Product Roadmap: Should you build one?

Steve Johnson
12 min readMay 12

Product and portfolio roadmaps are key deliverables in any product planning process. A roadmap looks beyond what you’re doing now. It explores not where you’ll be soon but where you could be a year or more down the road.

When my kids were young and still in car seats, my family would drive from Dallas to Virginia for holidays with my parents. America is a big place! The trip from my home to my family’s home was 24 hours of driving.

Map from Dallas to Washington DC

Here’s the route from Dallas to our home near Washington, DC: we started on Interstate 30, going to Little Rock, Arkansas, and merged with I-40. We took I-40 all the way to Nashville and stayed overnight with my friend Frank. (If you’re ever in Nashville, be sure to shop at Hart Hardware and say “Hi” to Frank). From Nashville, we continued on I-40 until we connected to I-81 in Bristol, Tennessee. From there, it was a straight shot to Strasburg, Virginia, where we connected to I-66 and drove into the DC area.

So, while it’s a long, long trip, it’s really an easy route. And that’s our roadmap.

When describing it to friends and family, I told them the highlights — 30 to 40, then 81 to 66. Texas to Arkansas to Tennessee to Virginia. I avoided too much unnecessary detail. They don’t need to know where we’re stopping for lunch, and we can’t know exactly what time we’ll arrive at Frank’s, but it’ll be as close to dinner time as I can make it. But hey, Frank will understand if we’re an hour early or an hour late.

Before you embark on a long trip — or a long development project — be clear on the goals with a rough idea of the logical steps.

Why build a roadmap?

A roadmap has become the preferred way to show product plans over time. It’s not just a desired feature list by month; it’s bigger than that. It describes major blocks of work, not a laundry list of features. Problems to solve, not features.

I was helping a team of product managers define their plans using product roadmaps. We discussed themes and markets and financial returns; we examined how various strategic elements could filter the items selected for the roadmap. One product manager finally complained, “But when will we get to the…

Steve Johnson

author, speaker, consultant, guitar player. Removing chaos from product management since 1996. Learn how at