“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
R. Buckminster Fuller
I couldn’t have said it better myself. The one thing I would add is that you also need a plan to guide you and your team through the journey towards that new model. Whether your building materials are code, business models, steel, circuits, or organizations, the effort will likely take time. You’ll also need to make choices along the way, and share the plan with others to keep everyone on track.
Below are my thoughts about 7+ tools that can help you create and update visual roadmaps. They’ll all leave you with more time to focus on making more important (and fun) decisions like who to serve, what to build, and why.
Portfolio for JIRA is an add-on for JIRA, a popular workflow management tool for development teams. I particularly like the ability to link stories, epics, initiatives, and strategic themes together. With the tool, it’s easy to visualize how short term work fits into your strategic plan.
The team capacity planning features would be helpful for planning work, especially if you have multiple teams that share resources. You can add teams and team members, and enter how many hours an individual spends with each team.
You can also define skill sets and indicate which team members have which skill set, and which stories require those skills. For example, if part of your plan requires an expert in time travel but they are already working full-time on a higher priority item, then the Portfolio for JIRA roadmap will adjust to show that you need to execute those two items sequentially.
I can see this tool saving a lot of time because it creates the roadmap taking into account priorities, team capacity and any scheduling notes you add. The automatic updates whenever you add a dependency or shift business priorities would definitely be useful for what-if scenarios. You can play with the business priorities or the go-live dates for features and see how it impacts the plan. Some of the other tools in this list also provide similar capabilities.
Pros: Capacity planning and timelines, roadmaps for work at different levels and timeframes, work across multiple teams, and tracking planned vs. actual investment in themes.
Cons: Content planning, upfront ideation, and tracking the value of initiatives.
Who would like it: Product development teams that are all already using or plan to use JIRA.
Aha! (yes, the product name includes an exclamation point!) is organized into categories called Products, Strategy, Releases, Features, Reports and Notebooks. You can keep track of ideas in a Parking Lot and attach requirements and other documents to the features themselves. You can also define product lines and products within those product lines. Once you have the hierarchy set up and the data elements in place, the real beauty of this tool is how simple it is to craft reports. You can craft unique visual stories to share with your team, clients, and customers. You can also outline your product vision, personas, and goals right in the tool.
The reports are pretty, and I appreciate the range of options. The “notebook” concept is great, especially when you need to export reports in different formats depending on your audience. If your team is doing a lot of presentations, this tool could dramatically cut down preparation time. Which frees you up to focus on the content of your strategy.
For idea management, you can create your own feature scoring criteria to help track the business value and complexity estimates of the items. You can also create multiple Idea Portals to capture ideas from project stakeholders.
I like how you can customize the terminology in the tool, so you can teach your clients just one set of terms. The extensive customization options are a great way to tweak the core functionality and make it work with your processes.
Pros: Place to store your strategy and vision, integration of wiki features to connect your products and vision to your backlog, prioritization tools, and the ability to collect ideas from stakeholders.
Cons: Its team member capacity planning functionality isn’t as detailed as the one in Portfolio for JIRA.
Who would like it: Teams working within a larger enterprise or on a problem that involves many players that you may or may not have control over. Aha! is flexible enough to allow a portfolio view of all the work going on. You can directly pull updates by integrating each product to its own tracking system (such as JIRA). Or you can manually add updates from other teams into initiatives, releases, and features.
ProdPad and Aha! have some similar features but a different user experience. I was impressed by how user-friendly the ProdPad interface was. It was immediately clear to me where all the features were and how to use them.
Besides tracking and voting for ideas, you also have the ability to directly link customer feedback and ideas. I can see this tool being useful for upfront idea generation and high-level roadmapping. It’s also great for keeping track of your user personas, product vision, and key performance indicators (KPIs). This is one of the better tools I’ve seen for integrating the business, user experience, and technical sides of product development.
ProdPad works like boards of sticky notes or cards that you can move around and link together. The exported visualization was a little disappointing compared to some of the other tools because the roadmap is essentially just a copy of your board with the cards. This is a great tool for managing ideas, especially internally, but the reports may not work for your external audience.
Pros: Linking concepts to ideas and user feedback, user-friendly interface, and many integration options.
Cons: Graphic design of the reports.
Who would like it: Product teams that want some extra help managing their strategic themes and making sure that user needs and ideas are represented.
Product Plan is a much simpler tool but it can get you into the roadmapping groove quickly. The tool provides three different views, showing your roadmap, planning board, and parking lot. You can quickly add new items to your parking lot and then rate the benefits and costs in the planning board tab. The program uses that information to determine the relative rank of your features or work items and then you can decide what you’d like to be populated on your roadmap.
With color coding, containers, tags, and filtering it’s easy to customize each view to show or hide exactly what you need for each stakeholder while keeping the underlying data intact.
There’s also a way to go into presentation mode straight from the application for sharing a clean and interactive version of your roadmap to executives.
Pros: Customization options, ability to manage your ideas, rate concepts, and build a roadmap in one place.
