The power of a public SaaS product roadmap
Published November 10th, 2022
Some words to live by: the product roadmap is a living thing. Some words to avoid: the product roadmap is a certainty. Some words to remember: the product roadmap gets pulled in different directions. If it remains static, you’re doing it wrong.
Marketing Communications Manager at Tiny
Change is the watchword of the tech industry. So, a SaaS product roadmap must do the same thing to meet the needs of this exploding market. The speed and standard of how a SaaS product responds with product features and upgrades, is the foundation of its success.
Importantly though, publishing a public product roadmap and gathering feedback and suggestions, can help you to build that SaaS solution your users want, love and use. Because, there’s a lot of competition.
In 2021, Statistica estimated that the software as a service (SaaS) market was worth approximately US$152 billion, to reach US$208 billion by 2023. The United States has the highest number of SaaS companies (15,000), followed by the UK (2,000), Canada (1,000), and Germany (1,000).
So, intentionally building and publishing a customer- or user-centric roadmap, helps you align your SaaS product development with what’s wanted and needed – which, in turn, sparks deeper usage, improves retention rates, and lifts your upsell revenue.
What is a SaaS product roadmap?
A SaaS product roadmap is a visual representation of what’s planned for a product, over time. It shares the steps that the company plans to take, to develop and improve its product. As well as mapping the product's development, it’s also a shared source of truth that outlines the product’s vision, direction, priorities and progress.
The roadmap guides the organization’s alignment around both short and long-term company objectives and key results (OKRs) and specific market goals for the product.
SaaS companies are always evolving, to ensure they follow the movement of markets, trends, user requests and improvements in technology. Your SaaS product roadmap must therefore reflect that agility, through the product management process you use – mirroring your strategy as it morphs, when priorities change and user’s needs shift.
Put simply, your roadmap is your product strategy, visualized. It helps you see the big picture, align your product development with company objectives, as well as carve out boundaries and create focus.
Types of product roadmaps
Depending on how the product roadmap is used, you may have either (or both) an internal or external roadmap. Here’s the difference:
1. Internal product roadmaps:
Created for internal teams, generally strategic, technical or sales oriented. Not publicly published.
2. Public product roadmaps:
Created for customers, generally focuses on the product features and benefits. Often published on your website.
Why is a SaaS product roadmap important?
Building a SaaS product is way more complicated and riskier than it’s often anticipated at the outset. And that's exactly where a product roadmap comes into the picture. Roadmaps can smooth alignment, improve organization, breakdown silios, strengthen communication and improve team collaboration.
A SaaS roadmap identifies dependencies between teams (helping to reduce the risk of failures and missed opportunities) and also acts as a source of truth for anyone who wants to understand the ‘why, ‘what’ and ‘when’ of the product.
Why share a product roadmap with customers?
Public product roadmaps are a transparent dialogue between users and product teams. They encourage users to suggest improvements and new features, while the product team uses those inputs – from feedback forms, NPS, customer surveys etc. – to prioritize and map the future path to follow.
If trust and transparency are important aspects that you either want to build or maintain with customers, then there’s no better way than sharing and showing what you’re working on and what to expect in the future.
A public product roadmap is a living account of your product – showing its past, present and future. As your product improves, your roadmap changes, and it gives you the opportunity to be:
- Transparent with your users
- Collaborative with your users
- Experimental with your users
It also encourages customers to:
- Remain users and/or clients
- Deepen their product usage
- Engage in the planned future path of your product
What makes a great public product roadmap?
A great public product roadmap takes a customer- or user-centric approach. It shares your product vision, articulates the value you're delivering and ensures that new product features are delivering the benefits your customers and users want.
Using an ongoing loop of feedback and iteration, a great roadmap incorporates user and stakeholder conversations about your product. Then you add what you learn as you progress, refine your direction and create a plan for the future
Your product development cycle should also incorporate customer and user data collected after new features have been implemented, to verify they’re delivering the desired result and adding value to their lives.
Who owns the product roadmap?
No two roadmaps are the same, but its owner is generally consistent. Product owners are responsible for the SaaS product roadmap and they coordinate cross-functional teams around common goals such as a launch, major releases or ongoing upgrades.
Product management lies at the heart of three axes: UX, engineering and business.
So unsurprisingly, product roadmap planning is possibly the most challenging aspect of SaaS product management. It requires you to be strategic, aware of the big picture, have strong prioritization and people skills, and above all be experienced enough to know the best path to take.
What’s SaaS product management?
According to Userpilot, “SaaS product management refers to software-as-a-service and is cloud-based software that is accessible from any device with an internet connection and web browser. [...] With SaaS product management, the product owner can track product analytics to see how customers are using an app and optimize the experience based on user data.”
SaaS product roadmap essentials
A roadmap is never set in stone
Bruce Lee's famous quote, “Be like water, my friend” encapsulates the power of a great SaaS product roadmap. It must be flexible. It’s not about being rigid and stubborn about your opinions, practices, understanding or timing. Instead, be open-minded and able to change and adapt to the circumstances that occur.
