How to Build a Product Roadmap for Your Startup in 7 Steps

In 2021 the main reason for the failure of startups, over 38% of businesses, was running out of funds. Nowadays companies that know how to build a product roadmap can create a smooth management process and excel at future fundraising endeavors.   

Startups need a product roadmap that shows how their product will be developed. However, before we get into that, we will explain in more detail why startups need the product roadmap and how to build it correctly.

What Is a Product Roadmap?

A product roadmap is a shared visual document that guides the product creation process with a description of

  • product vision
  • strategy
  • possible risks
  • priorities and progress.

It’s a helpful step-by-step source for startup product management.

An ideal product roadmap should include: 

  • product strategy
  • goals and metrics
  • features and product hypotheses
  • software tech stack 
  • deadline and milestones
  • results after each phase

A product roadmap often looks like a mind map but it’s used for strategic planning and carrying out the startup’s mission.

Who Needs a Product Roadmap?

Creating a product roadmap is beneficial for startup businesses and all of the people involved in its creation. Roadmaps should contain vital information for everyone involved in the management process such as:

  • Software developers

A product roadmap helps align business goals with technology solutions. Software developers get a guided plan with deadlines and milestones as well as a way to think about dependent tasks and understand possible risks.

  • Top management 

Top managers and board members need to understand whether the product roadmap is compatible with the company’s strategy and goals. Also, top managers can present a product roadmap to investors to get funding. 

  • Project managers

Project managers can simplify communication between the developers and the clients. They also schedule experts’ tasks based on time and milestones and check statuses as they work throughout the entire project.

Why is Roadmapping so Important?

Product roadmaps are extremely important for startups because, without a clear and comprehensive product roadmap, each member of the startup’s team may interpret the product vision differently. 

Different product visions may lead to your team not being able to work cohesively on the implementation of your product strategy which will take the project in different roadmap directions. Thus, this miscommunication can cause a startup product to crash or slow down its roadmap progress towards the desired goal.

Product roadmap software combined with analytics tools is the first resource product team companies spend their budget on in 2021. Based on product management reports, this source takes up more than 30% of all product management budgets. 

Over the last five years, there was a noticeable increase in the use of different types of product roadmapping software and tools. This activity is likely going to continue at least until the end of 2028.

How to make a product roadmap: Software and tools usage How to make a product roadmap: Software and tools usage

Source: Secondary Research, Primary Interviews, Friar Markets Analysis

Despite the active growth dynamics of product roadmapping software, about 20% of project managers still suffer from a lack of digital roadmap resources.

How to Create a Unique Format for Your Product Roadmap

Since a roadmap wireframe is a template, each startup project can create its own unique roadmap format. It will include creating a product strategy, product roadmap features with their descriptions, deadlines to a project release, a product roadmap solution unique to the company. However, to build a one-of-a-kind product roadmap, let’s determine the main types of roadmaps available on the market.

Brian Lawley, the CEO and Founder of 280 Group, and author of five best-selling product management books, gives the four most common classifications of product roadmaps:

Portfolio Roadmap

How to make a product roadmap: RoadmunkHow to make a product roadmap: Roadmunk

Еxample: Roadmunk

A portfolio management roadmap visualizes when products are planned to be released, and scaled. This type of product roadmap usually unites several company products together in one comprehensive branched table. This product roadmap sets out:

  • strategy that the development team and the product manager have chosen
  • vision for the company’s future direction 

Strategy Roadmap

How to use a strategic roadmap: Aha!How to use a strategic roadmap: Aha!

Strategic roadmap: Aha!

A strategy management roadmap describes the steps that the team needs to take to achieve the startup’s business goals and objectives. As a rule, a strategic product roadmap includes:

  • company’s strategic vision
  • values and goals
  • product ideas
  • potential obstacles, and ways to solve them

Without a strategic product roadmap, it would be difficult for the internal teams to make key decisions or take on certain risks without understanding how the situation might develop due to inaction or downtime.

Release Roadmap

How to create release roadmap: Aha!How to create release roadmap: Aha!

Release roadmap: Aha!

