In 2020, I hosted an informal webinar to explain roadmapping to some fellow consultants. Those of us in the digital and product space are probably already familiar with roadmaps, but others may not be as aware of what roadmaps are and why they’re so great. So I thought I’d put together a quick summary here.
A roadmap is a visual representation of related projects or initiatives, shown over time. They take into account relationships and dependencies among the projects, and convey what is planned for when. Generally, they’re broken into swimlanes by category of work.
What is a roadmap good for?
I love a roadmap; it’s the perfect bridge between a vision or high-level strategy, and the tactical project plans that we follow daily.
It’s also a powerful communication tool: telling the story of what we’ll accomplish and how, so every stakeholder and executive understands the path forward and how various initiatives contribute to reaching goals.
Finally, roadmaps help you plan along the way, aligning resources for the next upcoming initiative.
(They’re not, by the way, great for day-to-day project planning or describing a high-level, overarching vision – there are other tools for that.)
So what does a roadmap look like?
There’s no set design style for a roadmap; you can match them to your branding, have a designer create something beautiful, or just slap some boxes on a page. As long as it’s communicating what it needs to, then it looks fine.
Here’s a roadmap I created for a manufacturing company that needed lots of foundational work around its websites and other digital properties:
Notice the categories of work, showing how each initiative feeds into a broader goal. And the timing, which gets less precise as we move further into the future – because you just don’t know what details will come two years from now!
When should you create a roadmap?
The best time to create a roadmap is after the vision and goals have been determined, and before the projects actually begin. Once it’s created, you’ll want to review it at least twice a year to ensure it’s still correct, and to plan out the next chunk of time.
Speaking of time, the timeline of your roadmap will depend on the field, the goals, and other factors. I do mine in 2-3 year increments for longer-range planning. For shorter-term needs, like reopening a business after a pandemic, a few months at a time is fine.
Remember, the key is that this is a communication and planning tool. As long as it’s telling the story of what work is happening when, in a clear and understandable way, you’re probably doing it right.