What is a roadmap?

A roadmap is a visual depiction of the steps needed to reach a desired outcome, designed to give all stakeholders a high-level, strategic overview.

Most companies depend on seamless cooperation between multiple teams and departments to achieve goals and successfully implement business initiatives. Unfortunately, coordinating so many different individuals across various levels can be a difficult task. To ensure that everyone involved is on the same page and understands the necessary steps needed to get from start to finish, organizations often rely on strategic roadmaps.

Roadmaps are communication tools. The roadmap provides a shared source of truth, outlining the project in a way that is both easy to understand, and highly comprehensive. Using roadmaps, teams can see the progress of a specific project, what next steps must be taken, and what the overall vision and objectives are.

It’s worth noting that roadmaps are not a backlog of tasks or a project tracker. Although it fulfills some of the same basic functions, the roadmap forgoes detailing the individual assignments and roles, and instead focuses on high-level strategy. In this sense, roadmaps should be used in conjunction with task backlogs and project-management trackers to ensure that all essential responsibilities are being handled and that essential tasks are accounted for. In terms of product roadmaps, product functionality and timelines for rolling out future features are the primary focus, rather than creating a complete list of what those features should be.

Roadmaps can also convey information on purpose, alignment with specific goals and strategies, dependencies, etc., making them incredibly powerful vehicles to tell the dynamic strategy story. Roadmaps enable more effective conversations and make it remarkably easier to:

  • Plan across business units
  • Plan across multiple business periods
  • Plan for changes and understand impacts
  • Consider dependencies
  • Analyze pros and cons of different models

As previously stated, an effective roadmap should be able to quickly communicate essential strategic information, without getting bogged down on too many specific details. As such, the most important elements of a roadmap are as follows:

Strategic vision

An overview of how all the steps, features, and initiatives should align to help achieve high-level business goals.

Elements of a roadmap | ServiceNow

Required resource

What resources will be needed—and how those resources should be applied—to support teams in achieving said goals.

Timeline

Deadlines for important deliverables; these may be clearly defined (such as specific dates), less-clearly defined (such as approximate months or even business quarters), or very generalized (now vs. later).

Team involvement

Which teams and individuals should be involved at which stages, and why?

At their most basic level, roadmaps show organizations where they are, where they’re going, and what steps they will need to get there. That said, roadmaps may take more-specific forms, depending on the audience it’s being designed for:

Internal roadmap

As the name suggests, internal roadmaps exist to align people and resources within the company. Internal roadmaps generally fall into the following categories:

  • Development-teams’ roadmaps
    Many modern development teams work using agile methodologies, and their roadmaps reflect this. An agile roadmap will break down projects into their constituent sprints, while also detailing potential tasks and problem areas plotted across a timeline. Other common elements may include target release dates of proposed features and details on prioritized customer value.
  • Executives’ roadmaps
    While all roadmaps should be high-level and strategic, the executives' roadmap takes this a step further, emphasizing company-level goals and metrics over individual steps or tasks. These should be capable of clearly demonstrating progress over time.
  • Sales-teams’ roadmaps
    The primary purpose of the sales-teams’ roadmap should be customer benefits and the features themselves, so that the sales teams may use them to support their sales processes. Timelines in sales-teams’ roadmaps should not be too clearly defined, otherwise sales teams may end up making delivery promises that internal teams cannot fulfill.

External roadmap

External roadmaps are designed for customers. Instead of focusing on company goals, these should offer a high-level view of new products, features, or important updates. The main purpose of the external roadmap is to excite customers and give them a clear idea of what they can expect, without being too exact with regards to specific dates. These roadmaps must be easy to comprehend, and visually appealing enough to capture and retain the customers’ attention.

Properly designed and executed, a roadmap provides several clear advantages. These benefits include:

Improved alignment

Road maps help achieve strategic consensus among key decision makers. By transparently detailing the necessary steps to achieving objectives. Roadmaps help strategically align key players across all relevant levels.

Increased comprehension

Because roadmaps rely heavily on visualization, they are generally extremely comprehensible, allowing them to communicate timelines and deliverables in a way that everyone can understand.

More-accurate tracking

Roadmaps don’t simply show teams where they should be going, they also act as a review of where they’ve been, and what next steps they should be taking right now. Managers can use roadmaps to track project progress, making course corrections where necessary.

Enhanced collaboration

By placing the focus on strategy and goals, roadmaps provide a single, shared source of truth across the entire organization. This gives different teams and levels common ground on which to communicate and coordinate together.

Stronger outcomes

Keeping all relevant teams and individuals focused on important goals, as well as the essential steps needed to achieve them, roadmaps lead to improved deliverables and stronger project results.

Businesses that wish to get started creating a roadmap should consider the following steps:

Assess the current situation within the company

Start by taking inventory of where the company currently is, where it should be, and whether current efforts are helping bring those two points together. This step, ideally, should be centered around better understanding the impact of daily work on reaching important goals; if current strategies are not moving the organization forward, then those strategies would likely benefit from a roadmap.

Establish important objectives

Once a clear assessment of the current situation has been performed, the next step is to determine what the roadmap should be helping achieve. This involves defining where team efforts should be focused, what methods should be used when measuring success, and how progress will be tracked.

Create a plan for achieving the objectives

Finally, the roadmap will need to establish a strategy for achieving the aforementioned objectives. This should include the steps and results necessary for reaching vital milestones. The roadmap must be capable of providing a high-level description of team projects and initiatives, as well as how each relates to established business goals. Detailing short-term tactics and tying them back to long-term objectives is essential.

Ensure understandability

Throughout the process, remain committed to the idea of coherency. Above all, the road map should be easy to understand. Road maps that go into too much detail can become crowded, complex, and intimidating. With the right amount of visual appeal—presenting essential details without getting too granular—the roadmap can become a vital tool in aligning work and strategy.

Part of the ServiceNow IT Business Management (ITBM) toolset, Roadmap Planning provides organizations across every industry with the resources they need to create effective, goal-oriented road maps. Bring together traditional and agile work in a single, comprehensive roadmap. Customize and tailor each roadmap to match unique business needs. Supplement roadmap items with accessible datasets and other information. Create milestones and track progress visually and see immediately where every project stands in relation to its goals. With Roadmap Planning from ServiceNow, aligning teams and strategy has never been easier.

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