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Get the buy-in you need with a data-driven product roadmap

As a product manager, you have a never-ending list of requests, improvements and new features you could be working on. So how do you prioritize them effectively—and get buy-in on your decisions from colleagues? With a bulletproof roadmap driven by actionable data.

Key takeaways

Digital products are difficult to create. They require serious resources, planning and collaboration, and the future of the business often depends on them working well.

…and once the product is launched, you’re under constant pressure from customers and internal stakeholders to make changes.

Pleasing everyone is impossible. But you can prioritize the most important improvements in a plan that you can share internally and externally—also known as a product roadmap.

And if you’re using the right data, you can make better decisions around what features you prioritize, increasing your chances of long-term success.

By the end of this article, you’ll understand how to:

  • Create a roadmap that follows your long-term product strategy, while giving you a helpful framework to make decisions with

  • Keep your customers excited about what’s coming next while giving internal stakeholders visibility over what’s on the horizon

  • Build your product roadmap around actionable data so you minimize risks and meet user needs—all while giving teammates confidence in your decisions.

Let’s dive in!

What is a product roadmap?

A product roadmap is a plan that details how you will develop your product over the coming months and years. It helps internal teams to collaborate effectively, while showing customers and partners what to expect from upcoming releases.

Product roadmaps vary in format, but usually include a number of key components:

  • High-level goals for how product development will align with the overall business and product strategies

  • Themes or initiatives that the product team is focusing on—for example, improving the onboarding experience or reducing churn

  • Features and enhancements the team is working on, often broken down into smaller sub-features

  • Timelines showing approximately when new functionalities will be launched, and for internal teams, the timing of development sprints

  • Release timelines showing when new functionalities will be developed launched—this could mean one feature, or several simultaneously

  • Metrics and KPIs that will be used to measure the success of the new features being developed (for example, by tracking feature adoption and customer retention rates)

  • Risks that might affect the roadmap, such as technical restrictions and competitor activities.

Social media tool Buffer shares its roadmap with customers publicly.

Why is a product roadmap important?

Product roadmaps are vital for building products in line with a long-term strategy. They help you prioritize the most impactful enhancements based on user needs, market trends and the company’s vision.

Without a roadmap, product teams are reactive and don’t focus on enhancements that result in long-term growth and stability. Isaac Mardan, Senior Product Manager at Glassbox, explains:

A company that doesn't have a roadmap is making decisions on gut feelings and won’t be data-driven. Without a roadmap, you’re not being proactive—you’re always responding to feature requests, responding to bugs or to the loudest client. And it might help today and make that client happy because you did exactly what they wanted, but in the long run, you're not improving, and you're not connected to the company's strategy. A company that goes too long without a roadmap can fail.

Isaac Mardan, Senior Product Manager at Glassbox

The benefits of having a product management roadmap include:

  • Internal team alignment. When teams understand how the roadmap supports the company’s long-term strategy, they can adjust their own goals and activities. For example, if the sales team understands what new features and capabilities are on the way, it can start promoting them to customers.

  • Risk mitigation. Data-driven roadmaps help ensure you build a product that users will actually use and that positions you well against competitors.

  • Informed decision-making. Product timelines help you schedule development sprints, ensuring resources are available at the right time.

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Types of product roadmaps

You can adapt your product roadmap to complement distinct development methodologies or enable decision-making in key areas. Let’s look at some product roadmap examples showing the possibilities:

Agile product roadmaps

Agile methodology allows developers to take an incremental, iterative approach to product development. With this in mind, Agile roadmaps help teams to develop different aspects of the product simultaneously rather than in distinct, sequential steps.

Accordingly, Agile roadmaps often show overlapping phases that are planned over short “sprints” of one to four weeks. Agile roadmaps are designed to help product teams develop the most important features first while remaining flexible and adaptable.

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Evolutionary product roadmaps

Evolutionary product roadmaps are ideal for rapidly changing environments, giving developers space to learn and adapt to feedback.

Evolutionary product roadmaps are less detailed than Agile roadmaps, focusing more on high-level strategic goals. Like Agile roadmaps, evolutionary roadmaps break down development into small increments. However, they’re generally more focused on long-term views spanning multiple iterations or releases.

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Waterfall product roadmaps

The waterfall methodology uses distinct development phases that developers complete in a linear sequence with little or no overlap.

Accordingly, waterfall product roadmaps include simple visualizations that indicate the goals and output of each development phase.

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Release roadmap

Release roadmaps are arguably not a type of roadmap but a plan that complements them. While the product roadmap communicates the “big picture” of upcoming releases, the release plan breaks them down into a timeframe indicating key milestones for development and release.

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Theme product roadmap

Theme product roadmaps help companies be more strategic, focusing on high-level goals rather than specific tasks or features.

By focusing on themes rather than tasks, the roadmap also allows teams to be more flexible, adapting their plans to changing priorities, feedback and market trends.

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Capacity product roadmap

Capacity product roadmaps typically focus on the availability and allocation of resources, rather than development tasks.

By providing a visual representation of resources and potential bottlenecks, they help the company make decisions and plan timelines effectively.

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5 reasons a product roadmap that isn’t data-driven will fail

Product roadmaps should ideally be aligned with the company’s strategy based on actionable data the company gathers. At a minimum, this data should include product usage metrics, voice of customer (VoC) feedback and competitive analysis insights.

“If you have a roadmap that's not connected to your strategic alignment, you don't know what impact it's going to deliver,” explains Mardan. “You might please some clients or stakeholders in the short term, but you increase your risk of being outdated and not providing value to clients in the long term.”

