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    Product Development Roadmap: The First Step to Build An Amazing App

    When you are going to develop a mobile app from scratch, you inevitably face the issue of converting your initial idea into a working implementation strategy. A product manager has a central role in this process: their mission is to make the work of all people involved in the product development synchronized and coherent. The first and the most important tool to meet this goal is a mobile app development roadmap or product development roadmap. 

    What is a product development roadmap?

    A product development roadmap is a strategic document that reflects the vision and course of your product. It’s conceived as a dynamic summary, documenting developments at all stages of the app-building process. In simple words, the roadmap is a list of prioritized features or requirements of a product or service, also depicting the timeline of their release.

    Typically, a roadmap for mobile app development looks like a kind of a horizontal bar chart that simultaneously represents progress and timing for a number of initiatives and tasks. The most illustrative and handy roadmaps should be ever-changing and agile to enable constant editing, that’s why the most convenient way to compile them is to use roadmap tools and templates.

    Example of a product development roadmap
    Example of a product development roadmap (Source: AltexSoft)

    There are different types of roadmaps depending on the type of product and who you’re writing the roadmap for. Nevertheless, a product development roadmap should include 8 basic elements: 

    • Vision. The description of the whole idea of the end-product. Typically, in this part, you should answer the questions about why and who the app is designed for, as well as how the final product should look like. 
    • Execution plan. The list of practical steps you should take to end up with the vision you’ve outlined. 
    • Practical goal. An objective that is planned to be reached after completing the execution stage. It’s critical to ensure that this goal can be measured by concrete metrics. 
    • Initiative. Broad themes that unite features that must be implemented in the end-product.
    • Feature. A piece of a product, which is either part of functionality or a third-party application.
    • Timeframes. Fixed or provisional timelines for delivering the whole product and its specific features. 
    • Status markers. Markers the team will use to evaluate the progress of product development.
    • Metrics. The list of metrics that you will use to assess goals. 

    The process of building a mobile app has its specific pitfalls and deals with multiple iterations – that’s why a roadmap for mobile app development, as a key part of the whole project management, plays a crucial role in what the result will look like. 

    Why do you need a software product roadmap?

    The roadmap for mobile app development serves several functions:

    • To facilitate internal work on a product. In other words, a mobile app development roadmap plays a bridging role between the general idea of an app and aspired business goals by setting out a concrete plan for how to achieve these goals.
    • To streamline communication with external stakeholders. This relates to all investors, contractors involved in the development process, as well as end-users.
    • To make the strategy and the vision of a product understandable for the roadmap’s audience.
    • To enable displaying of changes and advances of the product in line with market requirements. 
    • To prioritize particular units of development and set timelines for them.

    Clearly and accurately compiled product development roadmap will help you to navigate through the whole process of product development: what your focus should be in the short-, medium- and long-term, what features of the app should be prioritized right now and how to manage stakeholders’ expectations during the project.

    How to develop a product development roadmap: main steps 

    Before rushing into drafting a mobile app development roadmap and starting to visualize all the data you have, make sure you’ve gone through the following steps: 

    • You fully understand the key “why” of your product. 

    In other words, there is no point to start building a roadmap for mobile app development unless you don’t have an accurately defined product vision. To articulate the product’s vision, answer the questions below – this will help you to systemize the image of the future app:

    • What is the mission behind this product?
    • What goals do you want to achieve by developing it?
    • What problem of users is the app aimed to resolve?
    • Why now is the best moment to develop this product?

    At this stage, there is no need to specify all the details and features of an app. The main goal now is to identify why and for whom you are going to build this product, as well as make sure that it’s worth spending time and resources. 

    • You know who you’re writing a mobile app development roadmap for

    Defining the target audience of the roadmap is the basic thing you should do before starting to draft it. Various teams and individuals are to some extent linked with the product, so your main goal is to communicate enough data to those groups. Having the specific audience identified determines the type of mobile app development roadmap, content and details that will be displayed there.

