Project Roadmap Vs Product Roadmap: What’s the Difference?

Project Roadmap vs Product Roadmap: What’s the Difference?

When you’re kicking off a new product launch, your head might be in the clouds with excitement. The idea of bringing a potentially groundbreaking product into the world is certainly riveting… until you have to come back down to reality and deal with the strategy itself.

That’s where many often wonder: project roadmap vs product roadmap; which one should I be using? This dilemma is often like coming across a fork in the road before you even begin your journey.

Here’s a preview of what we’ll be doing:

  • Spill the beans on what both project roadmaps and product roadmaps really are.
  • Peel back the layers of each roadmap and find out what makes them unique.
  • Dish out some practical wisdom on when to use which roadmap and why.

What is a Project Roadmap?

A project roadmap example in Fibery
A project roadmap example in Fibery

Project roadmaps are typically used for one single, specific project. They quickly lay out the people involved in the project, the key steps that will take place, and the end goals. 

For example, if your project is a charity event, the project roadmap will outline all aspects of the process from planning to execution. You might include securing the venue, advertising the event and encouraging donations, recruiting volunteers, and arranging the catering and entertainment. Each task will then be assigned to a specific team member or team, along with a due date that lets them know when the task should be wrapped up.

What is a Product Roadmap?

A product roadmap example in Fibery
A product roadmap example in Fibery

It might sound like a product roadmap is essentially the same thing as a project roadmap, just specifically designed for a product. But while they do have similarities, there’s a little more to it.

A product roadmap plots out the entire lifespan of a product rather than focusing on a one-time initiative. Because it’s more in-depth and complex, it goes through a lot more changes and iterations. Product roadmaps are similar to short stories that tell a mini tale with a clear beginning, middle, and end, while product roadmaps are full-on chapter books that could be part of a broader ongoing series.

Although both terms have the word ‘roadmap’ in them, we can look at them sort of like roadmap vs project plan. The project roadmap is more like a project plan that features deadlines and milestones.

What Are the Main Differences Between Project and Product Roadmaps?

In order to prevent you from committing a strategic blunder – or really just wasting your time – let’s go over the five key differences between project and product roadmaps:

  • Scope and Duration: Project roadmaps are a one-and-done. They unfold over a short time frame and give you and your team a rundown of plans and when they’re happening. On the other hand, product roadmaps span a much longer period of time as they have to guide the entire development and growth of a product through its life cycle. Take the charity event example above, for instance – the charity event is planned out, takes place, and finishes, and that’s the end of it. If a video game company develops a new game, it’s definitely not going to follow the same trajectory. There’ll be new developments, ongoing evolutions, and post-launch expansions and updates to deal with.
  • Goals: Project roadmaps are straightforward – they’re all about achieving the goals of the project. Meanwhile, product roadmaps look at strategic direction and consider the entire product journey, such as sourcing, prototyping, quality assurance, sales strategies, product improvement, and more. You don’t want to make the mistake of choosing a project roadmap only to overlook those long-term aspects of your project journey. 
  • Teams and Roles: Considering the complexity of product roadmaps, there are a range of different departments that become deeply involved with each stage or task, whether marketing, R&D, or something else. Project roadmaps take on a task-focused methodology for one project – you’ve got one person responsible for hiring the caterer, another for booking and setting up the venue, and so on.
  • Flexibility: Project roadmaps pan out so quickly that there isn’t much need for flexibility. There might be slight hitches or changes in plans, but they don’t require a complete overhaul and change of direction for various players. Product roadmaps are designed to adapt. If a bakery introduces lemon loaf in the spring but there’s a sudden trend for summer berries the season after, then their product roadmap would change to meet that demand.
  • Audience: Both roadmaps are mainly used for internal teams and those directly performing the tasks on them, but product roadmaps are also commonly used to align external stakeholders and even customers on the product vision.

Project Roadmaps and Product Roadmaps: When to Use What

We’ve established that project roadmaps and product roadmaps aren’t exactly interchangeable, but they can both be used effectively in the right circumstances.

Pull out a project roadmap when you’re working on a single, time-sensitive project or initiative. These might include launching a seasonal product line, launching a temporary marketing campaign, planning a corporate rebrand, or developing a new company website. All of these have a clear start and completion with room for designated tasks and their timelines in between.

Swap out for the product roadmap when you’re getting really ambitious and navigating an entire journey. Are you planning to launch an entirely new and innovative software? Will you be introducing a brand-new device? These complex and lengthy feats will need a much wider scope and more flexibility for that type of ongoing endeavor.

The PM’s Hot Take

Looking at both the project roadmap and the product roadmap as two different entities, both with extreme value for different jobs, is the right way to go. Project roadmaps detail the now, while product roadmaps capture the future – and managers who know which tool to use when are the only ones that will be ultimately successful. 

Conclusion

Craving success? Project roadmaps and product roadmaps are two halves of a whole. Using both in the right circumstances is the smartest way to go, as they’ll guide you both in the present and the future.

If you want to make your projects a hit every time, Fibery is the perfect no-code tool to map out both project and product roadmaps with ease. Curious what else we can tell you about product management? Find more insightful articles on our blog.

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