How to structure a marketing product roadmap (with real examples)

If you're wanting to build cool things on time, on budget, and meet your goals, open up Excel (or use a whiteboard, piece of paper, or even do it in PowerPoint) and create your first consolidated marketing roadmap. It costs nothing but a little bit of time and will revolutionize the way you and your team work.

As a marketer, you’re often left going from meeting to meeting trying to stay on top of the long-term and short-term projects on your plate. If this sounds like you, maybe you can relate to a few of these examples:

  • You’ve re-platformed your website and the end result looked like it was supposed to, but was missing a lot of the functionality you were promised
  • You haven’t had a project stay within in-budget
  • When you provide feedback, your technology partner (either an agency or internal partner) pushes back saying they did exactly what you told them to do
  • Don’t know why *this* was built first when it’s obvious *that* should have been built first

If any of these sound familiar, you’re likely operating within a project-based organization. You identify goals, launch initiatives, and then build projects around them. This approach is not wrong, but it’s hard to prevent big things from going on.

What can you do to change this?

Moving from a project organization to a product organization

Being able to move quickly but think long-term should be a goal for any marketer. You need to be able to understand the long-term goals and vision, move towards them, while also being able to handle the “emergencies” that are guaranteed to pop up.

The way you do this is to become a product organization.

What is a product organization?

As a shift in thinking, a product organization views their technology solutions (such as your content management system, website platform, email platform, physician database, CRM platform, reputation management platform, etc.) as individual features working together to meet business goals. There are real benefits from moving your marketing team to function as a product organization.

Project-based organization

A project organization has individual projects moving to meet independent goals. There is no way to collectively manage the big picture.

Product-based organization

A product organization also has individual projects, but they are organized differently. Structured by features, it allows the individual projects to be viewed in a consolidated marketing roadmap. This forces projects to be viewed, tracked, and measured together.

How do you become a product organization?

I was watching Secret Life of Pets 2 a few weeks ago with my kids and I love the part of the movie when Rooster (played by Harrison Ford) says, “The first step of not being afraid is acting like you’re not afraid.”

This advice is good for so many parts of life, but is also great advice when wanting to shift how your marketing team works.

  • Step 1: The first step of becoming a product organization is acting as a product organization. A mind-shift change may not fix your immediate problems, but it’s a critical first step. It’s wanting to make the change and deciding you are now different.
  • Step 2: The next step is creating your first consolidated marketing roadmap. Get all your current project timelines and lay them out. This costs zero dollars and requires no changes to your organizatin. Using Microsoft Excel, a whiteboard, or software specifically made for product organizations (such as Aha! or ProductPlan), make a “block” of time representing the time for each project. You’re creating a master project plan, which we call a consolidated marketing roadmap, to give you a comprehensive look at all the projects going on.
  • Step 3: Mature your consolidated marketing roadmap. The previous step should start to show you how fractured your projects are and you should want to improve on this process. Taking the time to do this now will give you a visual you can use to gain consensus within your team and within your leadership to help complete the transition.

Let’s go into a bit more detail on how to do Step 2, which is creating your first product roadmap.

“What is a product roadmap?”

A product roadmap is a prioritized plan matching short-term and long-term business goals with specific technology solutions.

You have your business goals. Now you need to have the right projects in place by working with the right agency partners or internal teams to meet those goals.

“Why should I build a product roadmap?”

As a product organization, you need to be able to see how *all the projects* work together so you can better communicate direction and progress to internal teams and stakeholders. This allows you to show high-level initiatives and the planned steps to get there.

“We don’t need that, we have project plans!”

A common push-back is that a product roadmap isn’t needed because we already have project plans. But, they are two different things.

Here is a quick comparison to help you out:

A roadmap does not:

  • 𐄂  List every feature that needs to be built
  • 𐄂  Act as a project management tool
  • 𐄂  Say how features need to be built
  • 𐄂  Communicate specific dates
  • 𐄂  Live statically in a PowerPoint presentation

A roadmap does:

  •   Show priorities of features
  •   Connect features to business goals and customer needs
  •   Say what features need to be built
  •   Communicate general timeframes
  •   Change often

A good way to remember the difference is:

  • A project plan should be owned by Technology, as it includes important details such as project milestones, dates the project team needs to work towards, and needs to be fairly detailed.
  • A product roadmap should be owned by the Business, as it should show how each feature maps to business goals, what should be built in what order, and have high-level information and general timeframes (not specific dates!) that can be communicated to senior leadership.

A real-life example

So if you’re working on Step #2 from above, I want to provide you a simple structure you can use that will help make this exercise much easier.

You’re looking at how project roadmaps (#1) are set up and how they merge into a consolidated marketing roadmap (#6). Note that in this example we used ProductPlan.com, but again, feel free to use a whiteboard, paper, Excel, or even PowerPoint (gasp!)–whatever makes you feel the most comfortable.

The basic elements of the project roadmap are:

  1. Project Roadmap: Every project, no matter how large or small, gets its own project roadmap
  2. Project Name: Give your initiative a name. It can be the name of a website enhancement, marketing campaign, drip sequence, etc.
  3. Product Row: What product must be created/updated to meet the business objective? This can be your website platform, CMS, website module, database, email system, third-party managed product, etc.
  4. Requirement: The business requirement you need to be built.
  5. Status: Color-coding shows status, from an unscheduled need all the way through requirements that have been accepted by Technology. Needs differ by each organization, but our go-to is:
    1. Accepted: Ready for development and accepted by your Technology partner
    2. Marketing Approved: Requirement has been approved by Marketing leadership
    3. Active Discovery: Requirement is currently being drafted
    4. Accepted Discovery: Scheduled, but the requirement has not been started. 
    5. Unplanned: Identified as a thing to do, but not scheduled.
  6. Consolidated Roadmap: High-level view that all the other project roadmaps roll into

Wrapping it up

Hopefully, this helps make the case as to why you need to start moving your team (even if that “team” is only you) to a product organization instead of a project organization.

Taking the time to get a collective view of all your projects will help you make more strategic decisions, allow you to see how “emergencies” will move out other project dates (so you can communicate it to your leadership accordingly), and will let you build the right things in the right order.

If you need help setting up a consolidated marketing roadmap, a partner like Branch Strategy can do this for you. A third-party is often helpful as we offer the focused time to get it done and get it done correctly, helping you be set up for success.

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