    The roadmap audience can be internal, in other words, intended for teams directly involved in the app development or internal stakeholder, or external – compiled for those individuals who don’t participate in the production process.

    Product roadmap by audience
    Source: mobindustry

    Meanwhile, this division might seem too general when it comes to putting this classification into practice. For example, an internal product development roadmap can be designed for sales, marketing, or engineering teams. The roadmap for engineers will likely list the main features and progress on them, but it will not be useful enough for sales or marketing. So, a product manager can either compile several roadmaps and tailor them for different groups, or create a universal document that is a much rarer case. 

    • You identified the main features of the app and their exact functionality.

    The product’s vision is the answer to the “why” question, and the list of features and their description is the “how” of your product, its main body. While making the list of features for a mobile app development roadmap, do not underestimate the role of prioritization. Define the necessary amount of resources for developing each of them and set timelines correlating with the preliminary launch date. Note that features’ descriptions should be detailed enough to give engineering teams the context they need to implement the best solution.

    • You defined a comprehensive set of metrics to evaluate progress. 

    The ability to correctly measure current progress is the key to success in the mobile app development process. Based on the defined metrics, you should establish KPIs for all teams involved – this will help you to understand what aspects should be in focus during different iterations. To keep your product development lean, it’s important to draft a master list of all features you want to include and relate them with appropriate metrics to monitor progress. 

    • You chose the necessary tools for roadmapping and picked up an appropriate format for the document. 

    Until recently, Excel was the leading tool for roadmapping, but now the market is literally flooded with various cloud-based product development roadmap tools. Most of the existing software can be easily scaled up for your project needs and enables quick updates. The most used and handy are OpenProject, Product Plan, Aha! And Roadmunk

    There are two approaches to the format: you can either build a traditional waterfall roadmap that implies a sequential model of planning, or an agile product development roadmap, which communicates a short-term plan for achieving product goals.

    To connect all the dots regarding the difference between waterfall and agile approaches, look at the table below:

    Waterfall roadmap and Agile roadmap comparison
    • You keep the information in the roadmap up to date. 

    As a mobile app development roadmap is intended to reflect progress in product development, you should keep it dynamic. This is crucially important to convey relevant information to all the teams working on a product and stakeholders, both internal and external. 

    Types of product development roadmaps

    There are multiple ways to organize a mobile app development roadmap, so various approaches go beyond any established classifications. However, there are three most common types of roadmaps that help to generate better alignment to the development goals:

    • Status-oriented or Now-Next-Later roadmap. This kind of roadmap allows all participants of the process to be on the same page without committing to any strict time frame. Statuses of features and tasks are divided into three columns — now, next, and later. This approach simplifies prioritization and allows easy shifts between the columns.
    Status-oriented or Now-Next-Later roadmap
    Source: theproductmanager.com
    • Theme-oriented roadmap is suitable when you need to group all existing tasks into broader categories and monitor progress on them. Themes typically include concrete goals that make your roadmap for mobile app development easy to read and understand.
    Theme-oriented roadmap
    Source: Roadmunk
    • Outcome-oriented roadmaps set outcomes instead of broad themes. In other words, it reflects the problem that will be resolved by a feature instead of the list of particular tasks. This type of roadmap is easier to understand for external stakeholders who are not typically interested in specific features your team is working on – the most valuable information for them is what issues will be fixed by concrete actions.
    Outcome-oriented roadmap

    Bottom line 

    Developing a software product roadmap is an integral part of Surf’s way of implementing app development projects: we always conduct preparatory work and negotiate with clients product’s goals and strategy, preferred format, type of roadmap and required timeframes. 

    Below is the video streaming app roadmap example drafted by Surf in Google Sheets for one of our clients. The app was built on Flutter, and multiple teams were involved in the development, including designers, engineers and content marketing managers, that’s why the main task was to make it universal and easy to understand for different groups.

    Video streaming app roadmap example

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