10 Key Principles You Must Know about SaaS Product Roadmaps
Many customer-facing engineers’ daily routines revolve around talking to customers and taking part in pre-sales or customer service conversations. That was my reality too back in 2015 when I started working in the software industry.
There were no calls or meetings with customers where I wouldn’t hear suggestions about some missing product features or improvements.
And because I joined the company when it was a small startup, my job also involved reporting to the CEO almost every day.
He was the real product manager back then — much like in many startups with tech founders. He already had more than 15 years of experience in the software industry, working for companies like Dell and Quest, and had a very well-defined idea of how to manage product development.
I, on the other hand, would come to him every other day, impressed by the size of an opportunity, and tell him that if we were to add that tiny thing or tweak this functionality in such a way, we would win a large customer who could bring X thousand dollars in annual recurring revenue.
Every time I would pretty much get the same answer:
“File it into the system with as many details as you can and let’s collect the requests. If the number of requests becomes high enough, we’ll add it to the company product roadmap.”
The interesting thing is that he would ask me to do that even if he knew it wasn’t something he wanted to do, and regardless if it was outside his product vision.
Because he wanted to know.
That was one of the first lessons of many. And soon I’ll share many more findings regarding the mindset and methods involved in building an agile SaaS product roadmap.
Are you with me? Ok, then, let’s agree on a few things first.
Your SaaS Product Roadmap is…
1. Not set in stone
In product management, you need to stay pragmatic. Sometimes you decide not to develop a certain feature because there’s no demand, or because you believe that it just isn’t the right product strategy to pursue.
But we must remember that the competition is always moving, and customers’ expectations are fast evolving.
Paying attention and being ready to shift isn’t giving up on your DNA. It’s a matter of survival when it comes to continuous development.
So yes, it’s OK to adapt your product strategy and prioritize new features to the product roadmap. Even if no one would ever have considered that they might become important 6 months ago.
2. Not about setting an ETA (Estimated Time of Arrival)
Priorities change all the time.
New opportunities will surface, and the market might force some changes upon us. Especially in the SaaS world, a product roadmap can’t just be about having a Gantt chart that says when you’ll deliver what.
Sharing ETAs forces us to break promises. There’s no way to be right in your forecast because you can’t fully anticipate what it would be to build something before you do it.
It’s always just the best guess.
And that’s not something beneficial for your team to focus on when building a SaaS product roadmap.
3. Not a secret
One of the goals of a good SaaS product roadmap is to spark discussions and facilitate sharing the company and product vision with all the stakeholders so they can react to it.
Microsoft, Buffer, and GitHub are great examples of companies sharing their roadmap with their employees their customer base. And yes, you can view our public roadmap too!
If kept secret, it won’t do your SaaS business any good. And it might even slow you down because it will be harder to keep the pulse on your customer’s expectations.
That doesn’t mean you should share everything publicly.
But by at least sharing your ideas, you can increase the engagement of your customer base, get a constant reality check to ensure you’re making the most educated decisions, and ultimately create a more successful product.
4. Not a release plan or a Gantt chart
When you say a roadmap, most people will expect to see not just a representation of your plans but also a VISUAL representation of your plans, such as a Gantt chart.
And although it’s still much more frequent to see a product roadmap in a spreadsheet than in Prodcamp or Trello, a good SaaS product roadmap must take its roots in your company vision and strategy. It should never look like a Gantt chart.
A release plan is also something else entirely.
It is frequently used for coordinating marketing, sales training, data capture, or technical documentation for an upcoming release.
Here are a few core differences between a SaaS Product roadmap and a release plan:
5. Not one of these two extremes.
“We make no plan because otherwise, it’s not agile.”
Being flexible is convenient and has obvious upsides. Nobody expects anything when you don’t commit to a plan! But how do you expect to hit your target business goals if you don’t have a map to get there?
“It’s on our roadmap for the second sprint of Q3 2027”
Making strong commitments is the best way to underdeliver. And having no flexibility at all makes any business more vulnerable to a shift in the market. So there’s a balance to be found. But being agile should never mean you make no plans at all.
6. Not including too many details.
A SaaS product roadmap needs to be a high-level overview. Trust us, no one needs to see code like this from the development team on your product roadmap.
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7. Not about software bugs
Bugs happen. And as much as your team members will flag them to your attention and the development team will squash them, they remain a reality of all software development. But your roadmap shouldn’t be about them.
- Your product is generally stable
- The user experience is acceptable
- Bugs aren’t getting in the way of customer success or causing customer churn
- Core product functionality is unaffected
- SaaS product management metrics — particularly those relating to customer satisfaction — do not show bugs and stability as major customer pain points
Why is getting product development items from a spreadsheet and onto your preferred product management tool important?
