadmap that prioritized frequently requested features.

#Ye olde Hotjar roadmap
Ye olde Hotjar roadmap

We’ve included this example to show you that roadmaps are there to support your product strategy. When you change focus or direction as a company, it’s okay to modify—or even stop using—your existing product roadmap.

2. Microsoft Dynamics 365

Microsoft Dynamics 365 is a business application suite. Their product roadmap is divided into sections for each app within the suite (Marketing, Sales, Customer Voice, etc).

#Microsoft Dynamics 365’s public product roadmap
Microsoft Dynamics 365’s public product roadmap

Features are organized into three main timeframes (Planned, Coming soon, and Try now) and are grouped into product categories (Data and AI, Collaborate apps, etc). Clicking each feature expands it and gives details on what the update will allow customers to do. 

#Product feature details on Microsoft 365’s roadmap
Product feature details on Microsoft 365’s roadmap

Each feature is tagged with a go-live date, so anyone viewing the roadmap knows exactly when new features will become available—the downside is that this kind of approach doesn’t allow for agile updates from the team. 

3. Craft CMS

Craft CMS is a content management system, and their custom-built roadmap is split into two sections, one for each product they offer: Craft CMS and Craft Commerce. Features are grouped into three columns: Planned, In Progress, and Recently Shipped in a typical Kanban list.

#Craft CMS’ Kanban product roadmap
Craft CMS’ Kanban product roadmap

Features are tagged with a reference number, which corresponds to a GitHub discussion page where developers provide more context behind the update.

#Craft CMS feature details in GitHub
Craft CMS feature details in GitHub

4. Prisma 

Prisma is an ORM (Object-Relational Mapping) service for app developers. Their roadmap is built in Notion and is tagged and filterable by their two product offerings: Prisma ORM and Prisma Data Platform.

#Prisma’s product roadmap
Prisma’s product roadmap

Features are grouped into five Kanban-style columns based on timescales: Candidates, Planned, WIP, Early availability, and Generally Available. Clicking on a feature opens a GitHub link, summary, and goal for each planned update, which explains the problem the update will solve, and breaks its execution down into smaller milestones and sub-tasks.

#Prisma lays out the problem each product update is solving in their roadmap
Prisma lays out the problem each product update is solving in their roadmap

5. MUI

MUI is a suite of UI tools, and their roadmap—built using GitHub—begins with a list of the company’s top priorities. There’s also a disclaimer, letting readers know the roadmap is a ‘living document’ and that priorities could change.

#MUI’s product roadmap
MUI’s product roadmap

Links take you to separate quarterly roadmaps for each of MUI’s core product offerings: MUI Core, MUI X, and MUI Design Kits.

#The MUI X quarterly roadmap
The MUI X quarterly roadmap

Product features are grouped into quarterly columns, with an extra one for future projects with no assigned due date. Each feature can be clicked to view more context on how it will function.

#A feature page in MUI’s product roadmap
A feature page in MUI’s product roadmap

By completely integrating their roadmap with GitHub, product and development teams at MUI can use a single source of truth while still transparently sharing details of product updates and planned feature releases with customers. 

6. Schoology

Schoology, a learning management system, uses Zendesk to create a classic three-column Kanban layout for their roadmap: In Research, In Development, and Completed. There’s also a simple disclaimer at the top letting customers know that plans are subject to change.

#Schoology’s Kanban product roadmap
Schoology’s Kanban product roadmap

Clicking a feature opens a page with tabbed entries that give details on what each new feature is and how it will improve the product for users. This is a great example of how to tailor your public roadmap to customers so they see the value being added to a product over time.

#Schoology explains what they’re doing and why users will like each update in their roadmap
Schoology explains what they’re doing and why users will like each update in their roadmap

Next steps in your product roadmapping journey

If you’ve read this far, you should have a clear understanding of what product roadmaps are, and have seen enough working examples to know what yours could look like. 

Like we said above, identifying customer needs is the most important part of the roadmapping process, so get started by collecting product experience insights with our Heatmaps, Recordings, Surveys, and Feedback tools and build your roadmap on a solid, user-centric foundation.

Product experience insights to inform your product roadmap

Hotjar Heatmaps, Recordings, Feedback, and Surveys help you build better product roadmaps by putting users first.

Product roadmaps FAQs