Cons: Seems to require more manual effort than other tools which could be problematic if you have a large backlog.
Who would like it: Teams that need an attractive view of their roadmap to present to executives and team members. It would also be good for high-level tracking of external initiatives and dates (ex. legislation that could impact your project).
Roadmunk definitely wins some graphic design points. This is a relatively simple tool that allows you to upload csv data or link to JIRA and generate multiple views of roadmaps. There are also options for customizing and sharing the outputs and I love that they thought about different aspect ratios you might want so you don’t have to spend time wrestling with your design to fit your company’s or client’s required template.
I can see this tool being helpful if your roadmaps change often and you’d rather not spend a lot of time on graphic design. The ability to toggle back and forth between a list, timeline, and swimlane view of your work could be a seamless upgrade for any teams currently working with spreadsheets and presentation software.
Pros: Simple way to visualize your work in a roadmap view.
Cons: Not as many features to help manage your ideas or work as some of the other tools.
Who would like it: Anyone working on technology or consulting projects who needs attractive visuals for stakeholder presentations.
Trello is a project management software that wasn’t specifically built for visual roadmapping but some companies have decided to use it that way. They created private boards for sharing within the team and/or public boards to share with customers and gather feedback.
The card setup is similar to ProdPad but the design is more open-ended and less tailored to managing products. You can title your own lists, create cards and then add descriptions, labels, checklists, comments, and stickers to each card.
To share the roadmap you can choose to print the board or share the link with someone. Sharing the link only works if that person is a member of the team with access to the board or if the board is public.
A simple way to create a draft roadmap would be to label each list with the month, quarter, or sprint date depending on the granularity of your timeline. Then you could use color-coded labels to represent different types of work or value that you’ll be adding for stakeholders. You could also create a separate board or use labels to highlight work done by your team vs. other teams.
Pros: Free basic version, with additional integration options available if you buy the Business Class version. Easy to get started and quickly create a roadmap. You could make one of your boards public and capture feedback from customers.
Cons: Not nearly as many visualization, dependency, or capacity planning options as other tools. While you can copy cards from one board to another there is no automatic data syncing.
Who would like it: Anyone who is concerned about price and doesn’t necessarily need the same types of reports that other tools provide. This tool could be helpful if your team is small or your product is relatively straightforward but I could see it getting out of hand if you’re trying to model very complex situations.
Presentation or modeling software
Last but not least we have presentation software like Powerpoint or Keynote, or modeling software like Visio (which goes beyond seven tools but everyone has their go-to software). It’s hard to beat the accessibility of creating a quick visual by dragging and dropping shapes and text. This type of software could be a great option if you want to quickly build a roadmap without purchasing or learning a new tool.
There are a number of roadmap templates out there for popular presentation software. If you can’t find a template you like you could also search for example roadmaps and then build your own template based off one that inspires you. Visio could be a good choice if you just need a simple timeline with text annotation to highlight the main features or initiatives for each phase or time period.
While great for getting something out there, these tools unfortunately require a good amount of up-keep as plans change. They are also limited to one view of the data. I recommend these tools for small teams or views of your work that won’t change often. Once you’ve grown, the ability to automatically generate different views of your work depending on the audience may be worth the investment in a tool.
Pros: Accessible, fast, and software you probably already own
Cons: Roadmaps built with these tools require manual effort to maintain, and it’s time consuming to create multiple views of your roadmap
Who would like it: Individuals or teams worried about budget but who still want a visual representation of their work or initiatives. If your team is small and you don’t need real-time status updates then this solution will probably work well.
Picking a roadmapping tool
It’s all about choosing the tool that will work best for you and your team’s needs without adding too much overhead. Some factors to consider might be team size, reporting needs, price, integration with other tools, and customization options.
For example, the first three in this list provide more features than the last three but that might be overkill for your situation. The later options provide less automated features but they are easier to customize to get exactly the visual you’re looking for.
Most of these tools offer free trials, videos, and demos on their websites, so take advantage of that information before committing to one choice. If you’re convinced but need to get someone else on board, most of the companies offer live demos.
To help you pick the right tool for you and your team, I created a comparison chart. It outlines some of the major factors that could impact your decision, like content organization, project management, and sharing/communication features in each tool. It also includes a price comparison. (Note: This is as of 3/11/2016 so check out their websites for the most up-to-date info and offers.)
Check out How to create a roadmap from scratch for tips on how to organize everything you want to accomplish into a roadmap. Sketching out a draft roadmap on paper before moving to the automated tools can help you figure out how you’d like to set everything up.
Have you used any of these roadmapping tools in your work? Which did you prefer and why?
P.S. If any companies or product users see an error or outdated information please let me know so I can keep it up to date. While I’ve used some of these tools in the past I’m not an affiliate for any of them. I just want to make sure that you’re all aware of the great options out there to help you communicate and improve your change initiatives so they’re super successful.
Author’s Note: This post was originally published in October 2015 and has been updated for accuracy and to add more info to help you select a tool that will meet your needs.