It’s common sense that every startup and new business needs a roadmap. Investors ought to understand your strategy and foreseen trajectory, as well as the team members, must know the main direction and goals. Just as important as a company roadmap is a product map, but that one is often neglected.
The main objective of product management is to guide the team through the roadmap, identifying any potential friction and driving action. It syncs all areas, from development to marketing and sales. Designing a product map showing every little corner of the product is the best approach to proactive product management.
Even so, only a few startups dedicate time to building a product map and carry their activities, lacking precise knowledge of which features they already have or once had, why they exist, how they interact, and many other critical data.
What is a product map?
A product map is a visual guide to every feature, setting, and tool of a product, usually software. It helps team members understand the bigger picture better and navigate through every product component.
As simple as it sounds, this map will depict how different features and elements relate to one another and make the product whole. It’s a powerful learning and communication instrument that puts everyone on the same page regarding the expectations for the product and improves decision-making and overall product development performance.
A practical product map usually shows the following:
- All features, settings, sections, pop-ups, warnings, and every other detail of a product.
- Descriptions of each component: what it does and how to execute/activate it.
- Updates history.
- Link to product research/motivation document.
Why your startup needs a product map
Knowing the information about every piece of a product is key to ensuring the success of a startup. Every team would benefit from a product map because of the insights behind every feature, setting, and other resource and how they interact.
With multiple stakeholders, such as customers, designers, developers, UX researchers, and other product people, it is much more productive to centralize all product-related information in one visual map.
It also facilitates the feedback and insights capturing process from end-users and locating potential areas of improvement. It also allows the organization to keep track of the user experience, enabling the development process to be adjusted to provide the best product to the user base.
Teams with rolling members or facing frequent employee turnover can especially benefit from a product map. Instead of hunting for pieces of information across several platforms, having a product map in hand can make employee onboarding much faster and seamless, as the team members have access to a clear overview of the product.
With this tool, you can ditch the never-ending maze of videos, documents, and notes, making it actually possible for team members to find what they need.
Product map vs. product roadmap
While close in meaning and equally important, a product map doesn’t replace the product roadmap.
A product map shows where and what; it has a much more practical and technical approach. On the other hand, a product roadmap focuses on strategy and stages of product development, setting the deal for each release and update, for example.
A product roadmap is a tool for articulating your product vision and carrying out your product strategies. Your high-priority objectives and initiatives should be outlined, together with the actions necessary to attain them, and a timeframe for executing all of the work should be illustrated.
Both tools are critical for decision-making and the well-functioning of the whole team, so take some time to build both.
Build a product map in 8 steps
Building the product map is a process that must be done holistically and thoughtfully. You’ll have to explore and investigate every corner and aspect of your product to represent and explain your findings in the most uncomplicated way possible.
Here’s how my team did it:
1. Identify your product’s core properties.
List the main features, the ones that the product is best known for. Describe each of those features, how to find them, how to execute them, and different outcomes.
2. Identify secondary and hidden features.
Now that the main features are already written down, explore the product to find any other component that is not so evident. Like the previous step, describe them throughout.
3. Create a schematic representation of the product.
Centralize all the described features in one schematic representation, the map. Choose a tool that helps you build a visual map that can be easily edited later.
At Akiflow, we use Miro, but similar maps can be assembled in Microsoft Whiteboard, Google Jamboard, Conceptboard, and Mural.
4. Add product-related documents and resources to the map.
Link any external document or resource related to the product, like research papers, user guidance, and tutorials. Create a label indicating the purpose of each link.
5. Create an updated history.
Track the number of updates done throughout the product development and the exact moment when each took place and why.
6. Outline the possible journeys the users follow to use the product.
Imagine the possible scenarios in which a user might use the product and include every action they might take on the map.
7. Share and discuss the map with the whole team.
The product map should be updated and edited constantly based on feedback and insights the team gathers throughout the product development cycle. Discussing and reviewing the map with everyone on the team, each following their area of expertise, is the most effective way to ensure it is complete and accurate.
8. Revisit the product map periodically and keep it updated.
As the product evolves, the team should revisit the map to update and improve it according to the product changes.
Like the product itself, the product map should be ever-evolving. It should serve as a reference point and a guide through product development. It should be a tool to help the team reach their product goals and objectives faster, with more accuracy and more confidence.
Being proactive in product development
A product map prevents your team from getting lost in product development and from knowing why and how a particular feature exists. It provides a holistic view of the product, making developing cohesive new properties and updates easier and faster. It’s all about being proactive instead of reactive.
Ever since we designed Akiflow’s product map, it has made our team meetings much more effortless. Everybody knows what we’re referring to when talking about product-related tasks, even those not involved in product development.
In conclusion, the product map should be integral to every product-related process. It’s a valuable source of product information that the whole team should use and update continually for the benefit of everyone.
Learn more about Akiflow’s Product Development Process.