Product Roadmap Vs Release Plan: Which Is Right for the Task?

Product Roadmap vs Release Plan: Which Is Right for the Task?

Welcome to the world of product management, a place chock-full of planning tools that deal with just about every single intricacy of a launch. You’ll likely be caught in a hurricane of buzzwords, terms, and phrases that all serve a useful purpose but that might trip you up until you get used to them. 

Two of these terms that really tie your brain in knots are product roadmap vs release plan. At first glance, it sounds like you’re about to play a game of ‘spot the difference,’ but dig deeper, and you’ll realize that they aren’t as identical as they seem.

We’ll be looking at:

  • What these terms mean in the context of product development
  • The elements that set these two tools apart
  • How they work in action and when you’d use one over the other

What is a Product Roadmap?

A detailed product roadmap in Fibery
A detailed product roadmap in Fibery

A product roadmap is a visual overview of your product’s journey. It’ll give you a big-picture view of the lifespan of your product, from when it initially comes into existence to how you see it growing over time. And it doesn’t just work as a timeline-esque vision board – an effective product roadmap also lets everyone know why you’re doing these tasks and the overall project in the first place, as well as the reasons behind it.

What is a Release Plan?

Two different breakdowns of a relase plan in Fibery
Two different breakdowns of a relase plan in Fibery

When you’re ready to launch a new product or want to initiate an update, the release plan is a handy tool that you won’t want to miss out on. It’ll pinpoint all the features and changes you’ll be implementing in your next release and just when it’s all happening. In essence, it sort of removes the fluff (useful fluff) and gives you a quick rundown of the ‘when’ and ‘what’ of your upcoming updates.

Product Roadmap vs Release Plan: The Key Differences

If you’re interested in using these useful documents for your next product launch, you’ve got the right idea. But before you start laying out Bristol boards or searching for the right roadmap-making tool, let’s recognize when you’ll be using a product roadmap vs release plan.

  • Scope: Release plans are tactical – they get right down to business and describe the actions, features, and changes that will happen in the short term. In contrast, product roadmaps can span over long periods of time and provide a much broader look into how the product will pan out. You’ll typically see priority levels, product vision information, key features, goals, and potential roadblocks and expansions within the document.
  • Purpose: There’s a lot more involved in a product roadmap, mainly because of how many people take part in the product’s strategic direction. It works to get executives, marketers, developers, and even customers, in some cases, aligned. The release plan, however, is usually for the team’s eyes only. After all, they’re the ones taking action.
  • Update Frequency: As product roadmaps are rooted in the long-term, you’ll find that you won’t be making as many updates as you would with a release plan. Things change – especially in the immediate future. That means release plans will experience shifting timelines, take customer feedback into consideration, and other hitches in the process. Product roadmaps might see tweaks in strategic direction or updates based on market trends, but they act as more of an anchor document.

Real-Life Applications of Product Roadmaps and Release Plans

To illustrate these tools in action, we’ll go with an example of a software company working on a productivity app. We’ll say that it lets users plant a virtual garden and have it thrive every time they track and complete a daily task. This is how the product roadmap and release plan come into play:

With a cool concept in mind, here’s where the product roadmap starts the process of bringing it into fruition – in other words, into an actual digital product. The company will outline its grand vision, which states the purpose of the software (to make people more productive), features that their target audience is probably going to love and value (different types of plants or unlocking rare flowers as rewards), and big milestones to complete along the way (completing a beta version, for instance).

Now, it’s time to roll out the release plan. This document will map out when each feature or version of the software will be complete and released to the public. A first release could simply introduce the basic garden, while other updates could launch the rewards system.

The PM’s Hot Take

As a product roadmap lays out the strategy and what we aim to achieve in the long run, and the release plan is a detail-rich breakdown of every feature rollout, you’d be amazed at the clarity your project will gain just from employing both. Ditch the agile roadmap vs release plan debate – forget about just using one or the other and breathe some new life into your product strategy.

Conclusion

Every product strategy needs clear ‘whys’ and ‘what ifs,’ as well as the ‘let’s do this’ plan of action – that’s why brilliant execution requires both the product roadmap and the release plan.

Want to experience what this winning combination can do in action? Get a 14-day free trial today with Fibery – a robust platform with all the integrated tools you need to create and manage product roadmaps and release plans.

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