The term roadmap is thrown around quite a bit in the world of software development. While many people assume that it’s a single document, companies often have different roadmaps for different purposes or audiences. The two most popular types of roadmaps are product roadmaps and technology roadmaps.
Let’s take a look at the differences between product vs technology roadmaps, as well as best practices for building and managing both of them.Product and technology roadmaps both play important roles in software development—here are the important differences between the two. Click To Tweet
Product Roadmap: The ‘What’ and ‘Why’
Product roadmaps are typically built by product managers for stakeholders, customers and other non-technical audiences. With a focus on high level features and broad timelines, they show stakeholders progress towards a goal and customers what lies ahead. They help ensure that everyone is on the same page at a high level without getting into the weeds.
Product roadmaps start with an overarching strategy that defines why the product exists (e.g., target customers, customer requirements and product vision). After collecting feedback from customer research, sales conversions and other sources, the product manager creates a set of features that define what will be built to execute on the strategy and deliver value.
Examples or product roadmap items include:
- Adding shipping notifications to an ecommerce application.
- Creating a community leaderboard for an exercise application.
- Adding new sign-in methods for any type of application.
These product roadmap items should not go into specific implementation details (e.g., what service to use to send shipping notifications or specific libraries to use for sign-in methods); rather, they are designed to provide a high-level overview of upcoming features that are prioritized based on subjective and objective metrics.
In some cases, product roadmaps are made public to show customers what’s coming and even enable them to vote on features. Trello boards (made public) are a popular way to implement public product roadmaps but companies that prefer deeper integrations or customer-only access may want to use Roadmap Portal built on Jira service management.
Amoeboids’ Roadmap Portal – Source: Amoeboids
Technology Roadmap: The ‘When’ and ‘How’
Technology roadmaps are typically built by engineering teams for internal audiences. With a focus on technical details, they outline what internal teams must build to advance the product roadmap. They help engineering teams communicate the scope of what needs to be done to product managers that are responsible for the higher-level product roadmap.
Unlike product roadmaps, technology roadmaps are typically built using engineer-focused tools, such as Atlassian’s Jira. These tools enable product managers to correlate roadmap objectives with actual backlog items, burndown charts and other tools to check the development status and assess the viability of completing them on time.
Jira-based Technology Roadmap – Source: Atlassian
The best technology roadmaps provide a high-level overview of what’s coming while avoiding the granular details of a product backlog. From a product management standpoint, they are a bridge between the product roadmap designed for non-technical stakeholders and the development backlog that contains individual features or bug fixes.
Technology roadmaps also help ensure that everyone is working together. For instance, the roadmap may include planned upgrades to languages or frameworks that impact multiple engineering teams or plans to migrate between different service providers. This roadmap enhance communication to avoid excess dependencies and spiraling costs.
How They Fit into the Development Process
Product vs technology roadmaps are designed to help guide the development process from a high level without getting into the weeds. At their core, both types of roadmaps should also be guided by reason and defensible with a consistent set of metrics.
Product roadmaps should be the starting point for development efforts. Bringing together technical and business stakeholders, these roadmaps should be built based on an overarching strategy with a focus on providing value to the customer. Engineers should participate in a limited role to ensure that anything added is feasible in terms of technology, time and cost.
Technology roadmaps are primarily driven by the engineering team. Using the product roadmap as a guide, these roadmaps are focused on deciding what languages, platforms and dependencies are ideal, as well as how features will be implemented with them. They should ensure that the entire engineering team is on the same page at all times.
Actual development should still occur using a development backlog along with an Agile process. As features and bug fixes are deployed, the product and technology roadmaps should be updated to reflect that progress—typically by the product manager. Any changes or concerns that arise can then be brought up in subsequent weekly or monthly meetings.
The Bottom Line
Product vs technology roadmaps are essential parts of any software business. Product roadmaps help keep non-technical stakeholders on the same page at a high level while technology roadmaps help organize the implementation details for engineers. When combined, these two roadmaps help ensure that a project stays on time and on budget.