Just search the keyword “product roadmap template” and you’ll be hit with a flood of free Excel and PowerPoint templates. “Your one-stop solution for building your product roadmap!” is the general battle cry connected with these options.
The promises sound great (plus, who doesn’t love free stuff?). And, granted, if you’re a five-member startup, a product roadmap template can provide a helpful foundation for developing your product. But for most companies, these templates create more problems than solutions.
We studied and compared 43 free product roadmap templates — templates that, as we discovered, possess key elements of a successful product roadmap but don’t necessarily meet all the requirements. Here’s what we learned and how you can apply our findings to your own search for the perfect product roadmap template.
Real-time updates are impossible (yet vital for successful product roadmaps)
Product roadmap templates are often attractive due to their simplicity. You just follow the template guidelines and insert roadmap information, such as goals, features, and timelines.
But the problem with a template, whether it be a Google Doc, a PowerPoint presentation, or a spreadsheet, is that it’s not a living document. Things happen fast in the product world. You’ll need to continuously manage and update your roadmap to reflect product or feature changes. Otherwise, your team won’t know what to work on.
With a static template, it’s difficult to update both the product team and other stakeholders when these changes happen on a daily or weekly basis. For example, maybe you find that the tasks you’ve laid out must change after a feature prioritization exercise. Or the engineering team informs you that the XYZ Feature will have to be postponed to Q2 because of significant bugs.
Either way, you’ll have to update the templates manually and then relay the new information to your team. If you’re sending updated templates via email, you increase the risk that team members might miss the latest version. And if they’re working from an outdated product roadmap, this can impact the product or feature being developed. You also waste valuable man-hours and company dollars if your team is working on the wrong tasks or features.
Information in roadmap templates is limited
The information within product roadmap templates is typically easy to view. Info is normally organized on one page or sheet of the template, or it’s visible across multiple sheets. The problem with this, however, is that any data supporting roadmap decisions is missing.
Product teams can see the overall direction of the roadmap, such as which features are prioritized, but not the reasoning behind why the team pursues certain features.
And remember, product team members aren’t the only ones viewing the product roadmap. Other stakeholders, including marketing, sales, engineering, and even customer support, are all involved in some way in the product development process.
To get a better sense of how limited template information is for viewers, let’s say a product feature you’re considering is “Video messaging.” Based on feature prioritization outcomes, you know that video messaging is important because of competitive analysis. You also know that engineering can help complete the feature quickly. You might then set the feature release for Q4.
However, you can’t include any of this background or reasoning in the template. If you’re using a spreadsheet version of the roadmap, you can include comments within the cells, but even then, it’s hard to view, and product team members and other stakeholders can easily miss these.
The lack of data and context impacts team/stakeholder buy-in, because with no rationale, teams members and stakeholders might question whether they’re prioritizing the right features, and because team members and stakeholders can become frustrated if they don’t understand why their feature ideas weren’t included. Successfully collaborating and developing the product then becomes much harder.
User feedback is difficult to organize and incorporate into a template
Products often fail because they don’t fill a customer need in the market. This is where user feedback — raw insight into what your customers actually want — is priceless. However, unless this feedback is integrated into your roadmap, it won’t be applied during the development of your product or features.
Considering that feedback is normally scattered across support platforms, CRMs, Evernote, email spreadsheets, and Google Docs, it’s almost impossible to consolidate user feedback into a free template.
And even if you do manage to plug this information into a spreadsheet, it’s easy to lose track and accidentally ignore it (not the best idea for retaining customers). It’s also difficult to connect the feedback with other parts of the overall roadmap.
In other words, since roadmap templates don’t allow you to consolidate feedback into a central repository accessible by the entire company, you can’t easily show stakeholders why certain features or projects are important to the customer.
Product roadmap templates are too clunky to be combined
Each product roadmap template typically has a different focus:
- A goal-focused roadmap shows your higher-level product goals and when you’re going to achieve them.
- An initiative product roadmap template helps you represent your strategic product initiatives.
- An epics (master features) roadmap helps you plan features that can’t be completed in a single release.
You can also choose templates aimed at different viewers, such as roadmaps for executives and development. The problem with any of these options? They’re all separate documents.
When you have multiple roadmaps spread out across Excel spreadsheets, Word docs, and PowerPoint presentations, there’s no way to effectively combine them all. Not only do you, as the PM, have to keep track of how many roadmaps you’ve created, but you’re also left with the task of manually updating and sharing each file with team members and stakeholders. This process is a waste of valuable time — time that would be better spent on product development.
On top of that, more than one file version of product roadmaps is not visually friendly for all viewers, such as the product team and stakeholders. Pulling each document up at the same time on a computer screen might help some, but their view of the product development process will be fragmented rather than cohesive.
Successful product roadmaps require more than what templates can offer
With all of the shortcomings of product roadmap templates, you might be ready to throw all of them out the window. However, these roadmaps can be effective — just not in the way they’re marketed. In some cases, it might be useful to fill out a template to use in a roadmap presentation. Or, if you’re brainstorming about product goals or initiatives, it helps to map out everything first in a template.
But to build a cohesive, effective product roadmap, you need a single tool that scales with your company and clearly shows how products and features will be developed. Enter product management software.
Product management software combines the positive aspects of free templates and helps you create a roadmap that drives the product development and launch process. The product roadmap can easily be built on a single platform, and team members and other stakeholders can view roadmap updates in real-time. In addition, data and user feedback can be incorporated automatically as the tool integrates with various platforms.
Your product roadmap is an important element of the entire product development process. So leave the product roadmap templates for other product management activities. Instead, consider innovative product roadmap software to ensure that your product or features are launched without a hitch.
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