How to create a visual product roadmap

When you’re en route to a new destination, it helps to visualize the turns up ahead. The same is true for product development. If you can visualize your destination — which, in this case, is the product — and how to get there, you have a higher chance of success.

A product roadmap visualization helps you reach your goal smoothly and efficiently. Similar to a map or GPS app, it provides a representation of the path leading to the finished product. It even allows you to take detours if you run into unexpected challenges or delays.

Here’s how to create a product roadmap visualization that will take you to your final destination and beyond.

Know your strategy 

The first action on your to-do list before creating a product roadmap visualization is to define your strategy for the product. This includes articulating your vision and setting goals and initiatives. Then you can link goals to initiatives to begin seeing the relationships between the two.

Once you determine your strategy and align it with the product’s vision and goals, you’ll be ready to create a roadmap.

Decide what to highlight

Depending on the audience for the roadmap, you’ll want to highlight different features or releases. For example, if you’re creating a customer-facing product roadmap visualization, you’ll show features they would be interested in. Meanwhile, an internally facing roadmap will include more strategy-related information and how the product aligns with business goals.

Keep in mind that stakeholders outside the company will likely need less information than development teams working on the project. Additionally, avoid hard and fast time frames when preparing roadmaps for external audiences — or you’ll risk them losing faith in the product if you miss a deadline.

Use stories, epics, initiatives, and themes

A product roadmap breaks down into several key parts to represent a hierarchy of goals and tasks: stories, epics, initiatives, and themes. You won’t need all of these in every product roadmap.

Stories are typically short sprints of work; they represent tasks that you need to complete. Typically, you describe these tasks from the user’s point of view, such as automatically assigning a category to a scanned document. You likely use these only on roadmaps for the development team.

Epics are a series of related stories. They often take three to four months, but they have one goal in mind. For example, the epic’s goal may be to include a category assignment ability as well as scanning and optical character recognition. Epics should only appear on internal roadmaps.

Initiatives are collections of epics. They represent a higher-level feature and combine work from different departments, such as development and marketing. These you’ll likely include on most internal roadmaps as well as some external ones.

A roadmap includes themes at an even higher level, featuring a collection of tasks, stories, and epics that align with the company’s goals. They help roadmap audiences understand how the product and its associated tasks fit into the company’s big picture. Plus, they help the team make decisions about the product’s direction if problems arise.

Use familiar graphic elements

Once you’ve decided on the stories, epics, initiatives, and themes that you’ll include in the product roadmap visualization, lay them out logically. Using familiar graphic elements like swimlanes, which visually separate tasks, will be helpful.

Additionally, formatting strategies, such as color-coding, can also help with the visualization. For example, tasks might change color based on their status. This provides a quick way for viewers to see where the product is in development.

Keep it simple

One of the biggest mistakes in any visualization, whether it’s a product roadmap or an infographic, is including too many details. The goal of a roadmap is communication — and as with all communication, keeping it clear and concise is best.

Ultimately, a product roadmap visualization is just one document that’s meant to supplement — but not replace — project management software and tools, making it far easier to understand a project at a glance.

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