Roadmap Planning for SaaS Founders and Product Managers
Roadmap planning is an intimate affair. You need to get close to your product data, your customers, and your financial numbers to make the right decisions. No two founders or product managers approach their product roadmap process in the same way. However, there are best practices that you’ll want to cover every time you decide if an update should make it on your roadmap.
In this guide, we dive into how product teams can improve customer experience, boost retention, and achieve important business goals with a public, visual roadmap.
Keep scrolling for hard-earned advice from SaaS entrepreneurs and product managers.
Here’s how to plan your roadmap.
Key elements of a roadmap
A roadmap shows your users what your team will be building in the coming months. This helps users see if you’re already planning on building something they want to request. It also shows them that you’re continually improving the product, which can positively impact your customer retention rates.
A roadmap should be:
Publicly available, or available to all signed-in users
Easy for users to understand
Organized and categorized
For example, Acadle’s roadmap built with Frill is publicly available and categorized into “Under consideration,” “Planned,” “In progress,” and “Live.”
SaaS product roadmaps are different from backlogs and project management software because they are intended for customer viewing as opposed to managing tasks within your team.
“I want to know how many customers specifically want certain features, to know that people actually want this thing we are thinking of building. So, having a public roadmap that users can vote on and add their feedback to is extremely helpful. Another bonus of a public roadmap is that the more transparency that customers and prospective customers see, the more invested they can be in the future of the product, if there's something they are waiting on.” - Andy Cabasso, CEO of Postaga
8 steps for roadmap planning
To plan your roadmap effectively, keep customers on board, and convert new customers, follow these steps. Throughout, you’ll find tried and true advice from SaaS founders and product managers.
1. Collect feedback from users
The most important thing is collecting feedback from your users. You can do this with a user feedback board like Frill, and through surveys and interviews.
“Our roadmap is primarily driven by our customer needs. Every month I’m on at least one call with a customer to discuss Analytics. These are often open-ended conversations where I give the customer space to share their processes, systems and needs related to Analytics. It’s also an opportunity for me to present what the team is planning and to get feedback. My primary goal in these conversations is to understand how the customer is using Analytics and what questions they are trying to answer. Also if they show any “hacks” (such as a custom-built spreadsheet to track a certain metric) that is usually a strong indicator of a potential feature that would provide instant utility for the customer.” - Andrei Kryssov, product manager at Vimeo and creator of Modern Guitar Hub
“Assume 90% of customer asks are valid and that 90% of their recommended implementations are wrong. Customers are great at knowing what they want, not necessarily how they want it. Our roadmap for Q4 is basically all things that customers have asked for. What I have planned for Q2 2022 is basically all stuff that I've derived from intuition. When we get to Jan/Feb 2022, I bet customers will have started to ask for it. When you're really early though, you don't have many customers, so your intuition plays a way bigger role.” - Kyle Tymoszewicz, Product Manager at Convictional
2. Conduct market and competitor research
The next step is to check out the market landscape and your competitors. You need to know whether or not your competitors are implementing certain features, particularly if these are features that customers are requesting.
3. Look into your product analytics
Next, it’s time to look deeper into your product analytics. What features are the most popular? How can you make these better? What features are causing drop-off, especially during the freemium conversion funnel?
“I begin by determining which features are most frequently used and which aspects are rarely utilized. I then determine which steps in our workflow are causing the most drop-offs—that is, which steps are causing users to become stuck. Finally, we try to comprehend our consumers' requirements, their causes of reluctance, and the internal dialogue that is taking place in their heads.” - Sam Sweeney - Founder of Trivvy
4. Set a theme for the quarter
Once you’ve researched your customers, your market, and your product data, you might want to set a theme for the upcoming two-week sprint, month, or quarter. This way, you can build related updates in order to reduce the effort and complexity of tackling strategic objectives.
