Key Questions to Ask When Building Your Product Roadmap

Editor’s note; this post was written by ProductPlan.com—If you’re interested in contributing to our blog, please contact gaby@productschool.com

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Product roadmaps are only as good as the information they’re based on. Compiling the information doesn’t happen in a vacuum. The data, insights, and feedback informing the roadmapping process don’t come together without reaching out to others and asking the right things.

If you don’t talk to the right folks and inquire about certain matters, your roadmapping could make false assumptions, miss out on important opportunities to meet the needs of the market, or not account for major trends and competitors.

But who should be consulted before—and during—the roadmapping process? And what should product teams be asking them?

Here are 30 questions you should be asking when building your product roadmap.

Why are we doing this?

Far too many product roadmaps put all their emphasis on what they’re going to build and when it will be ready. But without a solid understanding of why the product is being built, those implementation details are irrelevant.

Answer these fundamental questions before proceeding with roadmapping and get stakeholder alignment on these points. Executives and product team members are best positioned to answer these key questions:

  • What is the product vision?
  • What value does the product offer?
  • How will our product improve things for our customers?
  • Why are we well-positioned to deliver this value?

Who are we building this for?

Figuring out who your target customers are is another piece of the puzzle. Don’t settle for broad generalizations; you need to narrow down the potential market to a realistic cohort of potential buyers.

Since you can’t make something that will delight everyone, you must determine what will have the biggest impact on the likeliest customer segments. For new products lacking an existing user base, those personas must be unpacked to assess their needs and motivations better.

Product marketing, product management, and sales are all good sources for answering the following:

  • Who will use our product?
  • Who will pay for our product (not always the same people)?
  • What do they care about?
  • Why will they choose our solution?

You might also be interested in: Understanding Product-Market Fit

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What equals success?

Your company has goals and so should your product. Without setting some agreed-upon objectives, there’s no way to measure how the product is performing and if your moves are paying off.

Although they’ll seldom be at odds with each other, corporate goals and those for your product may not always be the same. It is particularly the case when a company has multiple products or also gets a significant portion of its revenue from services or other channels. 

In these cases, the product team must work backward; if the company is trying to achieve something, how can the product help the cause? Some products are loss leaders; others intend to broaden the company’s reach, while a few are the cash cows that fund the rest of the operation.

As a product matures, the definition of success also evolves. Judge how the product’s goals will change over time, from adoption to growth to profitability to preventing and delaying churn and decline. 

It’s also key to remember each stakeholder has their own set of motivations and interests. Therefore their definitions of success may not be the same as their peers. You must, therefore, assess which stakeholders (and their preferred metrics) truly matter most.

Success metrics should really come from the C-suite, if not directly, then at least with their general guidance. Product teams should work with executive stakeholders to coalesce around a product vision and what are the markers that it’s proceeding according to plan:

  • What is the North Star metric or KPIs the organization values?
  • How can our product help with those metrics?
  • How do we define success?
  • Which product metrics can be used to track and measure success over time?

How will this fit into the market landscape?

Your product planning process can’t ignore externalities any more than it can ignore corporate strategy. Every product competes with something else.

Sometimes the competition is pretty obvious. Pepsi employees don’t wake up every morning wondering who else is trying to sell soda. But even a tightly defined market still must factor in other elements.

Pepsi’s not just competing with Coca-Cola. They’re competing with private label and boutique soda brands. Fruit juice and sports drinks are angling for larger pieces of the pie. Seltzer and bottled water companies also have their eyes on getting to people’s lips. 

The same dynamics apply to every product. That’s why the team must understand who else is offering similar, comparable, and alternative solutions to the problems they’re trying to solve. It can drive feature prioritization, timing, pricing, and other aspects of the product roadmap.

Product marketing, sales, marketing, and the product team can all chip in to address these questions:

  • Are there other solutions to the problem we’re trying to solve?
  • How are we superior to those existing solutions?
  • Is the value we offer worth the purchase/switching costs to use our solution?
  • What about our offering is unique and defensible?
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What is the level of effort?

The level of effort estimates is a critical part of the product roadmapping journey. Product teams need rough ideas of how long and how many resources each potential initiative might take, not to mention any major dependencies.

Every item must consider its own ROI calculation when prioritizing and ordering things for the product roadmap. This ingredient in the decision-making process also prevents product roadmaps from being overly aggressive in their assumptions about what can actually get done in a particular time frame. 

Beyond that, product teams also should know if certain projects require highly specialized or limited resources. It helps avoid “double booking” those folks and disrupting the expected sequence of events.

Engineering, UX, and project management can offer answers to these questions:

  • What is the expected available bandwidth for the implementation team?
  • How much time and resources will each initiative take to implement?
  • Are there any time pressures to release particular initiatives?
  • Does the implementation plan make the best use of available resources?

How will we position and sell this?

No matter how great a product may be, it’s pretty hard to be successful if no one knows about it. That’s why product teams can’t ignore the go-to-market aspects of the product when creating the product roadmap.

Understanding how the product will be marketed and sold needs to be accounted for on the roadmap, particularly if certain technology must be in place to support and measure those efforts. For instance, this includes web sites, e-commerce, and analytics projects related to the product.

Once again, sales, marketing, and product marketing are the subject matter experts to tap for these answers, although operations and customer service may also want to chime in:

  • What is our unique value proposition?
  • What does our product need to have to make good on that promise?
  • How can we ensure that value is obvious and easily experienced?
  • What must be in place to monetize our offering?

You might also be interested in: How to Monetize an Online Product

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Turning answers into action

With all these questions answered, it’s time to start building the actual product roadmap. Based on the information gathered from those questions, product teams can not only effectively prioritize initiatives, but they can also organize and present their plans, so they resonate with their various audiences of stakeholders.

The most effective product roadmaps forgo listing out every single item and release date in favor of a more flexible and strategic approach. Instead, group upcoming initiatives into themes and tie them to specific outcomes, goals, and key metrics.

These visual product roadmaps can better tell the story of where the product is heading, why it’s going there, and what to expect when it arrives. It transforms the role of the product roadmap from a glorified project plan into an alignment-building rallying point for the entire organization, with customized views speaking to the interests and concerns of each discrete audience.

To learn more about product planning using themes and visual product roadmaps, download our free ebook on building product roadmaps.

Meet the Author

Jim Semick ProductPlan

Jim Semick is the Co-founder of ProductPlan. For over 15 years, he has helped validate and launch new B2B SaaS products that generate hundreds of millions of recurring revenue every year. Before ProductPlan, Jim was part of the founding team at AppFolio, and helped launch GoToMyPC, GoToMeeting, and GoToWebinar.

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