A release product roadmap, sometimes called a release management plan, visualizes the main development stages before the product’s release. This type of product roadmap is important for communication with startup participants about their areas of responsibility and expected results.

A release product plan is a great roadmap tool that allows software developers, marketers, customer support, and other internal experts to successfully work together to release a startup product on time.

Features Roadmap

How to make a product feature roadmap: JiraHow to make a product feature roadmap: Jira

Features roadmap: Jira

A feature roadmap is a guide with a timeline that shows all the product features along with their implementation timing. This helps clarify for the startup team, investors, and customers what to expect from future updates and what functionality will be added. 

Functional product roadmaps are often tailored to meet customer needs, as they are one of the main priorities when creating a startup.

Before You Start: How to Plan What Goes into the Roadmap

Before creating a startup, it is vital to determine how to build a product roadmap that will set up the best plan for companies. When starting to implement a product roadmap, Sloboda Studio advises paying attention to the goal of the startup, the life-affirming heart of the future product.

Defining Your Product Vision

First of all, business owners need to have a clear vision of product management. This helps to show the potential audience, as well as the development team, why and for what purpose the product is being created. For a startup, the product will be vital in helping users solve some significant problems.

startups roadmap progressstartups roadmap progress

As practice shows, about 36% of startup failures are due to the changing goals of the product, as well as the absence of one core goal for creating the product. Therefore, before investing money in an idea, make sure that you confirm its validity beforehand.

top reasons why startups failtop reasons why startups fail

Source: Failory, CBinInsights, Startup devKit

Identifying Your Target Audience

For each business, it is vital to determine who the target audience is and what they need. Ideally, companies need this type of crucial data about their future consumers: 

  • client’s age
  • industry
  • hobbies
  • pain points
  • what’s important for them, etc.

Having learned everything about their potential audience, businesses need to create a portrait of a future buyer. Focusing on the portrait, the next stage will be defining the product goals and deadlines for their implementation.

Generating a Goal for a Specific Time Period

If companies want to succeed, generating goals for a specific period is a necessary part of the process so that the development team can meet deadlines and reach milestones smoothly. If the business doesn’t have deadlines, this might result in an overstated process and the roadmap plan will be violated.

Creating a targeted plan for a specific period is crucial when creating a startup product. If companies follow this strategy, chances are higher that they will be able to overtake competitors and get into the market first.

Determining Problems to be Solved

When creating a new product, it is important to calculate in advance any possible risks and ways to solve them. 

Determining as many potential management tricks as possible early on will help to create a smooth process prepared for future challenges and will help to avoid stalling.

Aligning Goals with Your Internal Team and Stakeholders

Once companies have decided on the product goals, it is necessary to coordinate them with the internal team and investors. Since investors are directly interested in creating a quality product, the goal of the product should also coincide with the expectations of the stakeholders.

It is particularly crucial that the startup product meets the expectations of all the roadmap parties involved and does not create any conflict due to an incompatible vision of the product.

Prioritizing the Steps of Your Product Strategy

how to make a product roadmap: Prioritization for startup businesseshow to make a product roadmap: Prioritization for startup businesses

Source: Product Plan Survey 2021

Prioritization is an essential point to consider before creating a product roadmap. Сompanies claimed that a lack of prioritization was the biggest struggle faced by organizations of various sizes.

Prioritization of the production process starts by defining the main elements that will be reflected on the product roadmap:

  • functionality and deadlines
  • roles of each expert included in the process
  • critical situations in the process and ways out of them

Once you have listed the main elements, you need to move on to multi-level vertices and specific product functions. However, there is no need to overload a product roadmap with a detailed presentation of every single task.

If startups have any problems with evaluating or prioritizing product tasks, the best solution is to use a weighted startup formula which will help calculate the appropriate priority assigned to each product roadmap task. 

But first, companies need to understand what goes into the task priority formula. The priority assigned to the task depends on its size and the cost of the delay.

Task Priority Formula for RoadmapTask Priority Formula for Roadmap

Source: ScaledAgileFramework, Issart

The size of the task refers to its technical complexity and the amount of time it takes to complete.

