Product roadmaps and release plans are among the important tools that product managers need to carry out their jobs well. These two are similar to a certain degree and, so, may be confused one for the other. It is, however, critical to know where each of these tools belongs or comes in to make the most out of them.

What A Product Roadmap Is

The product roadmap is a high-level document that provides a visual summary of how a product is to evolve. The document summarizes the product vision, direction, and priorities. It shows the efforts that will be needed to meet the strategic objectives of an organization for a product.

The roadmap is a major rallying point of sort for everyone in an organization to unite on a mutual goal. It outlines your product strategy in a way that can easily be understood by everyone. It shows why a product is being worked on and the steps toward achieving the product vision.

Some key components of a good product roadmap include the strategic context (basis of actions) and solutions or features. A timeline is also a common characteristic, even in Agile where they’re often advocated against.

You include only high-level items, such as goals, themes, and epics. The product roadmap is not where you go into all the minute details. When it comes to roadmapping, you can consider using a roadmap software.

What A Release Plan Is

The release plan is a document that shows what features and enhancements may be offered in a near-term release and drives delivery planning by internal teams. It could be described as a type of project plan that breaks big ideas into smaller tasks for seamless execution. It is a plan of how you intend to go about doing those things you have included in your roadmap.

Essentially, the release plan takes your high-level strategy and converts it into actionable work that is to be done in a release. This document includes items from your backlog. It also provides timeframes for sorting out those items.

Why You Need Both A Roadmap And A Release Plan

Simply put, a product roadmap is strategic while a release plan is tactical – this is what the Product Management team provides.  The release plan is an artifact driven by the technology team, in response to the product roadmap, reflecting what’s possible to delivery in the next 1-3 months, based upon current resource allocations.  Typically, this is a Program/Project Manager or an engineering manager who puts this plan together.

You need the roadmap to communicate your high-level vision and strategy. The document assists you in clearly linking the vision for a product with business objectives. It helps you to show the planned stages of development and the milestones that you are targeting.

The release plan comes into play after you have put together your product roadmap and stakeholders have had their say. It is what you use when you want to get into granular details of the work to be done. The document helps you show what to expect in releases and the steps required to complete them.

After identifying the major themes on your roadmap, you break them into specific features and enhancements that go on the release plan.

With these documents, product managers can make out more clearly the strategic and the tactical. They combine to help you show more plainly the product vision, direction, and how to get to where you’re headed.

You will be interacting with diverse stakeholders in the course of your work as a product manager. The product roadmap and release plan help to make communicating with the different groups much easier.

How Are They Different?

As Roman Pichler puts it, the roadmap shows the journey. It displays how the product will evolve over a period including several releases. The release plan focuses more on a phase, release, or project.

We consider briefly below how product roadmaps compare to or differ from release plans, based on some factors:

  • Use: As we already pointed out, the roadmap provides a high-level strategic overview or summary of the product, showing the “why” behind plans. The release plan is used to go into the details of what to do – what you’re doing and when you aim to complete it.
  • Timeframe: The product roadmap covers a longer timeframe (usually at least 12 months), even if explicit dates are not included. On the other hand, the release plan covers a comparatively shorter timeframe of, say, three to six months.
  • Target: These documents also differ in terms of their primary audience. You depend more on a roadmap when trying to get your points across to stakeholders such as executives or marketers and other client-facing teams. In its case, however, you use a release plan to promote internal alignment, especially between Product and Engineering.

It is, therefore, obvious from the foregoing that it is not a case of one or the other between a roadmap and a release plan. Together, they help you to make what you’re doing clear and, perhaps, relevant to stakeholders.

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