Great. Now that you’re all set to avoid this list of roadmap traps, you might be wondering to yourself…
Especially if it isn’t about knowing exactly when things will be ready or fixed?
SaaS product roadmap principles
Here are some of the main reasons why having a product roadmap is critical to hitting your SaaS company’s product goals and business objectives:
8. Vision, strategy, and SaaS Product Roadmap
At a high level, your roadmap is what comes right from your strategy and takes its roots in your company’s vision.
The vision is both a “why” and a promise. It’s this far horizon where your company and product are headed, but it’s also the reason you started solving these problems with your product originally. It gives you foundations to consider what problems you want to solve in the future and how to do it.
It often takes the form of a narrative, like a white paper, sometimes a prototype, or just a storyboard.
The strategy is closer to the “how” you will get there. It still does not cover details, but it gives you a direction, and a framework to look at things. It allows you to analyze and consider the opportunities and crises your product and company will most likely face.
The product roadmap is a high-level representation of strategic product development steps over time. It is much more tactical, even if it strongly relates to your strategic initiatives. That’s why it’s much harder for a SaaS company relying only on vision and tactical initiatives to be agile while staying efficient.
Let’s take an example. Imagine your vision is to become the best product and customer feedback management tool in the market.
From a strategic standpoint, you must understand that your product will need to fit in a wider workflow and maybe even various ones. Then, among other things, syncing with other tools your clients are already using becomes important.
And in that case, a part of your roadmap will be built around technical partnerships and integrations.
But without strategic understanding, you might just think that you will need to focus on building as many feedback channels as possible and you’ll be missing a critical component of your product’s success.
9. Alignment and transparency in your SaaS product roadmap
Your product roadmap is meant to align teams and stakeholders on the where and how. But it can also help your SaaS business align with your customers’ expectations too.
When your users or stakeholders provide feedback or request a new product feature, they want some level of visibility over it. And in fact, your entire organization does too.
I’m not saying you should commit to a strict deadline, but you need to have some kind of time segmentation to keep stakeholders informed.
And if you decide not to work on something — perhaps because your product backlog is too large, or the feature isn’t essential for the MVP (minimum viable product) you’re creating, you need to communicate it.
It’s upsetting not to see progress over time, but it’s even worse to build up unrealistic expectations for your team and user base.
This is one important reason why you should share your roadmap publicly and maintain an active user feedback loop.
10. Customers, stakeholders, and their role in your SaaS product roadmap
The customer is the ultimate boss when it comes to your product.
If it wasn’t for them and the problems they have, your product wouldn’t even exist. And more importantly, you wouldn’t even have a job!
Yet many SaaS companies still get worried about sharing a roadmap and collecting user feedback with it. My advice? I spent my entire product management career doing my best to listen to customer feedback. And they really never let me down.
So if you don’t do it already and you want to know what to build next, ask your customers.
As long as you truly understand your strategy and vision, you can’t go wrong.
The second most important set of stakeholders for the company are your teams; the developers, product marketers, sales team, customer support, etc
In particular, the customer-facing teams are the ones that need to infuse confidence into your company’s product and development process as they collect information from your clients while they’re on the frontline.
If you’re able to compare what they hear to what your plans are, you can be sure it will spark interesting conversations and keep your product roadmap on track.
The key is to see your product roadmap as a reference when it comes to the direction you’re heading in and the steps you’ve planned to get where your users want the product and company to go.
How to build a product roadmap — what’s important to showcase?
Now that we’ve talked about the fundamentals, let’s narrow things down a bit and talk about what should appear on your roadmap.
These are big features that can lead to strategic wins — often answers to new business or tech opportunities. They can open your product to a whole new market, or drastically change the way you position yourself within your native market.
Significant additions to your product that will add real value to your customers by themselves, sometimes regardless of the rest of your product.
Especially important when it comes to SaaS. Your strategic technical partnership is something you want to clearly line up on your product roadmap. t.
Tactical core improvements
Tactical improvements are about some core products or functionalities that will make it easier for your user to get maximum value out of it. It isn’t related to bugs or quality.
Mapping all of it on your SaaS product roadmap is not an easy task and should never be a one-man job.
Gather your team and customer around it, be transparent about why you decide what you decide.
Use your vision and company strategy as a check and balance mechanism to make sure you don’t start going in the wrong direction.
Prioritize your roadmap based on real factual insights and not only gut feelings.
Go one step further. Leverage users’ feedback to inform your SaaS product roadmap.
We crafted Prodcamp to help founders and everyone involved in product management.
With ProdCamp, SaaS product teams can now build better products and turn user feedback into revenue and greater operational efficiency:
Interested? Try Prodcamp today! It takes 3 minutes to get started.
Originally published at https://www.prodcamp.com.