If you have been in the project management space for some time, you will most likely have come across roadmaps. As the name would suggest, roadmaps are a valuable tool that helps teams and organisations have a clearer idea of their project plans and progress. However, there are many types of roadmaps that serve different purposes.
This blog is the first part of a series where we introduce you to roadmaps, their different types and the critical elements that make up an effective roadmap.
What is a roadmap?
A roadmap is a project management tool that aims to provide a high-level visual overview of the different critical components that make up an effective plan. Depending on the type of roadmap, it can be used to differentiate between different types of work, resources, processes, deliverables and more. The main objective of a roadmap is the provide key stakeholders and decision-makers with a macro-level understanding of the critical objectives and milestones of a project, product or portfolio.
The act of building roadmaps, known as road mapping, is a valuable planning technique that helps teams visualise, monitor, adapt and communicate plans and progress through easy to understand visualisations.
Why are roadmaps valuable?
Roadmaps do more than just give an outline and overview for a project, product or portfolio. Various benefits of roadmaps include their ability to:
Provide a scaffold for project plans
A common mistake teams make when proposing or planning for a project is jumping straight into a full-fledged project plan before building a roadmap. Rather than jumping straight into detailed calculations and estimations, a roadmap helps teams build a general scaffold to first justify the project proposal before expending any additional time and resources on it. If your roadmap does not look viable, the project plan is most likely not viable. Roadmapping can save your team valuable time and resources that can be wasted in unnecessary planning.
Keep projects, products and portfolios on track by preventing scope creep
A proper roadmap will clearly outline and define the key objectives of the project, product or portfolio within a charter that allows teams to manage their priorities. With this fundamental charter, teams can easily keep track of ongoing change, evaluate their value to the overall objectives, ensure all contingencies and impacts of the change are accounted for and reprioritise their tasks according. All this is vital to preventing scope creep, a phenomenon that occurs when the project, product or portfolio changes are left unmonitored and escalate to the point of derailing its overall success.
Manage and meet stakeholder expectations
With an increasingly fast-paced market, teams are often putting all their efforts into development and can often forget the importance of stakeholder engagement and management. However, surveys from Wellingtone show that project professionals see stakeholder management as one of the most important PPM processes. A roadmap helps stakeholders easily visualise project progress and understand the impacts of changes they might want to implement on a holistic scale. This allows teams and stakeholders to be on the same page and makes both managing and meeting expectations much easier.
Prevent stakeholder micromanagement
Without the abovementioned stakeholder management, stakeholders are prone to micromanaging projects. Stakeholders, particularly clients want to know what is happening and when it is all happening. Rather than disrupting teams as they develop the product, a roadmap can easily visualise progress through milestones to ensure that both clients are satisfied and the teams are focused on the task at hand.
Streamline and simplify reporting activities
Linking to the prior benefits, roadmaps allows stakeholders and team members to get an overview of the progress and status of the project, product or portfolio with a single glance. Rather than having long-winded meetings and constant email updates, all relevant people can access the roadmap at any time, from any place with real-time accurate data.
What are the different types of roadmaps?
While the fundamental structure and purpose of roadmaps may be similar, different projects have distinct factors that apply to those projects alone. Most roadmaps will outwardly have the same appearance as a visual graphical timeline but the information conveyed within them can be vastly different. There are five commonly used roadmaps:
- Project roadmaps
- Product roadmaps
- Portfolio roadmaps
- IT roadmaps
- Feature roadmaps
A project roadmap is a more simplified and visual form of the project plan that summarises information such as key milestones, general timelines, expected deliverables, dependencies, resource allocations and key contacts. They are particularly effective than typical status reports for informing stakeholders about project progress as they can see the bigger picture of the project rather than getting lost in minute details.
One of the most common forms of roadmaps, product roadmaps are used to visually represent the various phases within the lifecycle of a product. Unlike a project that often has a defined start and end date, a product roadmap is not as focused on distinct milestones and timelines, thus highlighting different types of data. A product roadmap typically includes the product vision, strategy, features, time-frames, status markers and product-based metrics.
Portfolio/ Strategy Roadmaps
A portfolio or strategy roadmap is a multi-year long term roadmap that aims to visualise the organisation’s overall strategy and how it will achieve its key objectives through various projects, products and programs. While a proper portfolio roadmap informs the strategy and actions within a project and product roadmap, it is often dependent on the quality and accuracy of those roadmaps to be truly effective. Portfolio roadmaps are particularly powerful when paired together with what-if scenarios or strategic planning tools.