The cost of the delay should be based on:

  • Importance of the launch
  • Time to market
  • Possible risks and ways of overcoming them
How to use a product roadmap: Formula of Delay CostHow to use a product roadmap: Formula of Delay Cost

Source: CleverRoad, ScaledAgileFramework

Companies can also use automated tools, for example, Porter’s Five Forces or the SWOT analysis to determine which goals should be the team’s main focus. When choosing a tool based on analytics, focus on your team’s capabilities, preferences, and level of knowledge.

Staying Flexible 

The main challenge of being successful in the market is staying flexible. A business will flourish if the people involved in its creation and promotion are flexible and adaptive to modern marketing and technology trends. For example, the market situation can change dramatically over a short time in one direction or another, your product must be always ready for this.

How to Build a Product Roadmap in 7 Steps

Startups sometimes refuse to build a roadmap for their product because it seems to them that it takes a lot of time. But Sloboda Studio knows how to build a product roadmap in just seven easy steps.

Step 1. Defining Your Product Strategy

In 2021, most of the world’s startups prefer to use specialized product roadmapping programs to visualize development stages, track deadlines, and, surprisingly, draw up a company strategy. And such a function is possible with modern high-level product roadmap software.

Due to the 2021 product management report, this type of product software also helps businesses to build a clear purpose and company strategy.

How to start a product roadmap: roadmapping market trends in 2021How to start a product roadmap: roadmapping market trends in 2021

Source: ProductPlan

Your product strategy shows the big picture of what your product will become and determines the direction of the company’s scaling activities in the future. So, if companies want to start how to build a product roadmap, it’s crucial to think about strategy first.

Startuppers can create their product strategy in three roadmap stages:

  • Exploring your target market
  • Choosing the right business model
  • Deciding on features and functionality

Conducting Market Research

Companies need to conduct marketing research that will determine the real market demand for a startup. In the course of audience research, your startup product needs to answer the following questions:

  1. What are the current market needs?
  2. What are the requirements for the product?
  3. How will your product solve the problems of your target audience?
  4. What characteristics can make your product competitive?

It would be beneficial to talk about the launch of the startup on social networks. This will help companies communicate with their potential audience. In this case, entrepreneurs will understand customer needs, and receive detailed, high-quality feedback about the product that users would like to see on the market.

Choosing a Business Model

Now it’s time to use your research results to create your business model. A Lean Canvas is an effective tool for determining principal aspects of your product’s operational flow that will assist you in this task.

The business model canvas allows to collect and analyze all the key business points in one table. This allows you to visualize all the blocks of the project, including customers, investors, and customers in general.

The idea of a business model canvas is simple but very effective. Companies don’t need to make thick business product plans and provide investors with tons of huge materials anymore. Today, the situation has changed. There is nothing superfluous in the business canvas model if companies make everything right. It covers all major business segments and strategies.

 Step 2. Gathering Product Requirements and Feature

After a startup company has defined its product strategy, it’s time to decide which features should be implemented by the product.

When choosing features for a product, remembering target audience surveys and in-depth interviews with potential customers is vital. Although companies don’t need to create all the product features that potential customers are asking for. 

Customer interviews through social networks are an invaluable source of information about what solutions the target audience expects from a digital product. Again, communication plays a key role here.

Choosing the right features also includes a detailed analysis of the products’ direct and indirect competitors. A startup’s task, of course, is not to create a product with the same functions, but to learn from the experience of the competitors. It’s crucial to find out what customers like and dislike about their competitors’ products, and use this knowledge to their advantage.

Our client, the Belgian company Moovle, came to Sloboda Studio with only an idea and design in the initial stage. The task of our team was to bring the idea to life and turn it into an MVP product. 

We had to implement all the necessary functions in the shortest possible time so that our client could present the solution to investors. Our team was able to develop basic functions, integrate external APIs for list synchronization, and implement the entire list management mechanism. The platform has become an Airbnb-like accommodation, but with its own unique functionality.

An experienced outsourcing company will be able to offer customers many great features for the product, but they definitely won’t need to develop them all at once. Prioritization helps determine which product features should be created first. 

