Product Roadmap and Project Timeline — What’s the Difference?

Many project management professionals use roadmap and timeline interchangeably. But did you know that they actually serve very different purposes? I’ll come clean; I initially thought they were the same too!

This is no laughing matter, as getting them mixed up can cause miscommunication and put a damper on workplace productivity. The gist is that roadmap and timeline are similar, but not the same.

There are six core aspects that set roadmap and timeline apart. Let’s dive deeper into their unique features so you can effectively roll out your next project.

Product Roadmap: Drive Your Business Towards Success

In the context of project management, a roadmap can span across multiple timelines for continuous product development.

Why Do You Need a Product Roadmap?

Think of it this way: when you’re on a road trip, you rely on a map to ensure that you’re going in the right direction without missing out must-see attractions. The same goes for creating new products or services. A high-level roadmap explains the strategic course of action with major milestones that you must complete to deliver your products on time.

To understand roadmap (and timeline) better, let’s look at the following scenario.

Orange Inc., a healthcare technology company, is developing a personal health assistant app called SmartHealth. They have designed a product roadmap as below:

An example of a Confluence roadmap.

The Components of a Roadmap

1. Product Goal:

  • To build a consumer-oriented medical app that assists in monitoring healthcare and fitness accurately and effectively.

2. Strategic Objectives:

  • Ensure regulated requirements for medical device policy.
  • Release beta version with core features on both iOS and Android.
  • Continuously conduct user acceptance testing to refine the user experience.

3. Major Features (Epics):

  • Daily health performance monitoring
  • Diet and fitness monitoring
  • Individualized healthcare reports and recommendations

4. Release Plans

  • Beta version by September
  • Product launch in November

Now, who do you create this roadmap for? Your most important audiences are senior management, external investors, and product managers. They are responsible for assessing the tangible business value of your product roadmap. Make sure that you communicate the final product roadmap with the rest of your teams so everyone can see the picture and is on the same page.

Note that a roadmap does not have a specific deadline as compared to a timeline. The most important phase of creating a roadmap is product scoping. This is where you involve respective stakeholders to determine the goals as well as features that go into development.

And here’s a quick guide to creating your product roadmap.

How to Create a Product Roadmap

More often than not, a product roadmap is executed phase by phase in a linear fashion. What this means is that the completion of the first phase will trigger the start of the consecutive phase.

Back to the development of the hypothetical SmartHealth app:

Before developing the app, the company must first ensure its data policy is in place, while documenting the regulations required. Only then, can the product manager initiate the product scoping. To do this, the product manager may collaborate with the market analysis team to determine which features should be prioritized and worked upon. Once the features have been finalized, the development team can jump in to prepare the mockup and choose the ideal development platform.

You can leverage any project management software to create a product roadmap; Microsoft Project as well as Atlassian Jira and Confluence are popular choices.

We recommend that you choose a software that can integrate the full development cycle, from planning and execution, to testing and improvement.

The Atlassian product suite is best suited for this task. Confluence makes it easy to share and collaborate on product roadmaps, Jira provides a powerful tool for managing agile workflows, and Jira Service Desk allows you to track and manage user feedback and requests after product launch.

What’s even better is that this Atlassian product suite can also be integrated with third-party apps for seamless cross-functional collaboration.

Read More: Atlassian Roadmap

Project Timeline: Mini Roadmaps

In a simple explanation (and I mean really simple), a timeline is essentially a mini roadmap. But that’s where the similarity ends.

Let’s start breaking down the nuts and bolts of a timeline, shall we?

Why Do You Need a Timeline?

A proper timeline should clearly present task dependencies, resources allocations, workflows schedules, and deadlines.

You can use it to communicate project deliverables such as feature development, bug fixes, and continuous improvement changes.

The Components of a Project Timeline

An example of a project timeline created with WBS Gantt-Chart for Jira.

Unlike roadmap and its business-oriented components, a timeline is made of the following project-oriented components as shown in the sample above:

1. Product Improvements

2. Resource Management

3. Risk Management

4. Deadline

A timeline also has fixed start and end dates. This will guide the teams to accomplish short-term deliverables efficiently.

And since the product is developed and improved in a series of iterations — also known as sprint cycles — a working timeline essentially incorporates the product’s short-term strategies.

This is relatively easy to conceptualize. It simply means prioritizing tasks from the product backlog based on impact and urgency, and assigning necessary resources to each task.

As opposed to the roadmap with its high-level executives, the stakeholders in a timeline include internal investors, project managers, team leads, and team members. These stakeholders are the bridge between the corporate vision and customer experience, and are crucial to materializing business goals seamlessly.

So, who’s responsible for creating timelines anyway? Usually, a project manager oversees the timeline development and is focused on addressing multiple user stories within the stipulated timeline and assigned resources.

How to Create a Project Timeline?

A common way to visualize a timeline is by using a Gantt chart. This waterfall-based schedule details all the tasks, deadlines, and resources needed for a successful sprint cycle.

Follow these steps to create a project timeline:

  1. Understand what needs to be done from the backlog and define the project scope, deliverables, and milestones.
  2. Breakdown a complex project into bite-sized tasks via a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS).
  3. Identify project dependencies and create a project schedule.
  4. Assign and plan resources for effective project delivery.
  5. Monitor project progress against the baseline.

To accomplish these steps, you can extend the power of Jira with a Gantt chart app to seamlessly convert your tasks in Jira into a comprehensive timeline.

Read More: How to Create a Gantt Chart in Jira

Bonus: Roadmap vs Timeline: Comparison Chart

A Roadmap vs Timeline comparison chart.

Just remember that a product roadmap gives you the macro view of product development, while a product timeline ensures a timely project via Gantt chart visualization. And both roadmap and timeline are necessary for product development — from concept creation to product delivery.

Project Managers’ Planet

Your one-stop resource for everything related to project management.

Thulazshini Tamilchelvan

Written by

When I’m not writing, I rely on my art and pictures to paint my thousand words.

Project Managers’ Planet

Your one-stop resource for everything related to project management.

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