While similar to a product roadmap, an IT roadmap is utilised for technology assets rather than products alone. This enables it to show the higher level evolution of your IT services and assets rather than focusing on individual products. IT roadmaps often have additional indicators that identify the different platforms, business areas and interdependencies between different technology assets. They are particularly useful for internal teams and strategic planning.
A feature roadmap is a more detailed version of a product roadmap that drills down the specific features, functions or upgrades that will be added to a specific product. These are particularly powerful in communicating to external stakeholders as well as ensuring all decisions on product features are justified by customer demand and linked to the organisations overarching strategic objectives.
Elements of an effective roadmap
Every roadmap has its own unique needs and indicators. However, roadmaps are fundamentally about facilitating clearer and succinct communications. They should be easy to manage, understand, share and update to fulfil that objective. As a result, an effective roadmap, no matter the type, will typically have these specific elements or features:
Clear and editable dependencies
A key tactic to improving efficiency in projects is by running several tasks in tandem with one another. However, some tasks are often dependent on the initiation or completion of another task. Clearly defining these different dependencies is how project managers can easily rearrange and optimise their timelines.
With proper project management software, these dependencies are visualised through simple lines that can easily define the different relationships between different tasks. As projects shift and change over time, it is important that these dependencies can be easily altered to reflect real-time conditions.
Milestones and timelines
Milestones are an important element that let the viewer know how the project is progressing through different stages. While they can be as simple as simply listing out targets and measuring progress, a powerful project management tool can identify the different tasks and actions that contribute to the completion of a specific milestone while also automating approvals and alerts for key managers.
Being able to see the percentage completion rates on timelines is also a very valuable feature. As many project professionals understand, time alone is not always the best way to measure the completion of a project. Just because the project of fifty per cent through its timeline does not mean they have completed fifty per cent of the work. This feature is essential for communicating real-time and accurate progress within your roadmaps.
Time phased views
While being able to sort roadmaps into different owners, statuses and phases are valuable, the ability to visualise progress and the work needed in more specific time frames is a valuable reporting and monitoring tool for teams. Being able to flexibly select between daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual views helps teams have a more detailed understanding of their projects while simultaneously facilitating more long-term strategic planning activities.
While roadmaps are a valuable visual tool, no one wants to spend every waking minute updating, tracking and reporting on the different changes that occur within the roadmap. Thankfully, a robust project management tool can automate a lot of your reporting needs by giving your teams automatic updates when specific milestones or alerts are triggered.
Extensive integrative capabilities
A roadmap can only be truly effective if it is accurate and reliable. How can it do that without integrating with critical project management functions and activities across your project or portfolio? An effective roadmap tool is able to integrate with all your critical project management processes and tools – from risk management, resource management, schedule management, and more – to make sure that it is being updated based on real-time conditions and changes.
While these are some of the common road-mapping elements, each roadmap type has certain features or metrics that need to be represented. Make sure to follow the series and find out in more detail the various features and elements of each type of roadmap.
What are some challenges to road mapping?
With a proper project management road-mapping tool, road mapping can be an intuitive process. However, it does face challenges of its own and teams should be wary of committing these few mistakes when building their roadmaps.
Going with your gut feeling and making rough guestimations is one way to compromise the quality and accuracy of your roadmaps. Make sure to pull from accurate data, expert advice and historic data to make your estimations as accurate as possible.
Failing to update and monitor frequently
A roadmap is a real-time and ever-changing document and needs to be continuously updated. While some project management tools help you automate your updates, teams still need to actively monitor their project scope, resource allocations and deliverables to make sure they are aligned with what is outlined in the roadmap.
Too much information
It can be tempting to fill your roadmaps with every single bit of detail regarding projects or products. However, it is important to understand that roadmaps are different from project charters, registers, plans and more because overloading stakeholders with information prevents them from seeing the big picture progress of the project. A roadmap should be succinct and precise, conveying the most relevant information with just the right amount of detail.
Overcome the challenges of roadmaps and road mapping with pmo365
Roadmaps are a powerful tool for organisations and project management offices to gain true visibility and control over their projects and portfolios. That’s exactly why pmo365 has made an effort to make sure your road-mapping needs are simplified, integrated and optimised in our solution. If you want to know more about how our solution can facilitate your road-mapping needs, book a free trial to see our solution in action! Make sure to follow our series on roadmaps so you can build the most effective roadmaps on the best solution and bring out the most of your project management activities.