Just like water, your product roadmap should bend.
It’s never a secret
That does no one any good. Powerful SaaS product roadmaps spark discussions and encourage sharing, both inside and outside the company. Their strength lies in helping to keep team members on track in terms of initiatives, scope, objectives and timelines. Roadmaps are a formidable communication tool, both internally and externally.
Roadmaps start conversations with stakeholders and users.
Solve problems that create value
By focusing on the end user, the product naturally becomes value driven. Great product teams understand they only create value when the product is able to fix the problems of the user. A roadmap creates focus, which often inspires product depth, which always trumps product width. With a clear set of priorities, teams tie their work into reaching those goals, and maintain momentum.
Roadmaps create focus around problems to solve.
Tips to optimize public product roadmaps
It’s as important to understand what a public SaaS roadmap is, as it is to know what it’s not.
- A public roadmap is not a project plan, it should not be complex. Instead, utilize the power of a visualization that allows you to convey a large amount of information and have it quickly understood.
- Your public roadmap should show the progress of feature requests, so users can gain a better understanding of the path ahead – what you’re working on and what you’re not.
- Make customers and users feel closer to the features that you’re building – that’s the ultimate goal of your public roadmap – so they better understand how and when new features will be adding value to their own development work.
3 fundamentals of SaaS roadmap creation
1. Basic steps
At its most basic, the product roadmap creation process includes:
- Define short- and long-term goals and the best strategy to achieve them
- Gather inputs, data and feedback from stakeholders, customers and users
- Filter, prioritize and align the inputs with the company vision and business goals
- Plan, assign resources and set the workflow – this includes selecting a team, timeline and budget
- Create the product roadmap, as defined by steps 1–4
- Regularly update the product roadmap
2. Update regularly
If a roadmap isn’t updated frequently, work often veers off course – then unplanned dependencies and additional requests cause projects and timelines to derail. This results in the roadmap becoming counterproductive.
As a living, working document, using a dedicated roadmapping tool can make creation and updates simpler and intuitive, in real-time. Some tools are more suitable for a certain type of board (internal vs public, complex vs simple), and each has its own specialty.
Here’s a few product roadmapping tools (in no particular order):
3. Listen to feedback
Your users want to feel valued and appreciated by you. By sharing a public product roadmap that encourages feedback, suggestions and voting, it gives them confidence that you’re listening. It also shows that you appreciate them and are committed to being a community-built application.
A big part of making it public is seeing how your users and customers respond to it:
- Ask follow-up questions to suggestions
- Understand (deeply) each user groups and use case
- Be gracious, thank users and recognise them for their feedback and time
Combining the ideas you have, with their contributions, the roadmap becomes a win-win for everyone.
5 SaaS public product roadmap examples
SaaS public roadmaps come in different forms, looks and structures. Here’s five great ones we’ve found (including our own) and a bonus one that’s a must-see:
TOOL USED: Github Discussion
Simple, concise and easy to understand, this roadmap includes features to be released, and estimated release dates.
TOOL USED: Productboard
Released in 2021, this roadmap clearly shows what's ‘coming soon’, ‘under consideration’ and ‘launched’.
TOOL USED: Trello (of course!)
Simple, easy-to-read kanban view of the product roadmap, and like Github, it includes features and release dates.
TOOL USED: Atlassian Migration
Given the complexity of the Atliassian product portfolio, this is a great example of how to present complex information, simply and clearly. It includes easy to use filters for a more focused view of the roadmap.
TOOL USED: Productboard
Our own public roadmap was launched mid-2022, and similar to others listed, shows features in categories. There’s ‘new ideas’, ‘in progress’ and ‘launched’ – each aligns what we’re working on, in development and future opportunities. It also encourages feedback and voting for the most critical new features. Add your feedback to our roadmap →
5 + 1. Up Banking public roadmap
The Aussie fintech, Up Banking, arguably has the most unusual public product roadmap, called ‘The Tree of Up’. Instead of the usual board format, it’s a tree-like interactive roadmap where you can read release notes and see what’s coming. According to their site, “It’s a great way to understand how features are connected to each other and see which features are the necessary foundations for other functionality to be built on.”
How a public product roadmap contributes to SaaS product success
A public SaaS roadmap is a powerful initiative that keeps on giving. For everyone who sees it, it’s a transparent promise of what you’re delivering.
It also serves as a foundation for everything your product team focuses on and makes it possible for a product owner to:
- Visualize the product strategy
- Break product goals and initiatives into features and requirements
- Prioritize those new features and upgrades
- Share plans with cross-functional teams, leadership and customers/users
- Report on the progress of the product team
- Include customer and users in the product’s future
What’s not to like about all that?
Marketing Communications Manager
Messaging strategist and copywriter whose passion lies in working with brands like Tiny, that have deep-seated values and embrace the power of their story. She gets a kick out of solving problems, loves learning new things and making stuff, every day. When she’s not thinking through clever copy lines or clarifying value propositions, she’s knitting amazing socks for everyone she knows.
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