Step 3. Setting Deadlines

Startup companies need to set feature deadlines and key stages of their project construction. This will help you not to fall behind schedule and the project manager to coordinate the work of the team correctly.

Step 4. Estimating Project Scope and Budget Expectations

The list of priority functions allows you to proceed to the next step. Specifying a timeline in the product roadmap requires you to identify and evaluate the scope of product tasks that need to be completed to implement the selected product functions.

To assess the scope of work, it would be a good idea to involve a dedicated software development team:

  • UI/UX designers
  • Quality assurance engineers
  • Business analysts
  • DevOps
  • Software and/or mobile developers 

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Companies can work closely with outsourcing agencies providing software services and all specialists involved in the process to decompose the functions of the product into tasks, evaluate these tasks in hours, and thus determine the amount of future development and management work.

Together you will be able to determine the number of specialists you will need for the project, as well as their skills and competencies.

Then you need to create a project release plan based on the number of specialists you are going to hire. Each issue should be assigned to a specific product goal and deadline.

Based on the previous stages of the evaluation process, it is now possible to calculate the number of product resources, such as money and equipment, that your project needs.

Step 5. Identifying Task Dependencies Early On

At an early stage, it is essential to understand which tasks interact with each other, so delaying one task will cause changes in deadlines and disrupt the progress of the whole project. 

Usually, such complex product tasks require special control, and it is necessary to perform crisis planning for them.

 Step 6. Presenting Your Product Roadmap

The product roadmap is a vital step-by-step creation document that should be provided to the following roadmap participants in the development process such as

  • Development Team
  • Sales and Marketing 
  • CEO and Top Executives
  • Investors
  • Customers (optional)

It is also a good idea to present a product’s idea, its functionality, and product capabilities to users. For example, in the Cambridge Brain Sciences project, it has become a good tradition to present new functionality to its target audience, namely representatives of various clinics (i.e., to involve customers).

 Step 7. Tracking Progress

To track the progress of startup management, certain software programs and tools can help. Companies can easily monitor their results, see the actual progress, and understand how the product roadmap works in reality. Sloboda Studio highlights the top four most popular product roadmapping and project management tools:

Aha!

Aha is the most popular product roadmap software used to create strategies, capture customer ideas, and prioritize features. It’s useful for product, marketing, and project management teams.

ProductPlan

ProductPlan is a product roadmap platform that outlines the vision, direction, priorities, and progress of a product over time. Creating a plan of action aligns companies around short and long-term goals. The most powerful feature of ProductPlan is building the product strategy.

Roadmunk

Roadmunk is a good product roadmap tool for creating and presenting boardroom-ready product roadmaps. Companies can share their plans, prioritize steps, and use an idea management suite.

Jira

Jira is a simple but effective product roadmap software solution that predicts the strategy for the long-term creation of a product or project.

how to build a product roadmap: 7 crucial stepshow to build a product roadmap: 7 crucial steps

How We Build an Effective Product Development Roadmap

Roadmap creation is a part of the Discovery phase, which is the first stage of the product development cycle where outsourcing vendors can study the product idea, research market competitors, and choose the right tech stack for the product development.  

Sloboda Studio advises choosing the discovery phase for startup product management because it helps companies to visualize the work of their development team and set product feature deadlines as well as crucial milestones. Also, it helps to understand what results will be produced by the end of the creation cycle.

If companies choose a discovery phase for their product, an outsourced company will get high-level research help with:

  • software requirements specification combined in an SRS document
  • suitable technology stack needed
  • platform architecture
  • must-have product functionality
  • user journey 
  • wireframes, etc

#1: Team

Sloboda Studio has been expanding software development teams and setting up management teams from scratch for more than 11 years. We know how challenging it is can sometimes be to pull together excellent specialists for one project.

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However, only by using the services of experienced vendors, which you can find on Clutch or GoodFirms, will startups be able to create a team consisting of powerful experts who can build a quality product. If businesses want to save a lot of time searching for talent, it would be a good idea to use this option to hire a dedicated team.

