Roadmaps are essential to planning and getting complex work done. They are used in many different ways and shared with different audiences. You see product roadmaps in everything from executive briefings to IT planning meetings. Roadmaps are even used during sales presentations with key clients. And product teams are constantly discussing the right level of information to include.
You probably know by now that not all roadmaps are created equal. They solve specific problems and present different information that is audience-dependent.
There are significant differences between product roadmaps and technology roadmaps — the two most common types of roadmaps.
It is easy to confuse the audience, content, and promises of each of these roadmaps. That’s why I believe it is worth reviewing what is often considered to be the major differences in more detail.
Here are three core ways that product roadmaps differ from technology roadmaps:
Product roadmaps are typically built by product managers for external customers or partners. These roadmaps do not contain every detail because they aim to reassure customers that the product’s direction aligns with the problems they are trying to solve. The real question that drives this type of roadmap is: “Will this product evolve along with my needs?” A product roadmap should provide the answer.
Technology roadmaps are typically built by engineering and operations teams for internal audiences. These roadmaps include details about plans to deliver major capabilities. They also outline what internal teams must build to support the product roadmap. Audiences for technology roadmaps need requirements that explain what systems and processes are needed to deliver value to customers. A technology roadmap is the most effective way to highlight this information.
Product roadmaps focus on features and their customer benefits. Which major problems will be addressed over the next three to six quarters? And for whom? The product roadmap should answer these questions.
Technology roadmaps display detailed component, system, and process plans. The roadmap explains how the technology will evolve to support the product roadmap, such as, “In order to support third party integrations we are going to need to expand the capabilities of our API.”
Product roadmaps cover time frames such as weeks, months, or quarters. As a result, these dates are somewhat loose. Loose time frames do not mean that product managers fail to set goals and include them on their roadmaps. Rather, product managers use their roadmaps to inform customers in a directional way of when new features can be expected. Product managers understand that plans do change, but also recognize their responsibility to provide customers with decent guidance.
Technology roadmaps are more specific. This is because other internal teams depend on those dates to achieve their own work. Sales, marketing, customer success, and others all need to know when core technology and processes will be in place that is needed for them to deliver a complete product to customers.
When in doubt, think of product roadmaps and technology roadmaps as two halves of a whole. Product roadmaps are the “why” and the “what.” Technology roadmaps are the “when” and “how.” And remember: Your customers do not care about how you deliver meaningful new features and value, they just care that you do.
There will always be differences in the ways that companies complete roadmap planning and execute strategies. However, knowing the nuances of different types of roadmaps and how they are best used will help you grow your business.
This is a guest post by Steve Johnson. If you are looking to be a great product manager or owner, create brilliant strategy, and build visual product roadmaps — start a free trial of Aha!
About the author
Steve Johnson is a recognized thought leader and storyteller within the technology product community. At Under10 Consulting, he helps product teams implement the latest methods for today’s business environments.