Understanding the difference between a product roadmap and a release plan

Reading time: about 7 min


  • Agile and project planning
  • Strategic planning

A product roadmap and release plan are two separate documents that are crucial to the successful development and release of a product. Each document serves a different purpose. A product roadmap is typically created and maintained by a product manager, while a project manager creates and maintains a release plan.

In some companies, the roles of product manager and project manager might be performed by the same person. But that doesn’t mean the product roadmap and release plan should be merged into one document or used interchangeably. It’s important to understand the differences between these two documents so your teams can manage and develop a product that delivers value to your customers and increases your footprint in the market.

In this article, we’ll define what product roadmaps and release plans are, look at their components, explore how they differ, explain the benefits of using both, and present collaborative visual tools that can help you create and manage these documents.

What is a product roadmap?

People of a certain age will remember when GPS navigation wasn’t built into our phones. To go on a road trip, you needed a printed map. You used the map to decide which highways to take, where you could stop for gas, where you might want to stop to eat, and so on.

This is somewhat analogous to a product roadmap. The document, usually prepared by a product manager, is a summary that communicates why the product should be developed and outlines where you want to take a product in the future.

A product release planning roadmap doesn’t focus on the specifics of a product’s development. It doesn’t outline specific tasks, timelines, and resources required to develop and release the product. Instead, it focuses on broad objectives like how it will satisfy customer needs, where it will fit in the market, and a general target for release. The product roadmap helps you communicate to executives and stakeholders why you think the product should be developed, how the product will align with the company’s overall business objectives, and how it will add value to the market. This type of information can help you to get their buy-in.

What does a product release roadmap include?

The following are some components you would typically include in a product roadmap:

  • Vision and strategy: Briefly state the aspirational vision for the product, or the long-term strategic mission or goal for the product. This helps everybody understand where you hope the product will eventually go.

  • High-level categories of work: The product roadmap doesn’t identify specific tasks, but rather high-level work that needs to be completed. 

  • Generalized timeline: While the product roadmap doesn’t include a detailed timeline, it should include a generalized product release schedule that indicates when certain initiatives or phases of the project are expected to be completed.

  • Dependencies and constraints: Include external factors, technological limitations, or insufficient resources that might impact what you hope to accomplish with this product. This can help to manage key stakeholder expectations.

What is a release plan?

Sticking with our road trip analogy, you already have your map. Now you need more details. Who will drive? What’s on your packing list? How will you break up the route? The release plan is where you take the product roadmap’s high-level strategies and objectives and break them down into smaller, actionable tasks. This gives your development team a clear blueprint outlining what needs to be done.

What is included in a release plan?

A release plan typically includes the following:

  • Feature backlog: A backlog is a prioritized “to-do” list of items like bug fixes, new features, change requirements, user stories, etc. This list lets you know which items are most important and must be worked on next.

  • Product scope: Include a clear definition of the scope and objectives for a specific release. The scope helps you to more accurately estimate timelines and budgets for the project. The scope communicates to the team what they should work on and what needs to wait for another release. Also include the specific goals you expect to achieve by releasing the product.

  • Release schedule: Provide a detailed timeline with the start and end dates. Include key milestones like task due dates, feature freeze, testing phase, etc.

  • Resource allocation: Outline all the resources you’ll need (i.e. people, materials, technology, equipment, budget) to complete the project.

  • Risk management: Identify potential risks and challenges (technical issues, resource constraints, or scope creep) that might impact the release cycle. Outline strategies to mitigate these risks.

Roadmap vs release plans: How are these documents similar?

Product release roadmaps and release plans share some key similarities, including:

  • Strategic alignment: Both documents align with your company’s strategic goals and objectives to ensure that development efforts fulfill business objectives and customer expectations.

  • Planning and prioritization: These documents both include feature planning and prioritization that can help with effective resource allocation and assigning tasks.

  • Timeframes and timelines: The product roadmap and release plan operate within a specified timeframe. They also each identify timeframes that help you to guide planning and project execution.

  • Dependencies and constraints: Both documents look at things that could impact the project’s successful execution.

  • Delivering value: These documents emphasize delivering value to customers. Features and enhancements are prioritized based on their potential to satisfy customer needs.

Roadmap vs release plans: How do these documents differ?

Following are some of the ways that a product roadmap and release plan differ:

  • Focus: The product roadmap focuses on the long-term strategy, vision, and goals for a product. The release plan is focused on the tactical execution of specific tasks derived from the product roadmap within a specified timeframe.

  • Perspective: The product roadmap is a high-level overview that is seen from a long-term perspective that focuses on broad objectives and initiatives that encompass multiple interactions and release cycles. The release plan focuses on the details of the tasks and timeline in a specific release cycle.

  • Audience: The roadmap’s target audience includes key stakeholders, including managers, and executives who will fund or greenlight the product’s development. The release plan targets the development team, testing team, customer support, marketing, and others. This helps the teams to align and keep the project on track. 

Why should you use a product roadmap and a release plan?

While the product roadmap and release plan are separate documents that serve different purposes, they complement each other. When used together, they provide a comprehensive framework for developing, releasing, and managing a product’s entire lifecycle. These documents help you regularly and consistently deliver value to customers while remaining aligned with your overall business objectives.

Visual tools for getting teams on the same page

Lucidspark has the templates and tools you need to bring dispersed and hybrid teams together in collaboration in a virtual environment. These tools can help you keep teams aligned, on track, and working toward the same goals.

The timeline and Gantt chart templates can help you to map a timeline that shows when tasks and other milestones need to be completed. Explore this online timeline maker page for tips on creating timelines and working in a collaborative virtual environment.

Gantt chart template example (click on image to modify online)

A swimlane diagram is a type of flowchart that can help you visualize who is responsible for what in a process.

Flowchart with swimlanes template example (click on image to modify online)

The Kanban board template lets you visualize and track your work. Kanban boards let you easily visualize the work that needs to be done, the work that is being done, and the work that is done.

Kanban template example (click on image to modify online

This strategy map template can help you visualize how each iterative release aligns with your company’s business goals and the long-term vision for your product.

Strategy map template example (click on image to modify online)

Explore all the ways that Lucid can support the product release process.

Check it out

About Lucidspark

Lucidspark, a cloud-based virtual whiteboard, is a core component of Lucid Software's Visual Collaboration Suite. This cutting-edge digital canvas brings teams together to brainstorm, collaborate, and consolidate collective thinking into actionable next steps—all in real time. Lucid is proud to serve top businesses around the world, including customers such as Google, GE, and NBC Universal, and 99% of the Fortune 500. Lucid partners with industry leaders, including Google, Atlassian, and Microsoft. Since its founding, Lucid has received numerous awards for its products, business, and workplace culture. For more information, visit lucidspark.com.

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