#2: Timeline

Entrepreneurs must decide whether they want to create a fully-featured product immediately that will cost them more and take more time to develop or go the other way. 

An alternative way is to create an MVP,  an early version of the product with basic functionality. An MVP can be beneficial for startup companies to build a concept and its representation. This type of software helps to

  • launch products faster onto the market faster
  • build up fundraising

However, before making a final decision, let’s take a look at the market situation. If there is a certain competitor who is also in a hurry to be on the market, there is a chance you might come second in the race.

#3: What You Get

By choosing the discovery phase, companies will be able to see which product they will receive at the end. In this way, businesses protect themselves from getting a pig in a poke and entering the market for an incompetent product. 

But only with the help of experienced outsourced partners will it be easier to achieve the desired end goals. They also release the dream startup product with a time-saving approach. By choosing the right outsourcing partner, a startup product will receive such benefits as: 

  • Saving money
  • Speeding up the product launch

#4: Key Steps We Take to Build an Effective Product Development Roadmap

Modern entrepreneurs have an incredible number of cool ideas that they come up with that can actually change the world. Businesses should at least start. 

Companies need to start by understanding how to build an effective product roadmap in four crucial steps. Each of them leads to the success of the product. So it is necessary not to lose sight of anything.

Defining the Goals

Startups that don’t set clear goals will fail. Therefore, it is worth setting clear goals and objectives by answering the following questions:

  1. Why is a startup product needed in the market?
  2. What benefits does the product bring? 
  3. What pain points does the product solve?

Market Research

Marketing research will help you find out everything about the customers: 

  • Their age and preferences
  • Their expectations and the pain points that are crucial to solve. 

Customer information is very important because it helps

  • improve the product
  • better understand the need for the product
  • regulate customer behavior

Customer Journey Map

Startup companies need to understand which path customers take before making their transactions. It is worth asking the following questions:

  1. Which channel do they use most often to communicate with the company?
  2. How do they know about the company?
  3. Is the company often advised?
  4. How long do users wander around the site or app before collaborating?

Some companies use tricks to trace the customer journey map more clearly. They offer users to take a test and get certain benefits or a discount. Sometimes for the function to share with friends or recommendations, customers are awarded bonuses.

UX Concept & Wireframes

A clear concept will help the product to be

  • visually unique
  • functionally simple
  • user-friendly
  • attractive to all customers

An experienced team of visual UX experts can create a product that will stand out favorably in the market. It would be great to search competitors’ websites, understand what bothers the most from the design side. This will help companies improve their product niche by creating the most user-friendly startup.

Product Functionality

A win-win option for startups that are strapped for funds at the initial stage is the development of an MVP product with core functionality. 

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An MVP is a profitable solution since companies receive several advantages:

  • Core functionality and the opportunity to launch the product on the market ahead of competitors
  • Get a quick response and customer feedback from users, and improve the product later
  • Present a startup to investors and raise funds more easily

Product Roadmaps: The Takeaway

The modern world provides huge opportunities for talented people to realize their ideas and turn them into wonderful projects that can improve their lives. 

However, before embarking on the world of startup product development, it is crucial to outline its path from the very beginning to the end, without missing any intermediate stops.

If companies have a lack of experience in the software management process, they can make lots of mistakes. Then, the process will go wrong. The helpful way to avoid failure will be to choose the product discovery phase, which includes a product roadmap. 

Then entrepreneurs have a great chance to build a reliable and high-quality product roadmap that attracts millions on the market. 

However, the very construction of the product roadmap has its own peculiarities. To do everything as correctly as possible and get more benefits from startup development, companies should know seven vital steps about creating a roadmap:

  1. Defining their products strategy, conducting marketing research, and choosing the right business model
  2. Gathering products’ requirements and core features
  3. Setting deadlines
  4. Estimating the product budget and scope of work
  5. Researching task dependencies and all possible product risks
  6. Presenting the roadmap to developers and investors
  7. Tracking the progress using popular roadmapping tools

So, if companies want to make the digital world even more diverse with their own startups, 2021 is the time to start. Don’t wait because now businesses know how to build a product roadmap for their startups.

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