Here are five reasons a product roadmap that isn’t data-driven may fail:

1. You build features that users don’t actually need

Without data, you’re operating on hunches, which leaves you at risk of developing features your users won’t care about.

Only product metrics and user feedback—like Net Promoter Scores (NPS)—will show you where users struggle and what features they use most. And with voice of the customer data, you can get a clearer picture of the improvements your users want and need.

2. You can’t effectively mitigate risks

Without a data-driven roadmap, you risk losing ground to competitors who are building their product in line with market trends. You’ll also come up against technical risks—like not having data or development resources available at the right time.

3. You won’t have a framework for updating your roadmap

Every product roadmap is subject to change as the market evolves and new user feedback comes in. But without data—and without knowing which metrics to track—you can’t weigh up the impact of any potential changes.

4. You put short-term wins ahead of the long-term strategy

Without data, you end up prioritizing features based on pressure from internal stakeholders or loud customers.

While it’s important to listen to colleagues and customers, their needs must be balanced with long-term initiatives that will add the most value to your audience.

5. You struggle to get buy-in for ideas

When a key stakeholder is advocating for your team to prioritize a sexy new feature or bug fix, it can be difficult to push back. But with data, you can demonstrate the impact of making potential changes (or not making them)—and get all your team on the same page.

Steps to creating a data-driven product roadmap

Follow these five steps to ensure your roadmap supports your long-term goals and gets you buy-in from colleagues.

Tip: While some companies use spreadsheets for this task, you might find it helpful to use dedicated product roadmap software.

1. Define the product strategy

If you’re only basing your roadmap on feature requests and bugs, you’ll lose out in the long term. Instead, develop a product strategy that balances short-term needs with market trends, user needs and your overall vision.

“You have to start by defining your company's strategic goals and objectives,” states Mardan. “Once you know what your strategy is, you can identify the key metrics that you measure to see if you're actually making an impact.”

👉 Check out these 15 essential metrics for product success.

2. Gather actionable feedback

Next, start gathering data you can use to prioritize product improvements and enhancements:

  • Product analytics data will show you how users behave in your product and how their behavior links to key metrics like revenue and churn

  • Competitor analysis will reveal where the threats from competitors are and what new features might help you improve your market share

  • Market research and user feedback from VoC programs will reveal which user needs are currently underserved

  • Internal input from sales, R&D and other departments can help you identify which initiatives are technically feasible and which will have the biggest business impact

🔥 Hot tip: Standalone product analytics tools inform you how your customers engage with your product, but they can’t provide the context that tells you why. A digital experience intelligence (DXI) platform provides rich insights that give you a complete picture of what your customers are doing and the critical data to uncover why they’re behaving that way.

3. Analyze the data

Once you’ve gathered data, look for patterns, trends and correlations that you can use to answer questions relevant to your strategy. For example, you might use data to investigate:

  • Which pain points are most highly correlated with churn and customer satisfaction?

  • Which feature requests are most popular, and which would be easiest to develop?

  • Which feature requests are most commonly associated with high-value audience segments?

  • What user needs are our competitors’ products currently serving better than ours?

📊 Want to harness the power of data? Download our free ebook on unlocking customer delight with deeper data.

4. Prioritizes features objectively

After completing your analysis, you’ll have a long list of possible opportunities for improvement. Use a framework like RICE to prioritize them based on the effort they require and their potential impact.

However, it’s also important to involve internal stakeholders in your prioritization decisions.

“You should involve R&D, sales, account management and executives to make sure that you’re considering all the important factors in play,” states Mardan. “For example, R&D can help you determine which ideas will be easy or complicated to deliver. These conversations will help you weigh up what infrastructure and investment is needed, so you can make better decisions.”

5. Iterate and Optimize

Most roadmaps will require change as you develop your product and get feedback from users. This is a normal part of development and should be driven by the product analytics data you gather.

“Once you develop a new feature and develop it, you don’t automatically move to the next phase,” says Mardan. “Instead, you check your data, look at user behavior and see if it makes sense to move to the new phase. If users aren’t adopting your new feature, you might want to re-evaluate the roadmap.”

Best practices for creating an effective product roadmap

✅ Communicate carefully

Your product roadmap affects the whole company, so make sure you share the roadmap with other teams. Once you’ve made it clear to your teams what the priorities are, they usually won’t come to you with other feature requests.

✅ Rely on data, not hunches

Teammates will often have a hunch about what users need, so it’s critical to look to at the data whenever possible during the product roadmapping process. Mardan explains:

“As a product manager, it’s sometimes your job to push back on other peoples’ feelings and hunches. It’s your job to say, ‘This is what the data says that the users want. This is what will provide the most amount of value for the user,’” states Mardan.

✅ Be flexible when necessary

Even when prioritizing data, it’s still important to take other perspectives into account so that the roadmap works for everyone.

“It's important to listen to other stakeholders and compound everybody's views, especially those that are talking a lot to the client,” Mardan explains. “Particularly R&D, who know the effort required to develop features and know the product better than anyone else.”

Get the data you need to create practical product roadmaps

Teams that use data-driven roadmaps are better equipped to mitigate risk, align their teams and create products that delight their users. And in a fast-growing marketplace, it helps you follow a long-term strategy that keeps you ahead of the competition.

With a digital experience intelligence platform like Glassbox, you can gather key insights to inform your product roadmap. Understand user journeys, product usage trends, customer sentiment and more—then put your findings into action. Learn more about how Glassbox can help you.