“I have led SaaS and marketplace product teams for the last 10 years. My #1 tip for roadmap planning is to start with your product vision ask two questions: (1) what is one thing that will accelerate our ability to realize our vision? and (2) what one thing is holding us back from realizing our vision? These two questions force team's to think about things that will add fuel to accelerate the vision or remove friction that is slowing progress. The second question helps to uncover non-traditional items like technical debt, feature debt, etc. that, if removed, would help the team move forward.” - Chris Redrich, founder of Product Manager Jobs
“My top tip in developing and managing roadmap planning in SaaS is starting with why. In managing roadmap planning, it's important to ask everyone involved the "why". Why are you developing the product? Why this product? Why will people be interested in it? It seems like it's not something important to consider, given the many steps involved in creating a product roadmap. Many companies skip this step. However, it's important to have a clear and deep understanding of your product. It helps in creating the best strategy. Knowing your whys will help everyone create firmer decisions that make sense and will help the product succeed.” - John Simmons, Deliverability Expert at InboxAlly
5. Consider the impact of features and updates
Before you decide to build anything, you need to measure its impact. You can use the RICE method, explained by SaaS found Philipp Wolf below:
“Many products have failed because owners and product managers did not focus on the right features and prioritized the ones they thought were important. A feature prioritization framework can help you build products that are helpful, easy to use, and with great UX. To help create this framework, you can use the RICE Score, where you score on a scale of 1 - 5 each of the following categories for a given feature idea: reach (how many customers will be positively impacted), impact (how intense will the impact be), confidence (how confident are you in the potential reach and impact), and effort (how much effort will be required).” - Philipp Wolf, CEO of Custify
Make sure that when you’re measuring the potential impact of an update or new feature, that you’re considering all of the following:
Expenses and resources
New customer acquisition
Ultimately, the best thing to build is what is good for your business. What will impact your top metrics now? At certain points, you’ll want to focus on revenue impact above all else. At other points, you’ll be focused on retention.
“At the moment we are prioritizing fostering our current partnerships as well as looking to establish even more partnerships in the future. Our online review site partnerships we have right now enabled us to secure more efficient and cost-effective ways of collecting review data. This also helps us to continue to raise capital and gather the resources we need to improve the product, develop new feature enhancements, and acquire new customers.” - Chris Campbell, CEO of ReviewTrackers
6. Add features and updates to your public roadmap
Now, it’s time to make your decisions. Once you’ve considered all of the above, you’ll have the data and insights you need to prioritize and organize your upcoming builds.
Put these into your public roadmap so customers can see them. If you’re using Frill, you can add user ideas to your roadmap by simply dragging them from one column to another. Feel free to update the item with extra information.
7. Update and groom your backlog
Your public roadmap is not your backlog. Your roadmap should live in a simple, easy-to-understand platform. Your backlog however probably exists in Jira and has tons of complex and sensitive information. After you’ve added projects to your roadmap, make sure that the person taking ownership of each item adds the correct tasks to the backlog. Depending on the size of your team, you might have multiple people in charge of managing the backlog.
“Roadmap compliance is about ensuring projects are specifically owned by someone (at least at Convictional's current stage of approximately 40 people) so that they have skin in the game and want to see the build effort be a success. I don't spend much time actively checking in on work, our Eng team is pretty senior and autonomous.” - Kyle Tymoszewicz, Product Manager at Convictional
8. Be ready to change your roadmap quickly (regardless of prior planning)
Planning is essential, but plans can change. Be ready to pause on your plans or throw them out altogether when you get urgent customer feedback or discover issues in your product.
“Our roadmap planning at Userlist is very top-level. It's important for us to be always aligned on product strategy: 1-2 large features that will be added over the next year. Everything else is very fluid, and is constantly reassessed. Previously, we had a nice detailed backlog, and spent whole meetings prioritizing potential features. Only a couple years later we realized — not without reading Shape Up by Ryan Singer — that it's a complete waste of time. Not only do things change fast, but we keep learning all the time. It's easy to figure out the next thing to work on, and the rest doesn't matter. We always listen to our customers, but try not to make hard promises. Ultimately, the biggest pleasure of working on a product, compared to client work, is not having hard deadlines.” - Jane Portman, Co-founder of Userlist
Tools for roadmap planning
To plan your roadmap effectively, you’ll need the right tools.
User feedback software - Collect ideas from your users with a tool that offers single sign on, comments, and upvoting.
Public roadmap software - Showcase your roadmap to users with an easy-to-manage board that connects with your feedback portal.
Competitor analysis tracking - Keep track of what competitors are doing with Google Sheets, Notion, or ClickUp.
Product analytics software - Check into Mixpanel and Heap to discover trends, insights, and issues with your existing features.
For best results, manage your user feedback collection, public roadmap, and announcements in one comprehensive tool.
Plan and showcase your roadmap, collect ideas from users, and announce new updates all in one place. Learn more about Frill.